In the Intima Fall 2013 edition, Dan Luftig confesses a secret: he wants an anonymous person to have a stroke during his first hospital rotation. In his Field Notes piece: “Paradoxical Wishes,” Luftig describes this furtive hope. It seems a logical way of attaining every ounce of knowledge and skill through first-hand experience. He recognizes his inner quandary as he “hopes” to rid himself of the “hope” that his patients have a specific diagnosis that he, because of his education, suspects they have. He struggles with the disconnect between his wishes as a doctor and his patient’s wish for health. What a strange juxtaposition.
How well I recall making every effort to connect with my son’s oncologist. He was tall, athletic and extremely well versed in my son’s particular cancer, yet there was a disconnect between us. One day, I made an attempt to remedy this problem with a face to face conversation. At the end of my lengthy, well-rehearsed dialogue of explanation and request for his understanding, he simply said: “Well, I hope your son stays in the study. He is such an interesting case.”
With those words, I realized he could not grasp that my son was a four-year old little boy who loved Spiderman, hot dogs and fire trucks—not an interesting case. This was our dilemma. He saw a unique presentation of illness. I saw my precious son. Later, this same oncologist saved my son’s life through attentive, calm and resourceful actions during anaphylactic shock. I am forever grateful. Today, I have a picture of him sitting next to my son with his arm slung around my boy’s small shoulders. It marks his five-year checkup and declaration of being cancer-free. I cherish this photograph.
So here we are on this planet, each of us human, some of us ill and some of us desiring to use their craft to heal others. How do we connect? How do we place ourselves in each other’s shoes? I hold no grudges towards my son’s oncologist. Perhaps the inability to connect was due to my lack of trust and anger at my son’s diagnosis. Perhaps he would have better related if he had a child of his own. One pediatric radiation oncologist admitted his job became more emotionally challenging after he had his own children. Later, I heard he eventually moved from treating children to adult patients only.
Perhaps, Dan Luftig has part of the answer. In his attempt to clear his conscience he meditates with positive thoughts towards his patients for five minutes each day. He does this despite believing it may or may not make a difference. The point is he does it anyway. What if I, an emotionally distraught parent of a sick child, had focused for five minutes a day on my child’s caregivers and their well-being? Would I then have been able to connect with my son’s oncologist? We are; after all, only human beings bound together for a short time, on this planet. We all suffer, patient and healthcare provider alike.
April Brenneman has lived with her husband in Tigard, Oregon for over 30 years where she has home educated and raised her five children. Since the diagnosis of cancer in her youngest child in 2004, she has been on a personal and spiritual quest to understand her son’s medical journey. The trauma of childhood cancer and the chronic physical and emotional issues of survivorship, for herself as well as her family, led her to the process of writing, blogging and creating art by utilizing her son’s x-rays. These natural therapies serve to bring awareness, healing and wholeness back to her life. In her spare time, she hikes and climbs mountains in her beloved Pacific Northwest. Her artwork, “Lament 1: A Passionate Expression of Grief or Sorrow” appears in the Fall 2015 Intima.
© 2015 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine