WHAT HAPPENS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF MEDICINE
Mitch lay patiently on the cold hospital bed as the medical technician began to record his heart function. I saw my son’s countenance drift to some far-off place and it seemed as though he were contemplating heavy thoughts; the kind of thoughts elderly people think at the twilight of their lives. Here was a young boy who should have had a lifetime ahead of him; instead, an invisible monster in his body was devouring his heart. At this point we knew his heart was failing, but not even the doctors knew how quickly things would unravel.
It wasn’t until this moment I realized Mitch sensed something was happening – and that something was not good. From the day of his birth I had a strong impression he would have a short life. But now Mitch was beginning to sense the same thing. He didn’t like going to the hospital for tests, but he bore that burden patiently. He didn’t like that his muscles were getting weaker and that he couldn’t play like healthy kids, but he carried that burden with a grateful heart for the things he could do. My little son has shown me how to bear my burdens patiently. I am not as good at it as he was, but I’m working at it.
I often wondered if those working in the hospital ever thought about what happened on the other side of their hospital doors. We go in sick, and if we’re lucky, we leave recovering … and alive. These professionals see a constant stream of broken bodies and I am sure that is numbing – but I wonder how often they pause for a moment and see broken souls. It doesn’t take much to bandage that, too.
With few exceptions, almost all of our doctors were both professional and human. They were cardiologists, but they were also fathers. They were nurses, and they were mothers too. I always appreciated the medical professionals who attacked a medical problem with clarity and vigor but remembered there was a frightened child and trembling parents who just wanted one more day. As patients and parents, we don’t need our doctors to be pseudo-psychologists, we just needed to know they care – even if only for a moment.
We left the hospital this day a little shaken up; afraid of the future and unsure of what was to come.
As we were walking out of the hospital Mitch said in his soft voice, “Dad?”
I turned to him, “Yes, son?”
“Can I go to work with you? I just want to spend time with you.”
My heart fell to the floor, “Of course, Mitch. I love to spending time with you, too. You can sit at my desk and play Minecraft, help me file some papers and organize my drawers. Then we can go to the Olive Garden for lunch.”
Mitch smiled and I smiled back, then I turned my head and wiped the welling tears from my eyes.
And that is just what happened. Mitch went to my office the next day and we spent time as father and son. Time I will never forget. Time that, in retrospect, was more valuable than all the treasures of earth.
In a few hours Natalie and I will speak at the University of Utah School of Medicine and share Mitchell’s Journey. There we’ll offer a candid look at what happens in the lives of those who fight for life and eventually lose. We hope to lift the curtain a little on what happens on the other side of the practice of medicine – so that when they are tempted to rush patients through a system designed to fix bodies, they might pause a moment and remember. Remember little boys and girls, like Mitch, who are frightened and in need of hope and a kind smile. For compassion is a kind of medicine, too.