Yes, I am going to do that cheesy Thanksgiving thing where I talk about something I’m grateful for this year.
Twenty years ago, an ophthalmologist at the Joslin Clinic said something that changed the course of my condition. It was during a pre-surgical appointment, probably an offhand comment. I was a scared, noncompliant diabetic facing eye surgery decades earlier than the average patient. I don’t remember the exact context, and the statement was not intended to have an impact, I think. But it did, because he said it at exactly the time I needed to hear it.
“MD does not stand for medical deity.”
With seven simple words, my ophthalmologist, Dr. Timothy Murtha, dropped control of my life into my lap. I had been governed by doctors and parents for the six years previous, a girl who’d been through the medical wringer and ended up knowing way too much to be completely cut out of treatment discussions. Without a voice, fear was amplified, as was rebellion. Funny how they misbehaved hand in hand back then.
From that day forward, I was allowed to actually say no, not just nod my head and accept what others decided for me. I could tell my providers what I wanted, and we could work it out together. It’s how I’ve built such a strong team of providers.
Recently, I returned to the Joslin Clinic, the global gold standard for diabetes care, for the first time since I was in college. I’d volunteered for a study that would track the development of serious complications. Just before I went, I realized that there was every possibility that Dr. Murtha would be there that day.
When I arrived for my appointment, I explained what I wanted to do. My contact told me that the doctor was in the office that day and didn’t start seeing patients until 1:00, so there was a chance I could steal a few minutes of his busy schedule.
As my appointment wore on, it became clear that it would take much longer that I originally thought. I began to get impatient and nervous. I wasn’t sure why. After all, if I didn’t get to talk to him face-to-face, I could always send an email. But then, why hadn’t I done that in the intervening decades?
In the end, the doctor agreed to see me during his lunch hour. As soon as I sat down, I got that unexpected lump in my throat that sometimes happens when you feel more than you want to. I thought it was just going to be a simple thank you, but I think instead the lump was a subconscious acknowledgement of how different things could have been if he hadn’t created that verbal fork in my road, which had allowed me to take a better path.
We chatted for about 10 minutes. He did not remember the words that had so changed me. (Of course he didn’t. He must have seen thousands of patients in the 20 years since I’d been there.) It didn’t matter. I got to tell him how much those forgotten words had meant to me, and he was glad to see how far I had come. At a place like Joslin, so many of his patients drift off into their lives after treatment, he rarely gets to find out how they are doing.
It’s hard to remember what we do have sometimes when we struggle with our own bodies, especially if you’ve been up twice in the middle of the night to deal with faulty medical equipment and you still have to be at work by 7:00. Or when your body decides to take a random vacation from any semblance of normal functionality. But the ups and downs will settle eventually, and you will return to your pain-in-the-butt routine, beleaguered, but grateful for the life you have.