Doctors come in all varieties.
Smug. Personable. Cold. Compassionate. Irritating. Endearing.
Some you want to hug. Others you want to slap. And some of the most irritating ones can actually be some of the best doctors.
As I’ve told Steve over these past few weeks of meeting several new doctors, “I don’t need my doctor to be my new best friend. I just want him to be really good at what he does.”
But truthfully? When you’re going through something like breast cancer, deep down you really long for a doctor who is going to be full of warm fuzzies and remind you in some indefinable way of your beloved, dear, departed grandfather.
You don’t usually get that wish. But it would be nice.
I have two main doctors for this cancer journey. Dr. H. is my surgeon/oncologist. He comes highly recommended by women in our community, as well as by other hospitals in the state. He is brilliant, conscientious, experienced, and fairly personable. But he’s not big on warm fuzzies.
When we arrived for our third visit to get the results of the MRI, he shook our hands, welcomed us graciously, and then went to his computer to pull up the report. He gave the results to us, and then we talked for a few minutes about the pros and cons of the various treatment options.
When I finally (tearfully) realized that I was going to have to have a mastectomy after all, I felt the world shift a few inches on its axis; I felt a bit dizzy, a wee bit disoriented, a whole lot discombobulated.
I had gone in there thinking we were going to all sit in a circle, happily decide on the lumpectomy, chat nicely, sing a few verse of Kum Ba Yah, and then be on our way.
But suddenly the preferred option was gone. And the highly unpreferred option was staring me in the face. Unblinkingly.
As I struggled to get my wits about me and get used to the new reality that had blasted into my life, Dr. H. did something rather, um, annoying. He took out a little form, poised his pen over the paper, looked at me and said, “So, what will it be? One or two?”
Just like that.
Just like he was taking an order at a restaurant. No big deal. You wanta choose one or you wanta chose two?
I’m sure I must have gaped at him in utter and complete disbelief, because he immediately dropped the pen to the desk and said, “Um. Well. Of course, you’re going to want to give this decision some thought.”
He instructed us to head on over to our plastic surgery appointment (an appointment I had made just in case, not really thinking I would need it) and then come back to his office after lunch to sign some papers.
We collected Sarah from the waiting room and headed out to the car. Since she was anxious about the MRI results, I briefly filled her in and then told her, as calmly as possible, that a mastectomy would be necessary. I held it all together for about three minutes, but as we pulled into traffic, I started to cry.
So much to take in. Such a big decision.
One or two. One or two. What to do? What to do? (As a songwriter, I always like for my crises to be couched in rhymes.)
We hadn’t been gone from the office more than five minutes when I suddenly proclaimed aloud, “I’m going to have a double!”
Steve stared at me in concerned amazement like, “You decided already?”
One or two? What to do? I just knew.
But now, fragile and teary-eyed, I still had to get through another appointment. With yet another doctor. To talk about even more unpleasant things.
Steve and I got ourselves settled into an exam room where he gallantly searched out a tissue box for my immediate use. A few minutes later, while I was still sniffling and blowing, Dr. F. breezed in. He was wearing a blue, surgical type outfit. With red Crocs. Topped by white socks with red trim on the top.
Since there were only two chairs in the room (already occupied by “Mrs. One or Two” and her hubby, too), he nimbly jumped up on the exam table, arranged himself into a lotus position and said, “Hi! So what questions do you have for me?"
I was still on the verge of tears and wasn’t sure if I could even trust my voice. But I managed to sputter out a few questions which Dr. F. answered, not only with impressive medical knowledge, but also with a fine sense of humor and a little (earthy) language thrown into the mix.
Now, while I am not a big fan of earthy language, I am a big fan of people who are just themselves, regardless of where they are, or what they’re doing. It’s refreshing to me. And Dr. F. made me laugh. If someone can make me laugh when I’m on the verge of being an emotional basket case, then they have already earned their fee. And then some.
We got on the subject of the drains that I will have to wear for a couple weeks after the surgery—two on each side. He said, “I won’t lie to you. The drains are a pain.” (Ahhh. I thought. A rhyming phrase.) “Most women hate them and can’t wait to get rid of them.”
He then went on to describe what they would look like, where they would be, and what their function would be. I replied dryly, “Wow. They really sound quite delightful.'”
He didn’t even miss a beat. He came right back and said “Oh yes! They are actually very festive!”
Well, something about applying the word “festive” to drains put in after a double mastectomy just struck Steve and I (the inveterate wordsmiths) as very, very funny.
And then suddenly all three of us were laughing like slightly unhinged hyenas. I’m sure anyone passing that room would have never guessed that its occupants were discussing a double mastectomy.
So is laughter really the best medicine?
Well, it won’t cure cancer. I do know that.
But it will cure a hurting heart. And it will help a traumatized pastor’s wife in North Carolina realize it’s not the end of the world, whether she chooses one, or whether she chooses two.
And you know what? During the upcoming surgery, neither of the surgeons present will be removing my funny bone. And they won’t be excising my appreciation for a well-chosen word. And they won’t even be able to find the parts of me that make me who I am.
So I feel like I’m getting off pretty lightly. Yes, I’m losing a couple things that are quite important to me. But in doing so, I’m going to survive. And I’m going to live a long, healthy life.
And whether I live that life with none, or one, or two—does it really matter in the long run?
Nope. Living is what matters. And if my life can be enlivened by some unexpected laughter along the way? I will know that I have lived well.