Tuesday, January 20, 2009

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  • Hope

    Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.
    -Albert Einstein

    I know my blogging has been sporadic lately. I've been more than busy at work; I've been . . . immersed. Occupied. Mentally engaged. And I've been thinking a lot about hope.

    The best and worst parts of medicine tend to be the same. I am up close and personal with people and their families when they are ill. Much of the time, I deal with chronic illnesses, with managing things that will play out over one, five, twenty years. In the hospital, I admit young patients whose illness is a brief detour in their normal life, or older patients who seem to spend more time in the hospital than outside of it. It gets routine; until it doesn't.

    Last week was, for my patient and his wife, the absolute worst week of their entire lives. A healthy and vigorous man in the prime of (retired) life, and some minor symptoms, minor blood work abnormalities, and then every day the news was worse. Ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, biopsy, PET scan, and three emergency procedures scattered throughout, and a healthy man learned that he has months to live. The medical folks out there know that none of this is particularly unusual, per se. What was unusual was how they approached it. What was unusual was the hope.
    Hope must be the only word for it, I realized days later when I couldn't stop thinking about this patient. From that first moment when I told him that we needed to run more tests because it might be cancer to that last day when we told him that the cancer was uncurable, he looked me straight in the eye and thanked me. He was kind to the doctors, the nurses, and the cleaning staff. He was gracious in the midst of excruciating pain. When he went home to get his affairs in order, he cried, hugged me, and thanked me for being upfront with him. And all throughout, he asked all the hard questions, weighed all the options, and held hands with his wife. None of the options were good ones, and yet he radiates hope.

    Hope is not what we have when times are good and the going is easy; hope is what we have in the face of unsurmountable odds, when life is hard, and when none of the options seem ideal. Hope is based firmly in reality, in knowing just how bad things may be and yet still believing that there is a best.

    On Inauguration Day in these challenging days, I keep thinking about my patient and his sustaining, irrepressible hope. In the midst of my rounds today, I walked past many TVs and heard snippets of the calm and steady voice of our new president as he addressed the nation. I rounded on an elderly woman who doesn't know where she is, or why, but when we asked her what today was she cheered "Yay Obama." Because Hope can permeate any hardship. My patients - and that one patient in particular - are teaching me that Hope has so many more faces than I ever thought possible.

    America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.
    -President Obama's Inaugural Address



    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    What a powerful posting, my dear!! I'm moved by your words and your compassion for your patients--signs of a GOOD doctor, in my humble opinion.

    Love you,
    Susan (MIL)

    1/21/2009 5:31 AM  
    Blogger Dorothy said...

    Thanks for an inspiring post. I'm hoping this president will pull us together so that we can quit our bickering and look for solutions together!

    1/21/2009 6:35 AM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    You get to see the best and worst of people, don't you? That's a true privilege. It's amazing how you can feel hope and fear at the same time about so much.

    Also, happy I never again have to feel sickening anxiety watching my president speak publicly. Not now anyway.

    1/21/2009 7:01 AM  
    Blogger Claire said...

    President Obama. How satisfying it is to say those words!

    1/21/2009 7:50 AM  
    Blogger PJ said...

    The care you have in your heart..what inspiration! I love how you shared what part of his speech spoke to you...I have a section in my blog as well! Wonderful post how you related the subjects...

    1/21/2009 9:46 AM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Your post has moved me as much as the president's inaugural speech.

    1/21/2009 1:12 PM  
    Blogger Kristen said...

    Thank you for this post of hope. God bless your gracious patient, and our new president.

    1/21/2009 2:16 PM  
    Blogger Pam said...

    Thank you for this encouraging post -- because how ever dark the day, hope is a light.

    1/21/2009 3:45 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Beautiful post. I think we are all at least a little (if not a lot) more hopeful today than we were a couple days ago. This is a good thing.

    1/21/2009 3:52 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Some perfectly written thoughts. It is always interesting, as you say, that this what we do is routine, until it isn't. I'm not sure what it is about the patients that give us pause when so many others don't. Maybe it has something to do with him sincerely saying thank-you, and the others who don't (or don't have the chance).
    Even in my short career there will be the patients I remember forever, and the ones I woudln't recognize by name or face even when I happen across them again (and read an op note to find I operated on them).

    Here's to hope, and change, and something new. Keep up the fabulous doctoring, and remember to take care of yourself.

    1/21/2009 4:00 PM  
    Blogger Leah said...

    I have tears in my eyes from reading your post! What a moving story and so true...I was in DC for the inauguration this weekend and it was the most moving ever. It was just incredible to feel the love and hope and excitement of the two million plus people standing around me. And I second the thoughts of flirt girl such a welcome improvement. All over the world people are ecstatic and I know longer feel like I have to apologize for our president...

    1/21/2009 5:31 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Theresa, How beautiful that our human spirit is able to hope despite any difficulty. You write so well, T! Keep Going! Love, Mom

    1/21/2009 6:03 PM  

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