“Doctor,” he began, “I have cancer.”
“Go on,” I replied. “How can I help you?”
At the multidisciplinary meeting composed of the patient, his surgeon, his gastroenterologist, and his oncologist, it was agreed that he would try a chemotherapy regimen designed to shrink his tumor. This is sometimes done to down-stage a cancer before surgery. This usually improves a patient’s survival.
“But doctor, we are almost out of money.”
It is a sad fact that the citizens of my country are often ill-prepared for critical illness. There is no universal health care. When you are sick, you must have money set aside… Or you die.
I taught him how to avail of the hospital’s services through its service arm. It meant falling in line and having our trainee physicians see him (who in turn updates us, the attendings, of the patient’s progress).
It also means that he gets a significant discount using the hospital’s facilities and having the same kind of care without the professional fees.
“Is this true, doctor?” he asked, “Because if it is, then it is heaven-sent.”
He consulted the clinic again this morning.
“Doctor, when I told my wife and children that I was applying to be a service patient of the hospital, they violently disagreed with me,” he began.
“Why?” I asked.
“It is because we like our doctors, you included,” he said. “You are kind and generous. You intend only the best for us. When I brought up the idea that I may not have the money to pay you, you smiled and still offered your service, without thought of loss or grief. We do not want to lose the excellent care we have received.”
I was touched. I was speechless.
“But no,” I explained, “just because you belong to the service arm, doesn’t mean that we will not care for you anymore. Our trainee doctors are under our tutelage, and they need you so that they can learn from you through our interactions. We are very much part of the team.”
“I understand,” he replied, “if they learn your compassion and your service orientation,” he began, “then you have taught them well. So be it. I will speak with my wife and children again. Thank you very much.”
I watch as another critically ill patient walk away to continue fighting his fight to wellness. I sent a prayer to guard him as he hurdles the many difficulties he would face. I sent a prayer of healing for his body, mind, and spirit. I asked for an outpouring of resources for his family to continue supporting him in his illness.
And finally I prayed for myself, a prayer of grace, and for guidance to remain always kind and generous.