No More Thursdays

Howk, Shelley

It is Thursday at 1:30. My patient and her husband arrive promptly, booked in to the same timeslot that they have been every week for the past 3 months - Ever since her diagnosis of stage IV ovarian cancer. We discuss alternative vitamins, herbs, treatments, testimonials from the internet, and symptoms. We discuss medical science, and the lack thereof, as well as research and possibilities. She, of course, has been to see all the oncologists, psychologists, specialists, and palliative home care members. But still they come in faithfully every week. This time, I cannot really focus. This time. I have an almost overwhelming urge to ask some questions of my own that are really not medical in nature. This time I can barely refrain from closing their research books and binder notes and digressing to something else. I contain myself. Barely. They leave, and yet for the remainder of the week I am plagued with my own questions. By the weekend, I commit them to paper in the form of a poem. Perhaps I will take it in to the office next Thursday. Perhaps I will just have the courage to ask one of my questions. Perhaps I will chicken out altogether, because they are coming to me as their family physician, not as their spiritual advisor. Perhaps, I will wait and see what Thursday brings. In the meantime, the poem seems to write itself:

The Questions I Would Ask.

I close the office door and slowly turn to greet
The couple before me look up & their expectant gaze I meet.

He said, “We've done more research since the last time that we met A successful treatment or a cure is surely somewhere here I'll bet."

"Her cancer is relentless," when I looked at her I thought
And then I sat down to read the binder filled with notes that they had brought.

But as I looked at this gaunt woman who was about to lose her life I wondered how her husband would live without her as his wife.

He showed me her list of medicines, their side effects and such
And she asked what I could offer her as her husband's hand she touched.

We discussed the possibilities as numerous questions they both asked
And I feared that this frantic & futile search for a cure would last

As I looked at them both sitting there amidst all of their notes & fuss
I felt like shouting, ''HOLD ON - There's something more important to discuss."

"Did you hear the singing of the birds?" is what I want to say "Did you stop and smell the flowers on this fine spring day?"

"Did you sit out on your deck and watch the sun go down?"
"Did you go back and have a visit with the folks in your hometown?"

"Did you touch the dewy grass when you woke up this morn?”
"Did you stop & give thanks for today and all the days since you were born?"

I believe in miracles and the healing power of hope
For when you are told that you are dying, I know it helps one cope

But it is easy to get lost amongst the details of disease
And forget to keep on living - And every moment seize -

Our existence starts to revolve around this thing beyond our control
And to find a way to escape death suddenly becomes our goal.

I wonder what they'd answer if my queries I revealed
Maybe I wouldn't cure the body, but their souls would be healed.

And I think that is the most important thing that I could really do
If I asked them these few questions, maybe they would think so too.

Thursday arrived. I took my poem to work; still uncertain as to what I would do. 1:30 came and went without a visit from my patient. My queries remained silent, unasked and unanswered. She had no more Thursdays in her. Had I known this last week, would it have changed my discussions with her? More importantly, would it have changed her or her husband? Or maybe it was as it was meant to be - Moments which passed almost unnoticed in her timepiece of life, but which irrevocably changed mine.


Theme: Relationships | Relations
Theme: Death and Dying | Décès et le mourir
Theme: Patients | Patients

Stories in Family Medicine | Récits en médecine familiale [Internet] Mississauga ON: College of Family Physicians of Canada. 2008 --.




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