This is a thing I’ve never been able to do: take the day in its full measure. The day’s business – its proper business – usually takes me by surprise.
I woke up the other day. I wasn’t scheduled at the hospital, so, spiritually, I assumed I had the day off. Sabrina was at work; I was alone in the house with only my list of chores, my `business of the day.’
Sabrina came home unexpectedly and told me a woman had called her about adopting Felicia, our foster Siamese cat. The woman arrived; we all walked down to Felicia’s room. The woman told us how empty, how lonely her house had been since she had to put her seventeen-year-old Siamese to sleep. I suspected she was telling us about her heart, as well as her house.
The woman took one look at Felicia and misted. Whispering, “She’s so beautiful,” she gathered up Felicia, and Felicia, immediately content, fell asleep in her arms. Love at first sight. For each, a new friend; an intimacy instantly struck; companionship for her lonely `house.’ I was permitted to participate in this moment, which proved to be – as you might guess – far more spiritual than anything on my chore list.
The next day, I’m at work. Now a solid day’s accomplishments might include putting in a chest tube, saving a patient in cardiac arrest, something dramatic, satisfying; gratitude from the patient, thanksgiving from me.
Instead, at the end of the day, the high point involved a man with diarrhea and weight-loss for two months and constant abdominal pain for one month. I did all the tests and poof! Big diagnosis, right? Nope. CAT scans and all, I never found a thing.
So I sat and talked with the frightened man and wife. I listened to their fears, but had no answers. I referred him on to a specialist who can unravel this mystery. The wife touched my arm in leaving; the husband shook my hand warmly and told me I’m a great doc, and left with precisely the same problem he came in with. I realized, incredibly, they were pleased with me, that they hold our encounter as uncommon and unique… and I had changed nothing! That meeting had been the business of the day somehow, but I didn’t understand much about it.
The next day, there was Miss Nora. Again. She’s got the cancer; it’s spread to her bones. Surgeons relieved her of her malignancy-encrusted left lower leg some months ago. I’ve seen her twice since then. She’s been having this pain in her left hip. She knows what it means.
She comes in on a wheel chair and roams the hall with half-wild eyes while waiting to be seen. So terrified is she of the disease that reduces her, she cannot stay still. Her hair is wispy and thinned from her treatments, ignored and untended. That which remains is disheveled with that carelessness of appearance, that distraction which horror brings.
Over her last two visits, she began to see me through her veil of fear. She put a name to my face. Not an anonymous ER doc, but Dr. Garvin. She’s anxious. Can’t sleep. Can’t eat. Her family can’t do anything with her; they’re worried sick. I tell them she has an enemy inside and it frightens her in a way we’ve never been frightened. For sixty years she’s had two legs; never gave them a second thought. Now she has but one, and it’s hurting…
I talked to her, gave her some medicine to relax, set her up with some counseling. Then she smiled at me. First time. I hugged her. She went home.
But the other day she was back in the ER. Terrible night; pain all over. I saw her name on the patient board. I should have just gone in to see her. Had I done that, I would have been on top of the business. But it was so busy that day, and one of my partners beat me to it.
I should have grabbed up her chart out of order, gone in and just hugged her. You know what I would have said to her? Nothing. There’s nothing I can say. So I would have hugged her. Why? Because a hug says there’s nothing I can do- and nothing I can say that will fix you. A hug says I feel so awful that this is true.
I can’t do anything about the problem in Miss Nora’s body, but how about her soul? Maybe I would have been given the words she needed to hear. I mean you are supposed to be a healer aren’t you, Garvin? And when you can’t heal, you’re supposed to what? Comfort? Wasn’t that the oath you took?
I would have asked her if she’d been praying. It’s said you’ll find no atheists in foxholes. The same is true of hospices. She might have answered, `I pray all the time.’ There’s the problem. Prayer’s has two parts: you talk; then, you listen. I know I get worried about a thing and pray without ceasing to the point that God can’t squeeze an answer in sideways.
Too much prayer can be a sign of weakening faith. We keep talking because we don’t quite believe. Maybe she would have confessed – I’ve heard it many times before – that she was being punished by the cancer for her sins of early life. So you’ve sinned. So what? The Creator not only permits U-turns; He counts on them.
Yeah, that’s what I would have told her, if I had any talent at all for figuring out the business of the day . . .
Look for Lucky’s books locally and on-line: The Oath of Hippocrates; The Cotillian; A Journey Long Delayed.