I had the last word today during a visit with 20-some University of Florida medical school applicants. They were gathered on campus to complete a day-long interview process, structured to give them a glimpse of a day in the life of a med student, and on the agenda was me — a real, live patient.
I told my 8-year-long story from beginning to end in about 20 minutes (whew!) in a freezing-cold room in the basement of Shands Hospital (I was actually shivering at times), and my favorite oncologist, who serves as the assistant dean for the College of Medicine Admissions, said it went very well. I think it did, too.
It was my job to deliver the last word to the folks sitting with me in a circle formation, the individuals who will likely one day be charged with the responsibility of delivering health care to sick people. “Practice medicine with sensitivity,” I told them. “Even if you must fake it,” I said, “show some compassion because it can make a huge difference.”
Then, I read from a hand-written note that was mailed to me by the surgeon who performed the needle biopsy on my suspicious left-breast mass. He’s the one who called me at home the day before Thanksgiving 2004 to inform me that “unfortunately, cancer cells were found.” His note read:
Just a brief note to let you know that I regret being the messenger of bad news, but know that you will come through this difficult time healthy & strong. I & my staff wish for you a smooth & speedy recovery.
That note mattered. It made me feel less like a statistic and more like a cared-for individual. That note still matters; that’s why I keep it at close reach, so I can forever remember that there are doctors who really do care.
That was my last word.