To the Doctor Whose Promise Has Stayed With Me Through 50 Appointments
I saw you for the first time on January 11, 2012. Four years later, October 2016, I had my 50th appointment with you. These are not the milestones people often celebrate or even consider. Being 22 years old, this was not one I had planned on. An aspiring doctor myself, the milestone I had envisioned myself meeting was 1) graduating from college and 2) entering medical school shortly thereafter. On the day I dreamed of getting my own white coat, instead I sat across from you feeling hopeless, defeated and angry.
I began seeing you, presenting with a collection of symptoms — orthostatic hypotension, dizziness, fainting and heat intolerance were some of my earliest. Most disruptive to me was the blurry vision that came with my unresponsive, sluggishly constricting pupils. The broad spectrum of symptoms spiraled, only recently, toward severe bouts of neuropathic pain, ultimately leading you closer to my diagnosis. When you asked what I was doing with my time now, I had no response. With “11/10” pain levels unresponsive to standard treatments, I was happy to be able to put on socks without feeling like they were packed with shards of glass. “There’s nothing I can do,” I replied. “With my current condition, I can’t make a commitment to a job, volunteer work, let alone plans with friends.” For the first time, I wondered what worth and value I had as a once passionate, change-driven member of society.
“We are not giving up,” you said. “I will not give up on you, not now, not ever.”
You reminded me of this same conversation we had four years earlier when I first saw you and didn’t know if I’d be well enough to go away to college and engage in the various opportunities I had dreamed of. You promised you wouldn’t give up on me then, and to your word you were true. So, on May 7, 2016, I graduated with institutional honors, Magna Cum Laude, from college. The night before graduation, I stared at my blank mortarboard and tassel, and with two white puffy stickers placed your initials on top. Surely, you never went to my classes for me or did my neuroscience homework — though sometimes I wished you did. But you remained committed to my care as my doctor with confidence in me as an individual, not just a sick person — something unique and special to find in a doctor, in my experience. As you promised me I would four years ago, I graduated college.
Together, we made a plan — I would send you a message every Monday with symptom updates, and you would tweak treatment accordingly. Any emergency, anytime, you never took less than five minutes to get in touch with me. I’m not sure how many college kids can say they’ve had to call their roommate’s neurologist at 2 a.m. on a Saturday, but that’s just how much you cared. The 2 a.m. calls might have scared my friends watching me unresponsive, but they didn’t phase you, so long as I was OK.
Your words, “I will not give up on you,” were perhaps the only thing that stuck from my 50th appointment with you, when you proposed a new treatment that would require me to undergo immunotherapy for several days in the hospital. As you know, the only thing I hate more than additional pills is more needles and hospitals. As you promised not to give up on me, I forced myself not to give up on you.
I completed my first course of treatment in October 2016, and for the first time in months I was pain-free. I could put shoes on my feet and sleep with a blanket again. My autonomic systems calmed down, and I was in paradise. This relief lasted for three weeks only, but the fact that any improvement was seen provided promise. I finished my second course of immunotherapy just before Thanksgiving and am seeing some improvement and less pain.
Surely it’s not the typical celebration or anniversary, but I no longer see my 50th appointment as a bad thing. These were 50 appointments where I haven’t been given up on in the short nor long term. These were 50 times I have been met with compassion, care, honesty, encouragement and hope. There will never be anything I can say or do for you that can measure up to what you have given me. I hope whatever I do in life, wearing a white coat or not, I can help others with the same dedication, compassion and commitment you have given me.
One, 20, 50 or 100 appointments, I will always be most thankful to have you as my doctor.
Editor’s note: Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.
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