Thursday, August 30, 2012

Back To Life

I usually think of it as a positive the sign.  A patient is depressed, mourning, or just doing poorly.  Then they show up on my schedule for a physical.  It's the small efforts that start to change the tide: being sure to remember to brush the teeth in the morning, having that piece of fruit after lunch, going for an evening jog.  When one pushes the body to do healthy things, the mind often follows albeit unwillingly.

And this doctor thing can be quite tricky.  We strive to both create and break barriers.  We must ensure a level of trust to allow our patients to divulge the sensitive parts.  But we also maintain a certain amount of coldness, it is sometimes the art of being aloof that coaxes the truth from reticent lips. We draw them in and push them away. 

Draw them in and push them away.

It's an artificially crafted dance that for the most part serves the profession well.  The trick is to know when it's time to let go and stop being a doctor.


Johnny had no one.  Years before, his girlfriend had convinced him to move to Chicago after graduate school.  He packed his belongings and left his family and friends without much thought.  He was in love.  Their relationship went swimmingly, and during our last visit we discussed his wedding plans.  The deal was sealed and the date was secured.

So it was with great surprise, that I watched Johnny amble into my office for his annual with his head hanging low.  According to my calculations, his wedding should have taken place a few weeks ago.  But it didn't,  she left him at the altar.  The wedding was cancelled.  The engagement was called off.

Johnny was alone.  His former fiancee had packed her belongings and left the apartment.  His family was hundreds of miles away.  Most of his Chicago friends were actually hers.  He contemplated leaving his job and moving, but it was his one source of pleasure.  He didn't have the strength.

We talked briefly, and I examined him.  His body was listless.  His eyes focused on the floor and he spoke in a monotone. A single tear fell from each eye.  Although Johnny was only a decade younger than I, I felt like a father looking upon his wounded son.  As I finished my notes, I stared at the screen and tried to think of a way to comfort him.  I was at a loss.

Johnny and I both stood at the end of the appointment.  All the sudden I knew what I had to do, although I felt self conscious and awkward.  I ignored those feelings.

Looking him in the eye, I took a step closer.  I put my head down.

Then I embraced him.

His body became tense and then relaxed.  He wept.  I'm not sure how long we stood in place.  Eventually I handed him Kleenex and he walked out the office.

I saw Johnny again yesterday.  Years later, he still lives in Chicago.  At the end of our visit he showed me a picture of his newborn.  He is married and happy.


As physicians we learn to use all our senses.  We rely on our eyes and ears in addition to our minds.  But sometimes human beings require something more primal in times of great need.

Like a great defibrillating shock,

the power of touch can also bring us back to life.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Just catching up on your blogs and this one brought a tear to my eyes. Beautiful.