When Joan was in last week and told me she had just completed chemotherapy for breast cancer, I assumed congratulations were in order. When I smiled and offered them, she suddenly became forlorn and began to cry. And these were not tears of joy.
Bill has always been one of my healthiest patients. In his mid-sixties, I see him for annual check-ups and for one minor complaint or another. He is proud of his healthy lifestyle and has an air of invicibility about him. He often rants about how people are lazy and bring illness on themselves.
I’ve grown accustomed to handing Bill far more reassurance than prescriptions. Until this week, that is, when he pointed to his mid-chest and began to tell me his story.
At our last office visit, I told Mrs. B., my 88 year-old patient of 18 years, that she was doing very well. Her blood pressure was controlled, her vaccines were up to date, and her mild COPD was well adjusted. She was still an active volunteer for the local VFW, tirelessly preparing food and hellping with events. I encouraged her to keep up the good work and said that I looked forward to seeing her in a few months. She died the following week.
It was midway through a crazy-busy Monday morning in the office: a full schedule plus two urgent walk-ins. I was starting to pray for a no-show to help me get caught up.
Roger was my next patient, a 70-year-old man with hypertension and diabetes, a long-time patient who had not been in for a while. Feeling the pressure of my busy schedule, I decided to skip my usual routine of looking over the recent encounters and studies in the chart before going into Roger’s exam room. I knocked, entered and greeted him with a smile, handshake and, “Nice to see you, Roger. I hope you have been feeling well since your last visit.”
The Vietnam war turned Ned from a tough-as-nails fighter into a worried soul as fragile as porcelain. He survived his tour of duty physically intact, but with his emotional resilience worn away like an old roof, allowing disabling fear to deluge over something as routine as a blood pressure check.