An Invitation

“I invite you to follow me on my journey”, she said with a voice that sounded proud, calm and courageous.

Her brain MRI had shown a large, inoperable glioblastoma. Her cheeks were already puffy from the steroids the neurosurgeon had prescribed to counteract brain swelling and seizure risk.

“I am not afraid of my cancer”, she continued. “It is now part of who I am. I even gave him a name, and he follows me wherever I go. There is no point in wishing it wasn’t so.” She chuckled a little and added, “I talk to him sometimes, and say things like ’so, what are we going to do today?’ I can tell he is there when my right hand refuses to cooperate and I am unable to dial on my cordless phone, and when I feel spasms coming on that make me drop my teacup or whatever I am holding in my hand.”

She spoke with a grace and a dignity that made me feel privileged to be in her presence. I have followed, intimately, the course of many incurable diseases in dozens of patients over the last thirty years, and a handful of these patients have etched themselves into my memory with their serenity and otherworldly radiance of faith and purpose. This was the first time a patient spoke of her disease as a journey, and used the words “I invite you to follow me”.

I felt I was on such a journey when I travelled back to Sweden and shared my father’s last days and death from Alzheimer’s disease a few years ago. But there was something very unusual and humbling to hear a patient with a new terminal diagnosis open her private world to let me, a stranger and only her new doctor, inside.

I sometimes spend too much time and energy, or “jing” as my wife says, thinking, talking and writing about how health care should be organized and delivered. But then, every once in a while, a few words, a look, a sigh or an outstretched hand from a fellow human being cuts through all the distractions of my work and reminds me of my own purpose, my own journey as a physician, a fortunate apostle of the ancient masters.

I started medical school forty-two years ago this month. I am grateful to begin another new year in medicine.

8 Responses to “An Invitation”

  1. 1 pheski January 1, 2016 at 10:45 pm

    Another touching and very real account. Thank you.

  2. 2 meyati January 1, 2016 at 11:44 pm

    I’m so sorry that your patient is going through this. I admire people with courage, humor, and dignity. I am happy that your are honoring and respecting her. Some doctors get mad at such attitudes.

  3. 3 Teri January 2, 2016 at 12:33 am

    I don’t comment often, but I enjoy your posts and attitude immensely.

  4. 4 Cher lord January 2, 2016 at 1:19 am

    This amazing person is a dear friend of mine. This account of her journey with cancer is so so true. I will visiting her tomorrow. And to this author, I miss both of you.

  5. 5 Josh Schwartzberg January 2, 2016 at 2:07 am

    I started medical school 47 years ago and also
    still feel grateful. Occasionally our patients are role models for us. Your posts are inspiring. Thank you.

  6. 6 mary dunn January 2, 2016 at 3:27 am

    I agree with the comments..despite it’s own illnesses with the paper work and requirements, medicine brought much joy, purpose and meaning to my life.
    Thank you for your continued posts.

  7. 7 Krisina January 4, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    I rarely comment on your stories that so accurately capture my “country doctors” journey in rural WV. My personal medical journey started in medicine at 18 yo as EKG tech that had to record old single channel strips from codes. That was 35 yrs ago. Med school finished 20 yrs ago. They’re many milestones we mark as physicians but the ones I remember the most are those SPECIAL PATIENTS. When I catch myself buried deep in whatever that decades frustrating hurdles are (currently EMR-ICD-10) & a PATIENT’S strength, kindness, humanity, courage jolts me out of my “routines” & touch me in a profound way reminding me it’s not about the hurdles behind the scenes but the person in front of me is what needs my energy/focus first & foremost. The most amazing part is in that moment they are taking care of me far more than I am taking care of them. God Bless these special people.

    • 8 CINNY January 14, 2016 at 11:54 pm


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Osler said “Listen to your patient, he is telling you the diagnosis”. Duvefelt says “Listen to your patient, he is telling you what kind of doctor he needs you to be”.


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