IN LIFE, SOMETIMES YOU'RE TOP DOG AND SOMETIMES YOU'RE THE HYDRANT
Last week, I had the privilege of meeting a really great guy. He was a patient who I thought was going to be a very easy, straightforward evaluation -- rotator cuff repair.
When he came in, though, I noticed that though his "past medical history" form was essentially blank, he was wearing an eye patch. (the glasses with a dark lens kind, not the Captain Jack Sparrow kind) When I inquired about this, he visibly tensed, took a careful breath and spoke.
"Eight years ago, my wife and I were both diagnosed with cancer on the same day." It seems he had a very rare type of cancer; a tumor in the tear duct of his right eye. They were able to eradicate the cancer, but to do so, they had to take his eye, tear ducts, optic nerve, and part of his skull. (Hence the eye patch) His wife was not so fortunate. "Two years ago, she died of liver cancer. They just weren't able to save her."
"I'm so sorry" I said to him.
"It's OK" he said. "I'm doing better and I'm healing. But now, I need to focus on healing my shoulder."
We went on to do the rest of the eval and then we got to my favorite part of any evaluation: "What do you love to do that you're unable to do right now? What do we need to get you back doing?" I asked.
"I'm not sure what you're asking" he said.
"Well, do you like to work in the garden or golf? Do you like to paint? Do you need a strong shoulder to hold the leash while you walk your dog on the beach?"
He started crying then. "I'm sorry," he said. "My dog died 6 weeks ago. She was all I had left after my wife died and now she's gone. I feel like I have nothing. Body was my best friend. Losing her was almost worse than losing my wife. Please...don't think I'm a terrible person for saying that."
By now, I was almost crying myself. "I don't think you're a terrible person. I know what you're trying to say. It must have been so very hard to lose your wife. But you got through it because you had your dog to get up and walk and feed every day. And now, it must feel like you're losing your dog and your wife all over again at the same time."
"Yes!" he said. "That's exactly what it feels like. You hit the nail right on the head. But I shouldn't be getting all emotional when we're supposed to be concentrating on my shoulder."
"You have the right to get emotional any time" I said. Then I told him how 3 months after my dad's dog died, I saw a man walking a yellow lab in the snow and I cried in my car all the way from Massachusetts to New Jersey. "It's OK to let it out if you need to" I said.
We pulled ourselves together and finished the eval. I sent him on his way. Then I ran and got my secret weapon: the hospital social worker. I told her about this guy and she was able to magically conjure up something just perfect for him.
Later that day, I called and left a message on his machine about a men's bereavement group on Cape Cod. It's a group of men who have all lost their wives and meet weekly. But instead of sitting around talking about their feelings, they go fishing. Or bowling. Or eat vast quantities of MEAT. You know, MANLY things.
I wasn't sure if he would even be interested, but I needed to do something for this guy. You know, so that I could feel free to enjoy the exactly 2.3 hours of beach weather we had over the weekend.
This week, when he came in for therapy, he looked...different. To say he had a spring in his step would be overstating things. But when he walked in, he didn't look like he had a black cloud over his head and a 200 pound weight on his shoulders. He almost looked content.
"How are you feeling?" I asked.
"I am feeling better than I have in months!" he said. "My shoulder doesn't hurt nearly as much as before. You are the best physical therapist I've ever had!"
"But," I stammered, "I haven't done anything yet!"
"Yes, you did" he said. "You listened to me last week. You let me say what I needed to say and didn't tell me how I should be feeling. Then, you let me know that you cared when you called me later on that day."
"Oh, that's OK" I said. "It's really the social worker we should be thanking."
"No, " he said. "I knew about that group, but I never wanted to go. But since you cared enough to call, I contacted them and went out this weekend with the guys."
"Oh, that's great," I said.
"You know, I don't feel so alone anymore" he said. "I even got to meet our group's mascot, Buddy the labradoodle."
If I had a tail, I'd be wagging it right now.