Wednesday, June 10, 2009


You’ll never know the way it tears me up inside to see you
I wish that I could tell you something
to take it all away
Sometimes I wish I could save you
And there’re so many things that I want you to know
I won’t give up till it’s over
If it takes you forever I want you to know
“Save You” by Simple Plan

I had requested from my family that I be the one to call my dad, who was working overseas, to tell him about the new developments. My rationalization was that it would somewhat be reassuring to him if he heard my voice, and knew that I was not in critical condition or on my deathbed. You know how parents are, you tell them you have the flu and they think they should fly across the country to make sure you are ok. So imagine if you had to tell them over the phone, with an ocean separating you, that you had cancer. It was not something I was looking forward to doing, but I knew I had to do it. I was the best one in my family anyways who could keep a composed tone at this point, and not break down crying over the phone. I absolutely could not do this to my dad; I had to keep strong until he made it home. I knew he would be extremely worried, and he didn’t need me to add to his anxiety. I had discussed it with mom and decided we should postpone telling dad until after we had a definite diagnosis. My dad would call me regularly when I was in Florida to check on me. So for the few days that I was home, but he did not know, he would call me on my cell phone and I would talk to him pretending I was still in Florida; then he would call mom or my sister and they would pretend everything was fine as well. I hated lying to dad like this, but it was for his best interest at that point. There was no need to preoccupy him, if it turned out that I had something benign and easily treatable. After all, we were all still praying that it would be benign.

I cannot recall exactly who called who that Thursday, the day of my first chemo, and I don’t remember the details of our conversation. Somehow I had found the strength to blurt everything out to him. I felt like pieces of my heart were tearing off as I told daddy the news. I could not bear what I was doing to him emotionally, and I felt so guilty for making him go through that. Yes, I knew that it was not in my hand to change the situation; I did not will this sickness on myself or my family. Yet, I still could not escape the feeling of guilt. Perhaps, it was this guilt-along with my love for my family- that helped keep me strong in times when they needed me to be so. Somehow, somewhere along this journey of life, we suddenly find ourselves worrying about our parents just like they’ve always worried about us, and I had hit that point a few years ago. I remember talking to one of my best friends one day a couple of years back about how it scared me that my parents were actually aging, but I suppose that is all a part of it. The role of who worries about who slowly reverses, until one day we understand (never fully of course-until we have children of our own) how our parents feel every time they sense one of their offspring in trouble or facing some sort of life crisis.

As I had anticipated, dad did not take the news very well. I asked him if he could come home for some time off, and he said he will inform his employer that it is a family emergency, and work it out with the Red Cross so they can send him home immediately. He was going to send me the details to give to the Red Cross people when I called them. I hung up the phone feeling more miserable than ever; I was relieved that I had finally told dad, but I would not stop worrying about him until he arrived home safely. I started having those painful thoughts of “what if something happens to him before he gets here?” even though my dad is in perfectly good health (thank God!) To make matters worse, I had one of my uncles, who was also working overseas where my dad was, call after he heard the news. He semi-yelled at me for telling dad myself; according to him, I should have told him first so he could go and break the news more gently to my dad face-to-face. I personally did not believe this news could be made gentle, it was harsh information to break to anyone especially parents, and I did it the way I thought was best.

While I was at the hospital that week, I had the privilege of being looked after by a truly amazing doctor-Dr. Angel. I have seen very few like her; she was a hospitalist (an internal medicine doctor who cares for hospitalized patients only). She was the exact embodiment of what a doctor should be like-caring, full of sincere compassion, encouraging, never in a rush, and always willing to sit down and listen (even when I was not very willing to talk). As silly as it sounds, I wished that she could be every specialist I needed to see during this time; I wished she could oversee my care. Unfortunately, with her being a hospitalist, our doctor-patient relationship ended when I left the hospital. She made me wonder what extraordinary new doctors society would have if the preceptors who trained us possessed half of Dr. Angel’s qualities as a doctor.

One day, before we had the definite diagnosis from the biopsy, Dr. Angel was in my room explaining the next steps in my treatment plan, and responding to my questions. She was sitting on a chair that she had pulled close to my hospital bed (she ALWAYS followed the rule we are taught in medical school, but few doctors follow in real life because of their rush to get in and out of patients’ rooms, and that is: always make sure to be on eye-level or lower with the patient, never talk to the patient while towering over them because it makes patients feel more intimidated.) After we finished discussing my care, she leaned forward in her chair and placed her hand lightly on my arm and said:

“My dear, I must say you are being awfully calm about all of this.”

To which I replied: “yeah, I am just trying to stay rational so I can make informed decisions and understand everything”

To be honest, I could not explain why or how I had stayed calm so far. I had barely cried since hearing the news back in Florida considering the enormity of the situation.

Later that day, my sister was with me in my hospital room and I just started crying. I felt sad, and I just could not hold it inside anymore. I suppose being confined to a hospital room adds to one’s depression. During this time, a nurse had come in to check on something. As she saw me in that state she quietly left the room generously allowing me some privacy as my sister attempted to comfort me. She came back afterwards, and as she was checking on my IVs and such, she said:

“Dr. Angel will be here to check on you later. She had wanted to come in earlier but I had told her ‘now may not be the best time’ and told her you were crying. She just replied ‘good I had been waiting for that’”
the sweet nurse smiled at this, and I smiled back. I suppose Dr. Angel, being the marvelous doctor that she was, also knew of the therapeutic power of tears, and was glad I was getting to that point-the point beyond the numbness and shock of a situation.

After my conversation with my dad, I had told Dr. Angel that I may need her to tell the Red Cross people about my condition so they can work on expediting my dad’s trip home. She asked if I had the local Red Cross phone number; I did not but I was planning on looking it up later. She left and came back shortly after, with the number of the local Red Cross written on a piece of paper. She had taken out of her precious time to look it up for me, or had asked someone else equally busy to look it up; either way it was a very kind gesture. She dialed their number while still in my room, and within minutes she had explained the situation to them and took care of everything for me. She handed me the phone, and I gave my dad’s information to the Red Cross lady, who then reassured me that they will be working on this case immediately, and my dad’s employer should hear from them within hours.

Wow! It is amazing when small humane acts like that restore someone’s faith in the human race. Dr. Angel had not only restored my faith in human kindness, but also in the medical profession. I wanted to be like her! I wanted to be such a doctor, who through small every day deeds can make a huge difference in the patients’ lives. I will forever be indebted to her for showing me that one can be such a doctor, despite the challenges that he/she may face because of this messed-up healthcare system.

Two days later, dad was on his way home. I had been discharged from the hospital, and was anxiously awaiting his arrival…

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory;
Rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,
each looking out not for his own interests,
but also everyone for those of others.
Phillippians 2:3-4