January 15, 2011
what comes out the other side?
I'm enrolled in an extracurricular class entitled "The Healer's Art". It's a six-part seminar whereby they train a more human and humane physician. The second seminar was dubbed "Honoring Loss". We were instructed to close our eyes, center ourselves and in our mind's eye go to a time where we dealt with disappointment, loss, grief. No trouble there. After some exercises, we broke into smaller groups to explore the role that loss plays in healing. Personal stories were told and after recounting a much abbrievated tale of dealing my with my brother's illness as both brother and physician, I was asked, "did you find things out about yourself that you didn't know?"
My reply, "in situations such as this, you never really know what you'll do until you're confronted with the situation." A week has passed from that session and now I'm yet again confronted with more slings and arrows. My dad went in for a physical and came back with a descriptive condition by the name of pancytopenia. In a nutshell, his red blood cells (and corresponding hemoglobin), platelets and neutrophils are all way too low. Family doc thinks, "maybe it's a fluke or instrument problem." Retest. Same answer comes back except his hemoglobin drops from 10.0 to 8.6 in just 7-days (normal for a male is >14 depending on the lab, anything less than 8.0 becomes critical anemia). Conversations between my dad and I flow back and forth. He thinks that it's due to a bleeding ulcer as he has a history of that. Nothing terribly serious, in his estimation. I can tell that he wants to believe that. If only. My gut tells me differently. This is something potentially very serious. And I'm angry because once again I'm thrust into the position of convincing a loved one that something very dangerous is going on. This takes priority over everything else, period. Where the hell is the doctor in all this? Why does this keep happening? After reflection, I accept that nobody wants any of these cards but this is the hand we're dealt. My brother didn't want cancer. My dad didn't want something from a deep dark road I don't even want to think about, but can't help (leukemia, lymphoma, aplastic anemia, etc). A sense of naivete still hopes for something less ominous. We'll have to wait for more testing.
The anger is still there. If anything, it's intensified with the reflection and dealing with my brother going through a rough patch. I start to wonder if I am capable of doing this. But no, I can at least now put one foot in front of the other and accompany yet another family member to an oncologist to start the path of naming the demon we're confronted with. This week, it's my dad. Next week, it's my brother for a clinical trial. Somewhere after that I supposedly have some exams, too. In the midst of all this, I can tell that family members are beginning to become concerned about me. It's a valid concern, I guess. In looking ahead, I can't see a damned thing. I used to think about what kind of doctor or person would come out the other side of medical training with a sense of curiosity. Now, I have no idea. How can I? What kind of life comes out the other side of this?