Priceless

By: Dennis Bates

When her local doctor told my mother that she had a respiratory condition that had no cure, my brother sister and I did what a lot of people would do. We sought a second opinion. The University of Iowa medical center is less than an hour from here, and my uncle (her brother) had a contact there with a well known specialist who studied and treated people with her diagnosis.

So we took her there for a consultation.

The University Hospital, like a lot of medical centers at major university is a learning hospital. Medical students or young residents often shadow specialists as part of their medical training. The specialist who saw my mother asked if she minded if a final year student sat in on the consultation, and my mother agreed to allow the young woman to observe and even question her.

The senior doctor, an older man, spoke in a soft, but thoroughly professional tone as he asked a lengthy list of questions to take a medical history from my mother. He also asked questions about the records sent by my mother’s local doctor. During the entire time he explained why he asked what he did and what the significance of the answer was. His explanations were directed not only to his student, but to my mother and the three of us. Then he gave both the medical student and us a chance to ask him questions. Frankly, at this point, I know we had some questions, but I don’t remember what they were.

All I remember is the sincerity and gentleness of his manner and the fact that it put us all at ease. His demeanor also seemed to transfer to the student observing him. Her questions and basic examination were equally kind, gentle and sincere. All in all, his consultation was not only comforting, but helpful.

He had no cure or cutting edge treatment to offer, nor did he have the miracle that my brother, sister and I had hoped for. All he could offer my mother and the three of us was a warm smile as he held my mother’s hand and told her simply, “This is an awful disease, but there is no cure right now. I’m sorry you have it. Usually it runs its course in two to three years.”

Since none of us knew when my mother actually got the disease, we had no idea how much time she had left, but less than a year later she went home to be with the Lord.

My mother had a strong faith and I don’t remember her ever being afraid. In fact, I can still see her shrug and say, “I’m 86. It’s been a good life. Either I survive or I go to heaven. Either way I win.” I think Paul said something similar.

The doctor that offered the consult impressed my mother and the three of us. In fact, he personally called my mother several times to ask how she was doing, something a lot of doctors probably don’t do. But that wasn’t what impressed my mother. She often spoke about that consultation before she died, and she told anyone who would listen. (My mother was like that.)

“He was a nice man,” my mother said, “and he said he was sorry I had the disease.”

He was sorry and he told her so. That impressed and comforted her. I hope that young woman who is now practicing medicine somewhere learned from that. Even if she has no cure for a condition, if she remembers to say “I’m sorry you’re sick,” she’ll be an exceptional doctor.

Such a little thing in a world full of multimillion dollar medical treatments and constant research. “I’m sorry you’re sick.” It’s free and it doesn’t even take much time, but it’s priceless.

I hope medical schools still teach that.

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