It’s not what he expected to hear. And it’s not what I expected to see. A day that started out as ordinary for us both, but by day’s end, would be extraordinary for us all.
Yesterday was a packed full day at John’s office. After being gone a week on vacation, the patient schedule was double- booked and I had a pile of paperwork to address.
All morning long, I would catch glimpses of my husband in between each of his patients, standing at the waist-high counter outside of the exam rooms, brow knitted and eyes intense, concentrating on the diagnosis or treatment plan he noted in each of the charts.
Typically, if I need him to answer a question or clarify a matter pertaining to the business, I wait for him to finish, to complete the thought process relating to the case before him. I can tell by his mannerisms when he is about return to the exam room, and it is at these moments, that I quickly get the information I need to continue my task.
There seemed to be a lot of this type of interaction yesterday, particularly because of the workload that materialized after a weeklong absence. It was busy, and I had errands to run, appointments to make, when I hurriedly headed to the counter for one last piece of information from my spouse.
His head was down in that well-known pose of concentration, but it was the look on his face that halted my steps and the interrupting question. I glanced to the right, at his beloved nurse Kathy, who quietly shook her head, imploring me to momentarily forget the suddenly, unimportant documents in my hand.
John walked away from me slowly, shoulders slumped with heaviness familiar to all physicians, and re-entered the exam room that spilled over with despair.
I looked at his nurse, confused, but already saddened, somehow having an idea of what she was about to tell me.
“He just had to tell a patient that tests confirmed stage four lung cancer,” Kathy said in a weary voice. “That sweet patient had no idea.”
It was at that moment that the exam door opened, and my husband gradually emerged, turning towards the family following him, his damp eyes mirroring their own. Faces stunned with unsuspecting grief, yet full of affection, each family member embraced the man who delivered the devastating news.
“He prays with them,” said Kathy, softly and almost to herself.
And the little joy I could find in a situation that would forever scar this lovely family was the thought that I was so thankful that they heard it from John. Someone who could offer the direction to comfort from the same place he so often receives it.