Now that spring has finally sprung here in New York City, my thoughts are turning, as they do for so many in this wonderful season of renewal, to love. Yes, love, and, because I work in oncology, stories of patients falling in love with their medical teams are coming right to mind. If this hasn’t happened to you yet, stick around long enough, and it will! Don’t believe me? Here’s one for you...
This is the story of a very shy, wonderful doctor and a patient who fell in love. Dr. Smith is not tall, not striking, but good looking in a very proper sort of way. He is gentle and soft-spoken, and his patients all like and respect him. In fact, he has a very nice rapport with just about everyone and gets along with even the most difficult patients.
Ms. Brown was not his clinic patient, but he was the doctor on inpatient duty the month that she was admitted for her first cycle of chemotherapy (for AML), and so they met daily during morning rounds when he, 10 residents, a nurse, and me (the social worker) trooped diligently in and out of every patient’s room for a brief check-in and discussion of the day’s plans.
Ms. Brown was not an easy patient; she was angry, miserable, morbidly obese, and very uncomfortable in the hospital bed to which she was confined. She hated the hospital gowns, which were too small, she hated the hospital food, the new diagnosis, the work-up, the chemotherapy, and the aftermath of it all.
When Dr. Smith listened calmly to her anger, distress, and complaints, and addressed her issues directly, she was pleased. When Dr. Smith told her that she could certainly wear her own clothes if she wanted and that she was welcome to have friends or relatives bring in food that she liked, she was overjoyed. When they discovered that they liked the same kind of music, she fell in love.
After that, rounds with Dr. Smith and Ms. Brown became a great event. She would offer him sweets from her tray, look him straight in the eye, and tell him what a “doll” he was. She would sigh when he examined her and gently brush his hand with her own as he was listening to her heart with his stethoscope. She would dress in lingerie before morning rounds so that while we were there, she could casually brush aside the sheets and expose her new teddy, asking coyly if Dr. Smith liked the color.
Dr. Smith, though clearly uncomfortable, never failed in his duty as her physician, and he finally broke down in the nurse’s station and said, “What in the world is going on with this woman?” Ten residents, a nurse, and one social worker said, nearly in unison, “Ah doc, don’t you know? She’s in love!” I have never seen a human being turn a brighter shade of red.