I presented as a patient with sudden onset of abdominal issues who was terrified that her breast cancer had returned. My family physician did her due diligence and then referred me to a GI specialist.
My GI doctor was a snappy dresser and not one to mince words. His office lost the first referral from my family physician and my appointment was considerably delayed. When I finally arrived in his office, my GI doctor was visibly annoyed that I had a bleeding disorder that required an expensive pre-procedure IV; told me that it was my job to coordinate my procedure with my hematologist; talked way too fast for me to comprehend what he was saying; did not look at me when he spoke to me; sat behind his desk and typed on his computer as he peppered me with questions. When I arrived at the endoscopy suite in the hospital a few weeks later, he was similarly abrupt and rushed.
Somewhere in our jumbled conversation, I allowed myself to be vulnerable. I confessed I was scared that my cancer had returned. That was my biggest fear; ruling out cancer was what mattered to me. On the way home from a long day at the hospital after my procedures, I groggily glanced down at my discharge papers. My GI doctor had taken the time to scrawl the words No Cancer on the top of the form.
I waited seven long weeks for a follow-up appointment to confirm the pathology had come back and my multiple biopsies were indeed benign.
Somewhere underneath the cold demeanour was a man who had built a wall around his heart. He hid behind professionalism and efficiency, held hostage by regulatory bodies and ten-minute appointments. Maybe he learned from his mentors in medical school to not get too close to his patients. Maybe he had been shamed for showing emotion. Maybe he watched his colleagues roll their eyes at clinicians who held their patients’ hands. Maybe he was pressured by administrators to see more and more patients in less and less time. Maybe his gruff exterior hid a soft inside.
My GI doctor did not have to write No Cancer on that discharge summary. But he did. I didn’t think he heard what was important to me. But he had heard me. He made the time to write those words to comfort me, perhaps in the only way he knew how.
This is what health care is about my friends. Comfort and healing. Comfort and healing.
I see you Dr. F. I choose to not remember all the crappy parts of my patient experience. Instead, I will cherish your small but significant demonstrated act of kindness. No Cancer. No Cancer. I will carry on.