Returning phone calls isn’t my strong suit. I’m not sure what it is, but I’d rather just take the calls as they come, whenever possible. I usually let my patients know to have me paged if they need anything important, so it’s not unusual for me to hear from my patients at odd times. It’s a bit more unusual for me to have patients show up at the office without an appointment. I always squeeze people in if they call, but it’s a little harder if they just walk in (and the staff hates it—I guess it throws them off their game). So when Mr. Y showed up one morning, it was a bit of a surprise.
He’s a fairly new patient, a real nice older guy, the kind of guy who might not love coming to doctors but always has a firm handshake and a smile for me. He’s got some chronic lung disease, so he can’t always breath well, but he loves to play sports, even in the winter (albeit rather slowly). Sometimes he complains about his breathing, and I try to help him out, but he knows that his past smoking pretty well did away with his lungs, so he gets by with what he’s got.
He normally wouldn’t bother to see me about some mild shortness of breath, but one day he came in complaining about it, and mentioned that he had also coughed up some blood. This isn’t too unusual with bronchitis or heart failure, and he was taking a blood thinner, but something about his story bothered me. I got an X-ray, which confirmed that he has crappy lungs, but I was still very suspicious, so I had him get a CT scan right away. The results weren’t good.
I got him to a specialist right away, but there wasn’t much to offer him. Every bit of his lungs that hadn’t already been destroyed by smoking was filled with cancer. Given his overall health, he wasn’t going to do well with chemotherapy, and he knew it.
Still, it was a surprise when he walked into the office unannounced. My staff knew about his diagnosis, and asked me what they should do. I had them bring him back to a room. He was painfully apologetic.
“Doc, I’m really sorry to just barge in like this.”
I reassured him that it was no bother. We sat and chatted for a while. He explained that he knew what was coming as was prepared. He and his family had spoken, he put his affairs in order, and he felt ready for whatever was coming.
“Doc, can I still play softball?”
“Could you play it yesterday?” I asked.
“Sure,” he said with big grin.
“Well then, why not tomorrow and the next day, until you just can’t do it anymore? You’re the same person you were yesterday, except for knowing you have a crappy disease.”
“I really shouldn’t take up more of your time. I can see there’s a lot of people waiting, and they probably need to see the doctor,” he said, not rushing to get up. “You probably have more important things to do.”
I looked up at him. “There is nothing more important than what I am doing right here, right now. You are welcome in my office any time. You know that, right?”
With that he rose and shook my hand. “Alright, Doc, I guess I’ll see you later then, OK?”