This Is Not Grey's Anatomy
by Angela Mujukian
Every ordinary person has a story to share but we will hear it only if we open our hearts and listen.
I had to hold back the tears. The patient saw it all over my face. I had been wondering all along how I would feel when the time would come to observe giving bad news to my first patient. We practiced it so many times in school but nothing really prepares you for the real world in a real-life setting with a real patient who has a story.
What intrigued me and brought so much emotion to my face that I tried so hard to hide was his act of pure selflessness.
As the Attending Physician had just performed a cystoscopy and we had seen one of the worst cases of Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Bladder. The physician's jaw dropped when the patient left the room; we were all stunned at the images. As I sat there listening and observing the nurse give him the bad news, I knew the patient could feel my tenseness, as he did not look in my direction. If he had, the tears would have come streaming down. The Attending Physician reported from experience that it was a large tumor that invaded the bladder and was terminal. But the nurse assured the patient that it was a small cancer-like growth that had to be confirmed by biopsy.
This gentleman was a tough cookie that couldn't be broken. He was standoffish and reserved in the beginning of the interview until he heard the bad news after the procedure. The "Spikes" method we learned ever so often, that's embedded into our long term-memory, was not mentioned. The patient wasn't asked if he wanted or didn't want to know the results of the cystoscopy. The nurse blatantly said you've got cancer.
However, what bemused me the most was the patient's initial reaction, as he suddenly shifted from this stone-cold individual to a human being. He wasn't concerned about what he had just heard but he was more concerned about not telling his young lover who just started her career as a photographer as they were going to travel the world together. He was hopeful and had no idea of the severity of his terminal cancer. But he was grounded in that he was prepared for the worst case scenario.
He continued to sit there, wide-eyed, still tough with not a tear in his eye. He repeatedly said, please do not tell my partner, I do not want her to know as she is happy and finally launched her career. Even if it is bad news, even if I don't make it, I don't care about what happens to me. I care about her; if she finds out, she won't go on this trip, and I don't want to stop her from that.
This act of selfless love and real, young love triggered a response in my heart. I have seen many cancer patients before; this wasn't the first time I dealt with such cases. However, it was simply this chap's compelling story that sparked something within me. There was something so beautiful and genuine in his love for his significant other as he sat there so unknowingly helpless against the unfortunate future of his terminal disease.
I pondered and reflected on my own reaction at that moment. I questioned whether or not I reacted in a correct or professional manner. I understand you have to be tough if you want to be a doctor. I've seen much worse in my life. But I thought, is there something wrong with me that I was able to feel this way in this moment or should I not feel anything?
The nurse who had been doing this for years was laughing and smiling and was ready for the next patient while I continued to process what had just happened. When the nurse turned towards me after the patient left and saw my eyes were teary, she looked at me confused as she tilted her head to the side, then walked away. For the clinic, the patient was just another number before lunch, just another tick box crossed off the list of patients seen. I sat there, still baffled.
I realized that in practice, I would never forget that moment and how it made me feel. Years down the line, no matter how much experience I gained, I would always have empathy and compassion towards my patients because of it.
In my eyes, he wasn't just a hospital number, the last call on a list before lunch. He carried a powerful message that inspired and impacted me. When he spoke of his partner, it struck a chord. Yet, what was so powerful in his message was when he had absolutely nothing in life (he just gotten laid-off from work and was living alone), he thought of and cared for her, and that showed true courage.
I put myself in his shoes and questioned whether I would do the same if I were in his situation. That's when the tears in my eyes became a flood. I tried imagining so terribly hard what this man was going through in that moment and that's when my heart began slightly breaking.
It's an incredible thing when the masks come off and you see human nature in its most raw form. Only if you listen, and not make judgments based on external appearances or first impressions, will you really understand that human beings not only carry amazing stories but are products of love and give love freely in the universe.
This simple act of strength reassured me that there are kind and selfless people in the world. All you have to do is listen to their stories.
Supplemental Note: Ms. Mujukian is an accomplished writer, mentor, and activist who contributes to ‘The Huffington Post' and ‘EliteDaily.com', among other platforms. She indicates in part: "I have been writing for since grade school. I have a passion for writing and having a voice in my community for change, whether through health, lifestyle, or inspiration."
You can learn more about her and her writing at the following links: