Soon after, my team admitted an alcoholic man in even worse shape–a middle-aged Irish American with yellowed eyes and a big belly. His abdomen had filled with fluid because his liver was no longer working. He had been drinking most of his life. He only had a few more binges left before his drinking killed him. I felt frustrated. I didn’t want to put myself out emotionally again. There was no reason; he’d just drink again and die. I only said, “You need to stop drinking” and made him an appointment.
And he did stop. He came to my office the following week. I was his doctor for two years, but I lost track of him before I finished my residency. Maybe he moved away. Maybe he went back to drinking. Even so, he had two years of sobriety, two years of added life. I don’t know if I made a difference, or if the healing came from inside himself.
That was one of many times that my patients have surprised and inspired me. These two alcoholics taught me a lesson: I am not in control. I cannot know who is ready to make difficult changes. My job is to do the best I can to encourage, educate and support whoever asks me for help. The rest is out of my hands.