One of the participants in my workshop wrote this moving and authentic piece about her fears as she faced new health problems and a new doctor. She also talks about issues of ageing and the unexpected relationships age can bring. But most importantly, she describes how a doctor’s ability to listen, really listen, can have a healing effect.
Eileen O. Fancher
I have a new doctor. I am dismayed as I watch him walk into the room for he is young enough to be my son. I want a seasoned doctor. One who has been in the business of medicine long enough to have seen everything that I might ask him to look at and diagnose.
I am fairly new at seeing doctors and now I have acquired five in a short span of time. This new doctor is movie star handsome. His good looks make me think perhaps he will be egotistic and not have very much time for a patient old enough to be his mother.
On our first visit he helps me up on the high examining table and lets me sit there, feet swinging and anxious while I start my long list of woes. I have come to see him because so many issues have piled up that they are about to overwhelm me. I have made a list and I want every problem solved. I can no longer live with so much uncertainty and worry about what is happening to my body.
He sprawls back in a chair and he listens and listens and listens. He lets me describe every complaint that I can’t seem to heal or cure. He listens as I tell him a complicated tale of my concern about my fears of the what ifs and the maybes and he nods silently without comment.
Even though I sound as if I think that I am the doctor and I would like this done and that attended to, he never reveals any emotion except a continued deep and patient interest in every word I am saying. Then he starts his quiet interrogation of just when it was that I noticed that symptom or how I reacted to that medication. He takes so much time with me that after awhile I begin to feel edgy and anxious. Surely he’s getting ready to make an exit. . I am not used to this attention. I’ve grown accustomed to a doctor breezing into the room with a clipboard, checking off items on a list and scurrying off.
Finally, when I have exhausted my anxious litany, he stares into space for awhile and then announces quietly what we are going to do.
He makes no move to leave and so our conversation moves on to other subjects. He is well informed and interesting. As I grow older, younger people often become involved in long conversations with me that go from one subject to another. This is a surprisingly pleasant benefit of aging….playing the role of attentive parent.
Finally, he rises to leave then stops in the doorway and looks back at me. “I won’t have the good health that you have when I am your age,” he says quietly. He starts forward and then turns back again, “In fact, I don’t think I will live that long.” This startles me and I have no answer. I pick up my purse and coat and join him to walk down the long hall. I wait while he takes the time to find information and fill out some lengthy forms. Then he presents me with the careful, hand- written report that I am to carry with me.
As I drive away in the sunshine with music playing on my car radio, I realize that I feel extremely happy. No just slightly happy but joyously, exuberantly happy…happier than I’ve felt in a long time.
It’s then that I realize how deeply I had been fearing what lay ahead. I had lived with those fears for a long time, not putting them into words for my friends and family because my fears were shapeless and unproven, perhaps even baseless and without substance. Being able to voice everything that was on my mind today had given me a wonderful feeling of release.
The intense joy I feel as I drive home surrounds me like a warm blanket. My anxieties have melted. Thinking back, I realize that never once did my new doctor reassure me in words that everything was going to be alright. Instead, he quietly listed the steps we would follow to find out the answers.
Doctors who listen and take the time to explore a patient’s fears have enormous influence on the patient’s health. I wonder if they know just how much. There is more healing in quietly listening than in all the prescriptions ever written.
Then I think about my new doctor’s strange comments about not living a long life; about his need to share his own fears. I feel bad that I could think of nothing to say that might have been of some comfort to him and, as I turn out onto the main highway, I hope that he has someone who will sit back and listen to him, for he too seems beset with worries about his future and the unknown.