Wednesday, May 4, 2011

This and that.

fairy dust

Your symptoms were classic. It was as if you had read the textbook before they even spoke to you. A bread and butter presentation of a common problem. That is what they reported when you first came in, but as it turns out, your examination suggested something else. Totally unexpected.

"That was what I initially thought," my resident explained, "but then I found this. I was expecting only that; no one mentioned anything about this." 

And so we came to discuss it with you.

"When you came in we thought it was simply that, but then we found something we didn't expect," we said.

"What does it mean?" you asked.

"It could mean this or it could still mean that."

"Which do you think it is? This or that?"

"That was why you were admitted, but this is why we need to keep you."

 "But what do you think? Do you think it is this or do you think it's that?"

"My concern is that it is this. Or this and that."

"This and that?"

"I'm afraid so."

"What's worse? This or that?"

"This is very serious. If it is this it could be at a point that would make it very difficult to treat. If it is that, then there are things we can do to treat it."

"Well, my life has been long and perfect.  If it's this,  I don't want anything that could cause me to feel bad."

"Okay. I will make sure to make a note of your wishes."

A few more days yields a few more answers. Turns out it was definitely this, and wasn't even that at all. You aren't ready to fully deal with this yet, so we follow your wishes and discharge you from the hospital.

 A few weeks later I see you.  This has made you sicker. So sick in fact that it was hard for stoic you to stay at home.

"Hey there," I said.

"This is too much," you replied.

"What would you like for me to do?"

"Just stop this from hurting me so much. Can you do that?"

"I can try."

"I sure hope you can."

"No, I will."

"Okay," you said with a relieved smile. "Okay."

Another week passes and I run into your family member in the Grady hallway.

"This has gotten pretty bad," he said.  He tells me that you asked for me.  He said you asked for me to see about you. "I know you aren't the doctor over this, but still. Can you come?"

"Yes," I said.  "I will come."

I walk in and you seem happy to see me. I am happy to see you, too.  This has really taken a toll on your body.

"I hate this," you said. And then you laugh. Robust and hearty, and not even sick-sounding. You pat the bed beside you and I sat right there on your bed with you.

"Whatcha know good?" I teased using language we both know well. I hoped it would make you feel better. At least a little bit.

"Whew. This is nothing to play with," you replied with a grimace.

"Neither are you," I shot back with a wink. You winked back. "You okay?"

"No," you responded. "I'm not okay."

I looked uncomfortable with that answer because I am a doctor and that kind of answer makes a doctor feel like a failure. You sensed that, and elaborated. "See, I'm not scared of this but I am so scared to leave my family behind. I am the one who always keeps everything together." You shook your head.  "This is so going to be so hard for them."

I don't know what to say. Because you're right and it is going to be hard. I had seen their faces loving on you and flanking you in bedside chairs and wished I had a magic potion for that part even more than the illness itself. Or at least some fairy dust.

"I'm glad you came to see about me."

"I am, too."

You reach over and gave me a hug, tangling me in IV tubing. I hugged you back just the same. After that, we sat and talked and laughed about a lot of different things. And barely even spoke about this and never even mentioned that.  You asked about my children and wanted to know about my marriage. I listened intently, taking mental notes as you shared with me about yours because, to quote you, I was still "new to the game."  I asked you to "school me" on what you thought I should know, and you did just that.  It was great.

That was my last time seeing you.  A colleague contacted me today to tell me that you'd slipped away. Peacefully, just like you'd wanted, surrounded by the people you loved the most.  They were braver than even you expected them to be.  "I will not let this cast a shadow over the end of what has been a glorious life," you'd told me.  And you were right.  You didn't let this win over you or your final hours.

It's weird.  As sad as it makes me to know that a simple visit for that snowballed into all of this, a part of me believes that if had only been that, I never would have gotten to know you in the way this allowed me to.  That would have made your time with me fleeting, your hospital bed simply a revolving door. So if there was even a tiny piece of silver lining in this, I guess I could selfishly say that was it. Because as bad as this was, you still took the time to share a piece of yourself with me. And to school me.

"What's the key to living this long and keeping your family together and happy?"  I asked you as I leaned my elbow on my knee and rested my chin in my hand.  I gazed up at you like a child, waiting for your wisdom to be sprinkled upon me like that fairy dust I'd longed for earlier.

"It's simple," you told me, "for everything in life, all it takes is a little bit of this and a little bit of that. You got that?"

Got it.



  1. Dr. Manning, I've been quietly reading/stalking your blog for awhile now. As a second year in the middle of finals and boards studying, I want to say thank you. Thank you for reminding me that this terrible month will be worth it.

  2. I feel like this post could be some sort of short story. I LOVE how you write. I love reading about your real life experiences and the compassion and kindness that you (and others) show. Keep writing. I want to keep reading.

  3. This is such a beautiful post. I've been reading your blog for a while now; I worked as a chaplain at Grady last summer, and this captured perfectly so many of the unexpected "holy moments." Thank you so much for writing.

  4. And a whole lot of love. Or at least love sprinkled onto and cooked into every bit of this and that.

  5. I've been reading you for a while now, and I'm finally getting around to saying....damn, girl, I love the way you talk. You speak to this old RN's soul. Take care of yourself.

  6. I cry when I read so many of your entries.
    This time there were tears of quiet joy.

    Such love and tenderness from both of you. Just taking time to share with each other is a true blessing.

    Thank you for sharing with us.


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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