Monday, November 4, 2013

Please quit.

Today my allergies were attacking me something ferocious. Wait--I take that back. They started going cattywompus over the weekend and by Sunday night I was fighting a leaky, drippy red nose and this really irritating sore throat. The kind that's sore only on one side so when you swallow it feels like you have some kind of raw lump in the place of one of your tonsils. So to try to get some rest, I took some Nyquil and hit the sack early. Which for me is like 11PM.


I slept great. Great, man. But waking up? That was different story. I woke up in that post nighttime cold medicine sedation haze. I had to take an antihistamine on top of it, too, to be able to make it through clinic. Which only made me feel groggier.

I was awake but icky feeling. I could feel that my fuse was short and worked hard to keep from taking it out on Isaiah while taking him to school. Fortunately I managed that part and was doing fine. But then I got stuck behind a train while trying to make it into Grady which literally stopped in the middle of the road. Now in addition to being all super ultra groggy, I was frustrated, too.


I finally make it to work. Late. But I was working with Mehul T. who is really easygoing and super understanding. And all of it was fine and good. The residents today happened to all be seniors so their management plans were excellent and easy to follow. I was thankful for that since my fuse was so short.

Yeah, I was.

I went in to see this gentleman with one of the residents. I'd been told that he'd been smoking for many years and that after a couple of attempts to quit, he'd given up on not smoking. Completely.

"I just ain't ready," he said. "When I'm ready, I'll let y'all know."

But here's the thing: This man had not a single medical problem that wouldn't be improved by quitting smoking. Furthermore, he'd overcome much, much worse habits. He had. He'd just made up his mind and quit. So I heard this whole story before I went in to see him. And groggy me knocked on the door and entered once he gave me the green light.

I coached myself to be less groggy. "Hey there , sir! What you know good?"

"Oh, I ain't no count!" he responded with a raspy laugh.

And something about that made me love him immediately. Like love him in the way you love a patient. Not in the eros way but in the philos or brotherly love way. Like the way I feel when I meet someone sure to be an F.P.

"Your doctor told me about you changing your mind about the cigarettes."

"Yeah. I'll do it when I'm ready. That's what I did with that other stuff."

I felt my groggy-short-fuse getting worse. "What will it take to get you ready?"


"What will it take? To get you ready to quit?"

"I don't know. I don't."

And I just leaned my groggy head into my groggy hand and sighed. Harder than I realized.

"Damn, doc! It's like that?" And he chuckled again, that sandpaper-y laugh. Which only made me want him not to smoke even more.

He was a happy appearing man. His hair had evolved into mostly confluent salt and pepper with concentrated patches of white near the temples. Despite the greying, his hairline hadn't budged a bit. His smile was bright; it partly had to do with the veneers on his teeth but was mostly because of who he was.  I had just met this man but was sure of one thing: he was loved.

He had to be. Because I had just come into his presence and already cared for him so I knew that there was a family somewhere adoring him. I just knew it. So I asked him.

"You have kids, sir?"

"Oh yeah! They grown, though. But they all live near me."


"Eight of 'em. And they all spoiled rotten." He laughed again. "Whew they spoiled!"

"I bet they love their granddad like crazy," I said. And I said that because I meant it. I just knew that every one of those people he named cherished him. I could tell.

"Yeah. They love ol' granddaddy."

"You're actually not so old."

"Who you telling?" This time we just smiled at each other.

I was tired. My head felt like it had been inflated with air. And this man, this wonderful man, was killing himself slowly. My fight was on empty. I couldn't find my motivational hat so I resorted to something so simple that it startled us both when I let it escape my lips.

"Please quit."

"What you say, doc?" He wasn't sure he'd heard me right.

I repeated myself. "Please. Quit."

And he just kind of looked at me like I was stupid. Which I don't blame him at all for doing.

"Can I tell you something?" I asked.

He nodded.

I sighed hard once more and started. "I told a man he was dying last week. Dying because he'd smoked so much that it caused him cancer. He wasn't old either. He was younger than you, sir. Younger than you. And his wife asked what we could do to beat it and the real true answer was nothing. Not a thing."

He was quiet.

"I'm sorry, sir. That was just so awful and I'm still kind of messed up about it. And that man had so many people around him loving on him. They were sad and asking those same questions and, really, all I could tell them was that the oncologist would give them more information. Which I knew for sure wouldn't be the kind they want to hear."

"Damn. That's rough."

"It is. I can just tell how much people love you. I can. And I just know that if they had to wrap their minds round some bad thing happening to you, they'd be just as sad if not sadder."

"Yeah, they would."

"Then quit. Please. Quit. Or at least really, truly consider it. Because if you keep smoking eventually something bad is going to happen to you. I assure you of that."

"Damn. You just shooting from the hip today, ain't you?" I felt a twinge of regret when he said that. Like I was being too forward which I blamed on my groggy-post-cold-medicine-haze. And that slow ass train that made me late for work.

"I'm sorry. I just want you to make up your mind to quit. I hate seeing people lose their loved ones over something like cigarettes. It's so frustrating."

And I don't know what it was but that seemed to do it. It did.

"I'm gonnna quit."


"Yeah. I like how you said it to me like you cared. 'Please quit.' Nobody never said that to me like that."

"Not even your family?"

"No. They all know not to nag me about it so they don't. But I know they think it."

