Tuesday, September 09, 2008


He saw me first.

“Dr Fisher!”

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…)

“How come?”

“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.”

“Thanks, Doc.”

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.

“Oh Doc?”


“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.



Anonymous said...

thanks for reminding me on a busy hectic day to take a second and count the blessings.

Ian Furst said...

Been there -- in a small town, try it in the grocery store when they know your wife's name too. I console myself with the knowledge that I was nice enough to them that they remember my ne (even if they all call me 'doc').

Anonymous said...

I am pleasantly surprised when my doctor recognizes me outside of his or her office. I see my doctors at least every three months, if not every month in some cases, for treatment of chronic medical problems. I have one doctor who is the Chairman of his department at a teaching university in my area and he not only remembers my name but calls me by my first name!


I call my doctors "doc" when I am with them. For me, it stems from my time in the military and lends itself to the familiarity between us in the exam room. If I am in public and meet my doc then I always refer to them as "Dr. XXXXX" to show respect, just as I would a Judge or Sheriff, etc.

Dr. Rob said...

Great post, Wes.

Julie Rosen said...

I think doctors sometimes forget how significant each interaction is for patients - how the briefest word can mean so much. And it's nice to know how moved you were by that simple conversation.

Julie A. Rosen
Executive Director
The Kenneth B. Schwartz Center
Blogging at: http://blog.healthtalk.com/bedside-manner/schwartz-center

Margaret Polaneczky, MD (aka TBTAM) said...

I can forget a name between the office and the exam room. It's pitful. Thank god they understand and forgive us.

SeaSpray said...

That's because we only have to remember you, whereas you have so many patients to see.

Thank you for sharing that touching post Dr West.

I think it helped him feel good being able to share that news with you and you were kind enough to give him the chance.

Anonymous said...

He trusted you with how it would feel to have news like that shared with you. He knew you would be able to bear it with him, even just for that moment. Quite the compliment.

(Typed a fellow patient.)