Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Reading medical blogs can be a real downer. We bloggers like to point out the problems with healthcare financing, training and economics. Insurance companies are a drag and being on call is like carrying around a 2 ton beeper. Talking about the pleasures and privilege of practicing medicine may not be blogworthy, but the note I carry in my handbag and read each day is my reminder of how great I have it.

When the going gets tough, I pull out the note from Karen (not her real name!). This 3X5 notecard, hand written on both sides, warms my heart and reminds me of why I am a doctor.

Karen had been my patient for a few years and we developed a relationship as we dealt with the usual easy issues healthy young working moms have. One day she brought her 48 year old husband to me because he was tired and had a nagging cough. The diagnosis was not hard to confirm. A chest X-ray followed by a biopsy revealed an unexpected and "for no damn reason" lung cancer. It was the hardest result to discuss but we dug in with the best specialists for consultation and treatment. Despite the most advanced aggressive treatment, over the next year, he died. They had a young daughter and the agony of watching him decline and knowing he would not make it was almost unbearable for all of us. This was your classic young family who exhibited bravery and humor and grace and inspired everyone who came into contact with them.

Now two years later, the hard grief was lessening and Karen was looking forward in her own life. She had her own cancer scare (thankfully not present) and at our last visit she gave me the envelope. Reading her words of thanks and her recollection of the guiding support she felt from me, touched me in deep ways. She mentioned the journey she and her husband had taken together, with me too, and it was like poetry.

This is why we do Medicine. It is for the opportunity to share private, agonizing, happy,painful, spiritual moments with others and, hopefully, make some kind of difference. It's not about money or lifestyle. It's about gratitude. Mine and hers.


Anonymous said...

This is definitely a "blogworthy"
wonderfully, meaningful post.
Thank you, for sharing this in an unusual article!


TBTAM said...

You're right - those little notes make it all worthwhile. And they usually come from those who have had the largest crosses to bear. Ironic, isn't it?

Cary said...

It's nice that she understood that you were part of the painful journey and realized how difficult it must have been for you as well. We sometimes forget that doctors are human.

Anonymous said...

Standing up applauding!

Health care is a partnership, between physician and patient, the good and the bad~

Jonathan said...

I think you are indeed fortunate to be in a profession where others are grateful that you're in their lives. Teachers, and possibly the clergy, come to mind as other professions where gratitude is part and parcel of the relationship.

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