I’ve written previously about moments in the exam room where doctors have taught me to speak up, to have self-confidence, and not to avoid the difficult.

I haven’t written much about what doctors have learned from me. Occasionally, there’s something really small: do you think you could keep a box of tissues in this office? But one moment stands out to me in particular.

We are on the phone, Dr. Leo & I. We are trying to sort out things related to graduate school and medical treatment. I am frustrated. Very frustrated. Too many things to do. Too little energy to do them. Overwhelmed. Needing help.

Dr. Leo is very patient. He listens. He pauses. Then he says what everyone says, You need to budget your time. Try to find a balance. Don’t try to do everything at once. In fact, only even try to do a limited number of things.

Naturally, since I’ve heard that at least a million times, I try to smile and nod (which he can’t see over the phone) but I am still frustrated. That comment doesn’t change anything.

At some point, he offers to help me schedule out the remaining requirements for my degree over time. So he asks me to send him a list of requirements (and maybe even some initial sketch over time.) Of course. Not a problem. I would love to have help with this.

Dr. Leo: Can you get it to me over the weekend? Then I can look at it before you meet with Dr. Samuel mid-week next week. Then you can bring our plan to him.

Me: [long pause] Ummm, how about I put it on the short list of things that I would like to accomplish this weekend?

[more long pauses]

Me: I would like to do that this weekend, and I agree that it makes sense. But I can’t make any promises. My illness and my symptoms are just too unpredictable.

[long pause]

Dr. Leo: Oh. Ok.

It was a light bulb moment for him. That is literally what life is like for me when I take his advice. It’s frustrating because it can mean that nothing gets done even though three days go by. If the only thing that you can do when you get out of bed is to change into a new set of pajamas and get back into bed, no matter of budgeting and being realistic can mask the fact that the dirty laundry is piling up. As are all the other things that you wanted to do.

It was an interesting exchange for me. I wasn’t trying to make this a “teachable moment”. I wasn’t trying to override his authority. I was just frustrated and being honest because I was tired of fighting.

But it became a light bulb moment. A moment for Dr. Leo to step into my shoes. A moment for him to step into my professors’ shoes and understand why having me as a student can be so frustrating. A moment for him to step back into his own shoes and reconsider how to be the best doctor, the best advocate, the best friend.

For me? It was a moment of peace. Of validation. Of friendship. Because someone took the time and made the effort to understand.

Abigail Cashelle



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