Have you ever left a doctor’s office somewhat disappointed with your visit? Maybe you just spoke to a physician, but instead of having all your concerns addressed, you find yourself with even more questions? Do you ever wonder what doctors secretly wished patients would do that would make caring for you a smoother process?
My purpose in writing this post is to do two things: to provide practical tips that you can use today that will 1) help prepare you for encounters you might have with the health care system in the future…whether it’s a routine doctor’s visit or an unexpected trip to the ER, and 2) help you make the most out of your interactions with your physicians…
You already knew.
you told us to say the words.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
A. L. S.
Despite sparse questions,
your eyes revealed
an understanding far deeper
than our answers-
that with one moment,
robbed were you
of the years ahead,
of memories awaiting,
of stories belonging to you.
your conviction remains
each passing sunrise.
Each caress, each step.
For you know.
As your legs cease to support,
arms stop to comply,
you still feel
your child’s touch.
Absorbing her love.
you don’t care the roles
have been reversed
as you yearn
to return her embrace.
As its hunger ascends,
the remaining days.
Every word, every smile.
For you know.
consumes your voice,
drains your visage,
until all that is left is
of a vacant mask.
Unable to reflect
your thought’s grin,
your heart’s laugh,
your soul tears
as you blink away the moisture.
As your breaths
increasingly betray you,
you are not defeated,
for the flames
of your bruised spirit
are not quenched,
and you give thanks
for the time you had,
even as your body dims
and you fade away.
Once when I was on a specialized heart failure service, I took care of a teenage boy. He had a form of idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy and had a big heart…in, obviously, more ways than one.
He loved baseball, pumpkin pie, and horses. His family owned a farm, so before he got sick, he would often go horseback riding. He also loved to draw.
We, a team of five physicians, took care of him for a month while he was waiting for a heart transplant. He liked us. We liked him. So he drew us as well.
I thought he was clever. He thought I was even more so. All because he liked my joke:
“What do you call a cow with no legs?”
That was it. He was just a great kid, trying his best to live the life given to him.
I found out recently that he passed away. And today I found the drawing he gave me. And I wept.
It used to be, that at the end of our visits, we would both say to each other, “Ground beef!” with a wink. It perplexed everyone else, but we knew exactly what we were talking about.
So here’s to you, dear buddy…
Allow me to spin upon the spindle
a tale of an encounter true.
A patient once, a homeless mum,
her words now shared with you:
The hour of autumn arrives anew
when mirth and feasts abound.
But let me confess my days to you,
true gifts which have been found…
The steady cadence of my heart,
voice to praise when souls fall dark,
vision to behold each fresh day’s start-
For this, I am thankful.
The assured exhale of every breath,
joys gone by, its memories kept,
cloth to shield from winter’s death-
For this, I am thankful
Days when I can veil my cries,
days I look you in the eyes,
to know on night lies brighter skies-
For this, I am thankful.
So for this…I am thankful.
• Santa Elena, Belize •
One of our tasks was to visit the residents in Western Belize. While our purpose was to conduct epidemiologic study and to raise disease awareness, it was just a pleasure getting to know the community.
Also, we always made sure to take time to admire the pet turkeys.
Each word, a slap.
Each consonant, piercing.
Bursting in like a winter’s storm,
you permeated into our lives.
We wanted to help you,
but we only came to fear you.
Many shook their heads in pity.
Some avoided you.
Others talked about you.
Each gesture, scornful.
Each insult, stinging.
My attempts to talk to you
only seemed to anger you more.
You terrified me. Yet I yearned.
To see. To know. To understand.
I knew you were frustrated.
Your disease, unforgiving.
I knew you were discouraged.
Your body, powerless.
But why wouldn’t you let us care for you?…
I met you my intern year. I remember the first thing you said to me.
“I don’t care to be here.”
With a countenance creased from decades of hardship, a gait staggered from illness, eyes steeled by sufferings, your restrained presence betrayed a sheath impervious. I believed you previously had poor experiences in similar settings, because you told me so. I knew you didn’t trust me, because you told me so.
Our first few visits were stippled with formality. I posed questions; you answered. But they weren’t your answers, but perhaps words you knew I wanted to hear. I half expected you to stop coming. But you never did. Instead, you continued to sit there, guarded, a portrait of cordiality and cautiousness.
And then one day it happened…
Burnout. To be burnt.
When we simply stop caring.
Most of the time we don’t even need
to say anything. But you know.
You hear it in our voice.
You see it in our eyes.
And you feel it too.
You know what
is going through our
mind with each wayward glance.
Is this what I signed up for?
Is this all this profession has to offer?
Because I have seen the articles.
To prevent physician burnout.
Changes we must make.
Putting us first.
I too used to be desperate.
What is happening to me?
What is happening to my colleagues?
What is happening to medicine?…
What do I write about when I have nothing to write about?
When my lips have nothing to say?
Do I paint for you visions
of hollow chimes adrift
in snow whose songs
each sway of
Do I liken you to a single rose
who has but endured a
winter’s wrath to
yield this bed
Or do I reflect upon my life as it is,
to tell you how much I treasure
the privilege of being able to
help others, to care for
Do I try to express how tremendous my
heart feels when I tell you that it is
going to be alright, or when we
know that it may not, that
we will conquer it
You took your life.
I’m sorry I was only
fifteen feet away.
The doctors were only fifteen feet away…
“My life laid before me… my treasons my troth
Wrapped with transcendence in fine sacred cloth
My breath must surrender to cold mortal brew
As wildflowers bend neath pure morning dew.
And then there were angels
Filling the sky
Lifting me upward…
And then I could fly.”
These are the words of a fellow blogger and poet.
Words that affect me more than one can know.
So I would like to use this post to thank him today
for being a glimmer in the night…and an inspirer of hope.
Because in our own way, we are all physicians.