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The Doctor as Patient, Part I of VI

The mom in my office was exhausted; three weeks without sleeping will not make anyone happy. I was trying to comfort her, making her understand that she has to give up the superwoman syndrome and rest.  Leave pride aside and get help for at least a few hours a day.

And then the phone rang. I have never liked to be disturbed while I am seeing a patient, unless, of course it is an emergency.

“Why are you interrupting?” I asked my receptionist who very well knows this rule.

“There is a doctor on the phone, he does not want to leave a message, and he says he must talk to you.”

Other physicians calling are indeed an exception to the rule. I had just sent a patient with a bad asthma exacerbation to the Emergency Room and I was quite impressed with how fast they were calling me back.

“Hello, thank you so much for calling back so fast, how is she doing?” I asked cheerfully.

Silence on the other side.

“Hello, who is this?” I said impatiently this time, ready to get upset with the receptionist who did not screen the calls properly.

“Well, hi, you know… is positive, I am sorry…it needs immediate follow up,” the voice said.

“What is positive? Who is this?” I was getting more and more impatient; the baby was screaming and the mom was ready to leave and I had so much more to tell her. It is a well-known fact that patience is not one of my best attributes.

“This is Dr. X, I am… I am really sorry.”

And then, all of a sudden, as if a huge rock had fallen on me, I understood.

“Thank you”, I said, this time with a bit of tremor in my voice and I hang up.

“Doctor, is everything okay? Doctor, you look pale,” the mom asked with genuine concern while trying to feed a very hungry, non-cooperative baby.

“Oh, well, I… I… you know, I was just talking about another patient.”

“Bad news? “

“Yes…I mean, no, no, it will be fine. Back to your little sweetheart…”

I was trying to recover from the news I just heard. Somehow, I finished the visit, somehow, I was able to comfort the new mom and I was grateful that she was my last patient of the day. I had, however, many other phone messages, lab results, charts to be finished and patient in the ER to follow.

And then, when all the work was done, the news settled in.

So, my biopsy was positive. I have cancer and I am going to die. This is it, as simple as that. But why? Why me? What have I done? This cannot be happening. It was the pathologist on the phone who performed the biopsy a few days ago.