I’ve been in and out of doctor’s offices every day for the past two weeks. It’s been a draining experience. But this one moment with Dr. Mark is stuck in my mind.
Yesterday, it was the end of yet another appointment in the XXXXL exam room. It seemed like we were always rehashing the same things: symptoms, medications, options, short-term plan, things to look out for. We had joked a little bit about the new computer system and how certain things were counterintuitive. But mostly the gravity in that room dominated.
So it was that when he was leaving, he took a moment to look at me and whisper, I’m sorry. As relieved that we were that I probably don’t have cancer, that look acknowledged the frustration that we both felt of not knowing what was wrong and having little control over the situation. Something in that moment gave me the courage to ask one more question: Is there anything I can do to cope with the pain? Any medication that will give momentary relief?
That moment stopped us both in our tracks. How did he know I needed to see his sorrow? Where did I find the strength to speak up?
Five seconds. A moment of mutual grieving. Acknowledging the loss in my young life. It changed everything. This is why:
It takes guts to admit that we don’t know everything, especially in your own field.
It takes effort to show that vulnerability to someone else.
It means stepping out of the superhero role into the victim box.
It means recognizing that life is not perfect and that some times things are hard and out of our control.
It also means the patient knows the doctor is listening because he cares about the patient as a person.
It also means the patient knows the doctor is doing everything within his power to help.
It also means we’re all in this together: the patient and the doctors: we work, we rejoice, we mourn, we feel.
It also means in that moment when the patient needs it most, there’s someone intelligent, knowledgeable, and human there, come what may. That’s the foundation of courage that is needed to face something difficult and bigger than you. It makes all the difference.