In December 2009, I learned that I have a rare form of ovarian cancer. When an emergency trip to the nearest hospital led to the discovery of a giant malignant tumor, I underwent a complete hysterectomy, which is major surgery and takes at least 4–6 weeks to recover from. Not one to do things the easy way, I developed a number of serious post-operative complications, including, among other things, a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung). After a two-week stay in the hospital, I finally went home, only to bounce from the ER to the OR to the doctor’s office over the next ten weeks or so, dealing with serious persistent problems that just wouldn’t stay fixed.
Throughout all this, I had the sweetest, most adorable doctor ever. And I have to say, I was quite sad when he released me post-operatively back to my primary care physician. I got to thinking … does anyone really ever thank their doctor? And if so, how? Hallmark doesn’t seem to make a greeting card for such an occasion. So I sent him a basket of gourmet brownies and cookies. And yet, I still felt like there was more for me to express.
While I convalesced in my bed, I did what any bored invalid in the twenty-first century would do: I surfed the ‘Net, searching for anyone who had gone through what I had and come out whole and healthy on the other side. I found forums of women who had had the same surgery as mine. Many of them complained at length about the attention they hadn’t gotten, about the diagnoses that were missed or delayed, about the lack of compassion or absent bedside manner of their providers. And I thought, How sad. Because, despite being the most taciturn and emotionally locked-up patient in the history of modern medicine, I’m unashamed to say that I love my surgeon.
I’m not brave enough or anonymous enough right now to send this letter directly to my white-coated hero. It’s too soon. Maybe someday I will, but for now, here goes:
Dear Dr. B.,
I love you because:
1. You always looked me in the eye when you talked to me (no matter how drugged out I was at the time), and you always held my hand, which I found very reassuring. “I don’t want you to worry,” you said, “we’re going to take very good care of you.” And you did.
2. You never talked down to me; you explained everything clearly and completely, and you gave me all the time I needed to ask questions. You understood my need to be included in The Plan, that I was used to doing things, and not just having things done to me.
3. You treated my husband with compassionate respect every time you spoke to him, whether in person or on the telephone. (He likes you, too.)
4. You finally “got” my deadpan sense of humor, and learned to read my silences.
5. You recognized when I was on the verge of giving up, and gently offered me the support that I needed (without making me feel foolish).
6. You always took or returned my phone calls, or arranged to see me immediately, whenever I had set-backs to report, assuring me that, “We want you to call us; we’re here 24/7.”
7. You rearranged your morning to meet with me, as if I were more important than anything else you had on your schedule, even the five women in active labor way over on the other wing of the hospital. (Although, I think maybe you were trying to escape them.)
8. You were humble enough to seek the advice and help of your colleagues when my problems wouldn’t stay solved.
9. You never gave up or blamed me for the many complications I had.
And, most importantly . . .
10. YOU SAVED MY LIFE. Thank you.
P.S.: It doesn’t really matter who I am, because this is who you are.