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To the Exhausted Patient in the Doctor's Waiting Room

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Hey, you.

Hi there. Yes, you there. Desperate one. Sick, hurting one. Exhausted, fighting-for-your-life warrior. I would like to speak directly to your precious, tenacious, weary heart.

I want you to know I saw you in the waiting room again. Yes, I was there, too. And I sensed how frantic your insides were, how badly you wanted to burst with hope that this appointment could lead to help; how scared you were that it wouldn’t — that you’d leave feeling even more hopeless. I echoed your prayer about remembering — that this time you’d remember to tell the doctor all the ways your body has been betraying you, that you’d recall all your questions and be able to speak as one who thinks clearly and articulates even better. And I heard the pleading inside yourself: Don’t cry, don’t seem anxious, don’t cry, don’t seem anxious. I know you’re always afraid if you do, you’ll be labeled, dismissed, or worst of all, shamed. You won’t get what you need… figure this thing out… find the right treatment… ever really live again…

I know. I know you’ve been so afraid you are going to die like this — without hope or help, a stranger in your own body — and sooner than you ever planned or imagined. Yes, you. I believe you, dear one. When I saw you in that waiting room, I wanted to sit next to you and put my arm around you, pull you in close, tell you, We’re gonna get through this, OK? You are not alone. 

When the nurse called you back to the exam room, I followed you. I know the way — I’ve been here before. I imagined your thoughts as you waited with knots in your belly, listening for the doctor’s hand to turn the doorknob. I watched your eyes scan the red diagrams on the wall, the insides of bodies drawn on them. I felt your worry about which part of your red insides are so broken and why, your dread of more painful testing. I heard the fear stirring in your gut, taunting you with what-ifs, insisting that even this specialist won’t be able to help.

And I saw the urgent daydream you hold — the one where you and the doctor trade bodies for five minutes. He or she emerges in agony to say, “I am so, so sorry. I didn’t understand until now. But I promise you this: I won’t stop looking until we know exactly what’s wrong and how to make it feel better.”

Oh, that daydream. It seems so far away; too many nightmares here these days, I know. Still, you did well for yourself at that appointment. This process is so, so hard. I feel the intense longing for care you have, and how high the insurmountable mountains seem and how deep the valleys have become. But oh, how I love your hope — the way your fierce heart holds it like a sword, refusing to surrender, defying all things death. I feel all of this with you, way down in my spirit.

I know you’re tired and you’d like to go home now and crawl into bed. Is it OK if I stay with you? I’d really like to.

So here you are, home now and resting. I know leaving the house was about all your body could handle today. I see that your family and friends had to leave without you again. But I know — even thinking about attending the wedding/funeral/concert/service/gathering/party seems like too much. You feel stained with a powerless guilt now, remembering how awful it feels when they get upset with missing you, and how much worse it feels when they don’t.

I want you to know that I didn’t leave. I’m with you as you lie still and in pain on your back again, as you weep as one who feels killed. I am counting your tears — each one matters — and I am following them as they roll down the sides of your face and settle into the small cups of your ears.

Your ears, full of the thoughts of your broken heart, reminding you how it wasn’t supposed to be like this. Asking you, Why is this happening? I wanted to be THIS. I planned to do THAT. I worked and wished so hard for it all, and now, my body won’t let me! I cannot fix this. What is going to happen? I feel like a failure. I feel like a waste. Weak. Swallowed up. Ruined. Worthless.

I know. I believe you — that you feel this way. You had plans, desires, dreams. Maybe your dreams were so vast, they seemed to be all you were before this thorn-in-the-side came along. Now? You don’t even know who you are. Not yet, anyway. Not. Yet. Maybe all you feel right now is stripped bare, right down to nothing, all your nerves exposed and all your hopes ripped out from under you. Such a fragile flame that even a breeze could snuff you out. Snuff you out to invisible. 

Can I assure you of something? May I? I would like to come in close, to come down to where you are burrowing your face into your tear-soaked pillow. I’m right here with you; sit up with me, will you? Yes, you. We’ll sit here together, beloved one — my arm, still around you, holding you tight. Hear me as I whisper in your precious ear: I still see you. I still know who you are: You are so much more than this illness, this pain. You are one who is loved, so don’t you dare give up. 

You. Are not. Alone.

Originally published: July 26, 2016
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