Sometimes it feels like the whole darned leukemia experience was designed just for me so that I could really understand what it is like to be a patient. OK, got that lesson. I don't have all the nuances of being a patient, but I got a fair part of the experience: fear, kindness, what feels nice, what is aggravating, delirium, chemobrain, etc. The latest is almost too weird: my beloved hematologist, John Hill, is out sick now. The person I talked with said he didn't know what John was out with, but that he'd be out for a couple of months. I am shocked and the world feels a little less secure than it did before. I worry, "but who will keep me disease-free and healthy?" I hope very much that he is OK and just like a regular patient, not knowing what is going on makes me worry more. I don't want to intrude in his space; I just want him to get better. I feel so helpless knowing that there is not much I can do. I know how nice it is to get cards so I sent him one. I told him if he wants to talk ever about the doctor-patient relationship from all angles, to let me know. We have pretty much every aspect covered at this point.
Why was I talking with someone up north who could give me the news about John? John and I had decided that I'd wait on my routine followup until he came back, but then I started not feeling that great and needed to see my regular doctor. The differential diagnosis of "doesn't feel well" in a leukemia survivor always includes leukemia, so we had to check a CBC. Guess what! My CBC was not perfectly normal. It was slightly abnormal in that way it often is, slightly low lymphocytes, slightly low platelets, normal everything else, no blasts or mis-shapen cells. My PCP and I decided that we were not going to worry about this, just re-check in a week or two. I was walking out the front door to go running and my phone rang. It was John's secretary telling me that the fellow wanted me to come up for an appointment tomorrow. I did really well and didn't panic, just asked her if there was new information. Of course, she didn't know so she paged him. He said, no, there was no new information (I imagined that maybe the pathologist had looked at my smear and called him without letting me know that there was something wrong). He said he just thought I'd like to come up so that they could take a look at me and re-assure me that there was nothing wrong. Nah, I'm reassured already. I'll do my routine followup with them--this time--and really really hope that John is back in three months.
It's so funny because when I first started practicing (and to some extent still) I felt like how can people find what I say so re-assuring or even find me so comforting. I mean, it's just me; I spend 24/7 with myself and don't find me re-assuring or comforting. Of course, what makes the relationship work is not me, or it's not only me; it's me in the role. I really see how some one in that doctor role who has seen you through tough stuff easily becomes, almost irresistibly becomes, some one you rely on, who makes you feel safe. I continue to be astonished that I can do for other people what John does for me, in the sense that I can make people feel safe when they are most vulnerable. What a fabulous job I have!
I am thankful that I get the privilege of being a doctor. I hope things turn out ok for John.