He saw me first.
I turned, looked. There he was: tall, regal, smiling. My mind scrambled: I recognized him, but couldn't’t recall his name. Years ago. Did he have a pacemaker, defibrillator, ablation? What was it? Oh, come on now, Wes! Can’t you remember anyone’s name? But I could delay no longer as I walked toward him…
“Hello, how are you?”
“How come you’re here?”
“Oh, I was seeing Dr. Frigamafratz.” (I didn’t know him either…)
“They found a mass on my kidney - cancer.”
Stunned, I wasn’t sure what to say. But he stood with a half-genuine smile, clearly concerned. Now I felt even worse: I couldn't remember his name AND he had newly-diagnosed cancer. I scrambled for something to say:
“Are you going to need surgery?”
“No. We’re beyond that. I’m looking at other options.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Are you doing okay?”
“Yeah, just waiting for my wife to bring around the car.”
“Best of luck to you.”
He was so level-headed, quick, polite, gracious under fire. Our brief conversation was closing and I wondered if I would behave the same in such a situation. I turned slowly to head to my car, too, mind scrambling still.
“Tom Kelly, remember?” (Not his real name.)
“Uh, sure! God luck to you, Mr. Kelly.”
Despite my best efforts to conceal my ignorance, he knew all along. And yet, even so, he confided in me his deepest, most personal concerns at time he was most vulnerable, just because I had treated an unrelated problem for him years ago. I cherish this part of what it means to be a doctor and I will always be honored and humbled by such remarkable interactions.
Thanks, Mr. Kelly.