I wish I could write in detail about how being a patient has changed how I'm a doctor, but I feel that to do so even with details changed would be betraying patient trust and information. I can tell you that I have had the experience of making what seem to me to be "run of the mill" empathetic statements and have had people look up at me surprised, like they really are struck by how insightful something I said was. I do not recall this happening before I had leukemia. On the other hand, it never seems to me that my statements are all that insightful--either before or after the leukemia. One of the statements that seemed to really work for a patient was something about how common side effects were and having to decide if the benefits of the medication (to treat the side effects of the treatment) were worth the side effects (of the med to treat the side effects of another med). I'm not sure if there was something about the echoing of the side effects of the side effect treatment that got into my patient's head or what, but all of a sudden, he warmed to me and looked like I had just said something that made everything fall into place for him. Seemed to me it was nothing special and nothing I wouldn't have said nine months ago. Maybe I'm just more on the lookout for it and recognize it when something I happen to say really clicks for a patient. Or perhaps all the writing I've been doing has made me more eloquent as a speaker. On the other hand, it could be random chance, but I'll take it as it always feels nice to feel like I've really connected with a patient or have gotten to be lucky enough to say something that really makes a difference for someone.
Maybe six or eight years ago, when I was in Exeter, a pediatrician said that sometimes parents will come up to him and tell him that they have always remembered that thing he said to them when their college student was a baby. He realized that they have taken something he said twenty years ago on a normal day when they were one of thirty patients he was seeing and it wasn't anything special he said and they have treasured it all these years. It made him think about how special what we do is and to remember that you never know when the moment that can change someone's life is going to happen.
I am so grateful for having this kind of a job. I am hopeful that I will always see it this way and that everyone with whatever sort of job they have, will feel that way about what they do, too. It's really kind of sacred in a way that we get to interact with each other all the time. May we keep that in mind.