“It is a wise father that knows his own child.”
Once upon a time, many years ago, my family was visiting for the holidays. On several occasions, I had tried, with only intermittent success, to explain to my father what I did for a living. On this day, I casually invited him to make rounds with me; he readily agreed.
When we got to the hospital, we headed to the inpatient floor. One of the patients that day was Mr. Johnson, a young man who had undergone cancer surgery to remove part of his cheekbone the day before. He had done well overnight and was recovering. I stuck my head into his room. “Merry Christmas!”
I said. “I have my father with me this morning to make rounds. He is not a doctor but he would like to meet you. Do you mind if he comes in with me?” “That would be fine,”
Mr. Johnson responded.
I returned to the hallway and retrieved my father. We entered and stood by the bed. If my father was surprised by my patient’s early post-operative appearance, he did not let on. “Good morning, Mr. Johnson! How are you doing today?”
Despite his obvious swelling, Mr. Johnson replied, “I’m doing very well, thanks.”
The young man was lying in bed with his one eye nearly shut and his cheek full of packing material. His fresh facial wounds were still healing and his skin graft donor site on his leg was tender. As I checked his surgical sites and looked at the chart, the patient spent a few minutes addressing my father and describing his initial symptoms, his treatment, and his recovery. My dad, a distinguished looking gentleman with graying temples, stood and listened, intermittently nodding and smiling, all the while absorbing the story. “How long do you think I will be in the hospital?”
asked my patient. My dad glanced at me. “I think you are doing great,”
I said. “I predict you will be home the day after tomorrow.”
“Thanks again, Doc. I’ll let my family know.”
Over the subsequent years, I didn’t remember many details of the visit, but my father certainly did. Several times during the remainder of his life, my dad reminded me about that day and inquired about the patients he had met. Those few minutes had given him insight into my life that I could never have provided by just telling him what I do.
Many years later, I received a Christmas card from Mr. Johnson, marking the anniversary of his hospitalization. “I remember you even came to see me on Christmas Day with your Dad. I will never forget that,”
As I read the card, I was surprised how that brief encounter many years before had clearly impacted both my father and the patient. The shared experience of illness had affected both of them, sharpening their senses. Later, when I responded to Mr. Johnson’s card, I realized that I was grateful not only to have cared for the patient, but that I was particularly grateful to have shared that moment of insight, healing, and presence both with Mr. Johnson and with my father. It was a holiday gift I will always remember.
The following is feedback received for this blog:
This is one of my favorite posts of yours. Incredibly touching. Reminds me of how my mom used to send my surgeon a Christmas card each year, to let him know how I was progressing (he saved my life as an infant). And each year he'd write back a hand written card. Those little human touches mean a lot.
- Val Jones
I love this one.
- selim firat
What a great post! I've had moments like these, and it never ceases to amaze me how much impact we have on the lives of our patients, and how things that seem so little to us can mean so much. And, conversely, how much of an impact our patients have on us.
- David Loeb