"Okay. You setting a quit date?"



"I tell you what--I won't be smoking no more when you see me back. That's all you need to know."


That was enough for me. I knew his track record for making up his mind to quit things so I believed him. I had nothing else to say.

We wrapped up the rest of the visit and prepared to leave the room. He flashed that infectious smile in my direction once more and I felt my fact grow warm. I liked him so much. And I was glad that we was going to quit smoking. As simple as that. I was .

He shook my hand hard and deliberate. "Thanks, hear?"

I tightened my grasp around his and returned the favor. "No, sir--thank YOU."

So that was pretty much that.

I'm not sure why I even shared that story. But I think it just got me thinking about how sometimes less is more. Like sometimes people don't need a bunch of words to know you care or to help them make the right decision.

I'm sticking that lesson on a mental post it note for later.




  1. I know this had nothing to do with the point of your post but it stung that you said that you cared for him because you knew he had an adoring family. What about all the people who are alone, those who don't have adoring families. I guess their lives are less worthy...

    1. Good morning, Anonymous. I am going to assume you are new to my blog. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is one story of one encounter with one person. I have told many, many more with people from all walks of life and admittedly find myself often drawn to those with the least family support.

      I wonder if today was a day that perhaps you were flying on one wing and saw this that way? If it is, know that I care about you, too.

      This is a blog dedicated to teaching, learning, caring and growing as a physician in a public hospital. I have dedicated my career (and hours of writing) to the very people you just accused me of not caring about. And that? That wasn't really cool.

      That man reminded me of some family members. That drew me to him. But I could have loved him in the philos sense even if he didn't.

      Be careful, friend. . . . ."stung" is a good word for my feeling after your comment being the first I awoke to this morning.

    2. And P.S. I said I loved him immediately after hearing his laugh--not because he had an adoring family.

    3. Anonymous, I didn't read it the way you did, at all. Your words seem to come from a sad place. Lonely people not being worthy isn't the take-away I got from this post. Grady doc was just using what she had at her disposal to reach this patient, like she does with all her patients. I like knowing that she gives the same love and care to everybody she treats, and I know she makes lonely people feel less alone. She's an angel that way. If he didn't have a loving family, she would have found another way to reach him, to help guide him to deciding to quit. Because she cares, she really and truly does.

  2. I'm glad you had a rough morning so you were able to say "Just quit." to him like that. If you'd had a great morning maybe that wouldn't have been what came to you.

    My allergies are messing me up over here too.

    1. These allergies are crazy. Thanks for reading, Kristin. I hope you have a great day today.

  3. Less is more. Yep it really is sometimes! Thanks for caring, even on days you don't feel so good. You inspire me with your loving heart!

    1. I love that name "Sassy." Thanks for these kind words and for reading here at 7:25 in the morning!

  4. This post really gets me, because my sister has struggled with trying to quit smoking for decades. She's tried everything, the gum, the meds, hypnosis, she even made it clean for five years, but started working in a bar back when they still let you smoke indoors and she got sucked back in. It's awful, she knows it's awful, we've watched family dying of lung cancer smoke until their dying day, it is a terrible addiction. I wish she had you in her court, maybe it would help. But hey. You helped that man, you got through to him, you did. That's huge. You done good, again. Even feeling like crap, look at the magic you can do. xxoo

    1. Cigarettes can be such a powerful stronghold. They are wrapped into lifestyle and relationships which makes them so hard to shake. Your sister can do it. Tell her that I believe she can and will. Most people try 9 times before succeeding. All is not lost. It so very isn't.

      XO, KM

  5. Yea, the first comment must have come from a newbie to the blog. They were totally and completely off, but that's ok. Your response reflected your nature in the most gracious way.
    I thought it was so awesome that you could immediately discern how much this precious patient was loved by his own family because of the superfluous love you give and receive from your family and friends. What a blessing it is that you have so much philos in your life that you can so easily identify it in the lives of others! Wonderful!
    As one of the very regular readers of your blog, we know and appreciate the overwhelming compassion you give to every patient without respect of persons...from the "sick-sick" and lonely to the ones whose rooms are crowded with family, we know you've been given a heart to love everyone, and what a gift you've been given. Just as freely as you've received love, you freely give it - without condition.
    We joyfully read about your thoughts and experiences with family, friends, patients, strangers, the homeless, your struggles, Team SJGR, and top 10s. Some of the tears we shed are because your writing breaks us down, while other tears are because you literally crack us up!
    Though I've never met you (and I know you already know this, but), as readers we totally, totally get you and KNOW where your heart is (and it doesnt take reading your entire blog to figure it out).
    Thanks again for inviting us on your journey, because we readers? We're just glad to be here:)
    - L
    (I'm so sorry that my response is so long)

    1. I love this comment so much :)

    2. L-

      This made me cry. I so deeply appreciate these kind affirmations. Truly and sincerely I do. 'Preciiate you, friend.


    3. Thanks so much Mel and I loved your thoughtful comments. I will be trusting with you and others that your sister will quit. I believe like you that nothing is impossible and that your sister will choose life :)

      ...and Dr. M, 'preciate you so much too, friend.
      - L

  6. I think it's great that you were so plain with him. Patients need to hear the true dirty of what will become of them as a result of lifestyle choices.

    Maria, fellow Meharrian


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

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