Once upon a time, my doctor was a guy my parents took me to on those rare occasions they felt I was suffering from a malady too complex for their considerable skills as untrained, but highly experienced primary care physicians. No, mom and dad didn't actually go to med school, but her background as an elementary school teacher blended well with his training as a pharmacist. In short, she almost always knew when I was faking it to avoid the algebra test I hadn't studied for, and he had a veritable treasure trove of foul-tasting elixirs that would serve to propel me from my sickbed faster than you can say "castor oil."
Back in those thrifty, self-reliant days, an actual visit to the doctor was sort of a last resort. The practitioners in my hometown were, with a single exception, male and possessing of a certain dignity that was unique to their lofty profession. Ergo, it seemed important not to waste their time with minor bumps and bruises or commonplace ills. So, for us, an actual trip to the doctor's was generally the result of something untoward, and involved stitches, plaster casts and other extreme measures. In addition, most docs delivered babies and wrassled with tonsils and the odd appendix here and there, plus actually made house calls from time to time.
They were wise, relaxed and self-assured. What's more, they were genuinely good people who truly cared about the patients they saw.
It wasn't until I had kids of my own that I encountered an actual specialist. The 70s and early 80s were probably a good time to choose a career in obstetrics or pediatrics, as the giant generation known as the baby boomers began producing a generation of their own. They were, therefore, often so darn overbooked that making an appointment felt a bit like auditioning for a role in a Broadway play.
They were busy, smart and often more patient with the children they treated than their dumb-brained parents.
When I battled my way through a bout of advanced prostate cancer a decade or so ago, the kind, generous local specialist I saw recommended I move on up the so-called physician food-chain by seeking help at one of the university teaching hospitals that dot the midwest. Thanks to the internet, I was able to investigate universities, hospitals and doctors alike before finding a person and a place that seemed appropriate to my situation. The docs I encountered there were, on the whole, nice enough, and pretty darn smart, as well. But I was a little surprised to discover they were also a bit over-involved with the politics and quest for funding that often rule such places.
They were capable, ambitious and driven to succeed.
So it goes, I guess.
When some stubborn back pain began keeping me up at night several months ago, I conferred with a young chiropractic physician, who gave me what was probably the best, most important medical advice of my life.
"Go get a thorough scan," he said. "Something's wrong."
He was right.
The resulting CT Scan showed CUPS, a mysterious Cancer of an Unknown Primary Source that had spread to my liver, lymph system and bones.
"Uh oh," I thought. "Now what?"
Yet another internet search led me to a famous Chicago hospital, which was rated as one of the best in the whole world when it comes to cancer and the ways to treat it. I was a little startled when I first met the doctor assigned to my case.
First off, she was drop-dead gorgeous, which is, I know, both unimportant and an unfortunate choice of words when used to describe an oncologist dealing with serious cases. As I got to know her better, I also came to realize that she was an astute physician who, while relatively young, had already began making a name for herself as both a clinician and a scientist.
She had brains, curiosity and determination.
And something more, too.
It was after she called me at home one Sunday afternoon just to see how I was feeling that I understood how much more. Because, just like those family doctors I first met when I was a boy, she was a genuinely good person who truly cared about me and my family.
She had hope. She had a heart.
Sometimes nothing changes.