Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Lesson Learned

Today I went back and forth with myself, deciding whether or not to visit a patient that is no longer on my caseload, and who is now under hospice care.  I try to be very conscious of the boundaries I set with my work, but his extended family is all out of province and he does not have a wife or children to provide support.  We developed a good connection in a short period of time while he was in acute care, both displaying a "tell it like it is" mentality enveloped in mutual respect.  I eventually decided to go--worried he would have few visitors in his final few days on earth.  Besides, I had an appointment in that area of town--maybe it was meant to be...

I am glad I went.  Although the cancer had metasticized and he was in a lot of discomfort, he said he wanted to "back off" from the pain medication because he had "a lot to think about."  I asked him what he would tell himself if he was sixteen again.  He kind of skirted the topic by sharing what life was really like for him at that age, having just lost his Dad and living with an alcoholic mother whom he loved fiercely.  It sounded like chaos.  But with his incredible spirit he managed to obtain his high school diploma and get a trade.

Unfortunately, he inherited his mother's propensity and led a hard and fast life down that same path--escaping his pain and unfounded insecurities.  He was successful in living the fast life he chose--always finding work to finance the fun.  This brought us back to present day and his losing battle against a cancer that sometimes rears its ugly head in response to a reckless lifestyle.  And so I asked the question from a different angle; what would be the soundest advice he could give my two boys, aged 18 and 14.  His clear blue eyes welled up with tears as he said only two words: "slow down."

As our visit came to a close, he gave me some last minute instructions and I did the same, reminding him, "say what you need to say."  He cocked one eyebrow, smiled and said, "You know I'm good at that," to which I responded, "Yes, I should know that by now."  After we hugged good-bye I walked out into an unusually warm February afternoon and stared up at the brilliant blue sky that reminded me of his translucent eyes.  Then I remembered something my junior high science teacher told our class one day.  At the time my classmates and I thought it was very odd.  Out of the blue Mr. Shandro told us..."Remember to slow down and smell the roses."

Slow down.

Water filled my eyes as I realized I didn't come today just for him.  I came for me--to relearn an old lesson and to validate some recent choices.
Thank you kind sir.