An anxious doctor is comforted by a patient

How Are You Doing, Doctor?

During recent labs, my doctor and I were just chatting. We were not talking about illness or cancer or COVID-19. Just chatting. He often says that he feels like he is wasting my time because we’ve not had to do much on my three-year journey other than labs and scans and he is always asking if I am still taking my medication. Of course, I take my medicine. My labs are always good. My scans are stable. There’s not a whole lot to discuss.

A heart-to-heart with my doctor

During our chat, he mentioned his patient load and I begin to ask questions as if I were a peer instead of his patient. He’s received so many new patients just within the past couple of months. It’s not patients changing doctors, but newly diagnosed patients. I began to think about his daily routine. The good news that he gets to tell, but the bad news that he has to repeat over and over in a day. The rounds he has to make on patients in the hospital that are at the end of their journey. All of this in the middle of a pandemic where things are already difficult.

I looked him in the eye and said, “How are you doing in all of this?”. His response was that he was mentally fatigued. I told him that I could not imagine the mental strain on him. The clinic receptionist said that they had already seen over 200 patients before noon that day. I totally understand how he could be mentally fatigued.

Hard to image the emotional weight doctors carry

Think about this. We are just one person. We live in this body riddled with out-of-control mutating cells and it is often exhausting and mentally draining as well. We are constantly watching and learning and looking for new cutting-edge drugs with greater efficacy and fewer side effects. We are constantly playing the what-if game. We are constantly preparing for the next shift. Imagine having to think about the “what next” for literally hundreds of patients. There’s just so much. So much to think about, to do, to research, and to learn. Just because he’s a practicing oncologist doesn’t mean the learning ends there. He has to study and keep abreast of numerous types of cancer and new treatments and new trials. When does he have time when he’s already working 12-16 hour days?

Our doctors are human too

Our doctors catch the blame for so much. When something doesn’t go right, he catches the blame. Yet his name appears in obituaries across the state of Mississippi and beyond in recognition of a job well done by the loved ones of his patients. There’s the good side of the patient/practitioner relationship and then there’s the bad. The ones that love and adore him when the treatment is working and then the ones that hate him and find another doctor and want to have his license revoked because treatment didn’t work. He’s blamed.

He’s human too. He has a wife and family. He’s doing all the things that a father would at home. He’s not immune to illness or someone in his family. He’s going to ballgames and supporting his children in all the ways that he can. As the old saying goes - he puts his pants on one leg at a time like the rest of the world.

So very grateful for my oncologist

We put too much on our oncologists sometimes. We ask all the things and want him to tell us what to do. He doesn’t have all the answers and it’s ok. He might not know why I have a lung cancer diagnosis at 36. He doesn’t know how long I have left to live on this earth. I’ve asked him and he flat out said he didn’t know...because he doesn’t. I am sure at the end-stage that he can inform family members that the end is drawing nigh. However, when he saw me in October of 2017, he couldn’t tell me if I was going to be here in three years or not.

One thing he did tell me on that day and it stung so deep was “I can treat you, but I cannot cure you.” This is where he handed me the tissue box. I lost it for a second and gained my composure back. He has to see that every day. Someone newly diagnosed on the ever-changing shock wave of their life. I was thankful for him being direct with me and not sugar coating or giving false hope and to this day he has been the same. I say that he’s an angel on earth.

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