I have always been a big believer in the idea of Karma and the role I have prayed to God countless times that it might play in the evening the score with people beyond my reach to pay back for crimes against me or the people I love. But it never occurred to me to look at Karma as a way in which people can be repaid for the love or kindness or generosity that they might have selflessly bestowed upon others.
That was, at least, until I witnessed – and participated in – a moment in which Karma & My Doctor came face-to-face in an examining room.
For some backdrop, I should point out that I am blind in a little more than half of the right side of each eye and grapple with some really “interesting” cognitive deficiencies as a result of having had three strokes. I only mention it here to set the stage for this story by pointing out that the doctor in question is my Neurologist.
For the record, I am a life-long hater of doctors and hospitals. There has always been something different about this guy, though, and looking back on it now, I’d have to guess that some of our random encounters in life might not really be quite so random after all. My last stroke brought with it a whole new horde of doctors and nurses into my life and it caused me to cross paths with this new Neurologist and, later, an Occupational Therapist that would effectively change my life. These two, in particular, forced me to ultimately put aside my preconceived notions about the medical industry and fully embrace the care these two would give me in spite of myself.
And so it was that, after a year and a half of monthly post – stroke visits and roughly six bi-monthly visits, the Neurologist and I had come down to our last visit before transitioning to annual ones. It was like graduation day minus the champagne and the cap and tassel. He was very proud of himself and very proud of me and announced that – now that I had been put all back together – I had a good 20 or 30 years left in me to live out a good long life.
In all honesty, I’d have to say the man was beaming.
I looked up at him, feeling a little frantic and distraught, and said:
“What the fuck am I supposed to do with myself for the next 20 or 30 years in this condition? I can’t work, I can’t drive, I can barely read or write, and I am barely allowed by you guys to even live alone unsupervised.”
Without even a hint of hesitation, and coming from a man half my age, the response was both incredibly complex and terrifyingly simple all at the same time:
“Find something that gives meaning and purpose to your life”.
I remember wanting to argue and disagree and give the speech all over again about what I couldn’t ever do again or would struggle with for the rest of my life. I wanted to reject the advice and insist such wisdom might work for others but couldn’t possibly apply to me.
But I didn’t.
We fist-bumped our goodbyes (that was our thing instead of shaking hands and spreading germs) and I walked the two miles back home with plenty of time to navel gaze and internalize and process our conversation.
A year later, when our appointment was due again, I was informed that he was not seeing patients but that he was still on staff. The more I asked the less, they assured me, they could tell me beyond reiterating that he was still on staff and that I was welcome to make an appointment but with one of the other specialists. I reluctantly did and then blew it off when the appointment day came, telling them I was too sick and asking if I could reschedule.
Half of the second year came and went and my guy was still on staff and still not seeing patients. Now fully back in “I hate doctors” mode, but out of excuses to avoid setting up an appointment, I relented and let them schedule me for some new random doctor. The next available appointment wasn’t for 3 months out so I happily cast it into the short-term memory bin, which has more holes in it than the Titanic thanks to my medical history.
When the appointment reminder call with the new guy came… as fate would have it… the forecasted high temperature for that day was 18 below with the wind chill. Given that this is not the sort of weather a half blind person should challenge on icy sidewalks, I rescheduled. Again.
And I got a 90-day reprieve for my troubles because that was the next available opening with the new doctor.
When appointment day finally came, and I went through the check-in process that included filling out a questionnaire for the new doctor, I asked for assistance because of my visual issues and someone happily took my answers and wrote them down for me. During that banter I went on and on about my old doctor and how much I missed him and how little anyone would tell me about what happened to him. I still got no answers and sat in a chair waiting for intake.
The intake nurse was nice enough, the blood pressure was fantastic, and I continued babbling about my old doctor, and how much I missed him, but I still got no leaks. She excused herself, telling me “the doctor will be with you shortly”, and left me there for about 10 minutes with no other sound beyond the incessant ticking of one of those cheap clocks you see in examination rooms.
And I waited.
About the time that I had decided those clocks were designed to serve as some form of subliminal torture, along the lines of Poe’s ruminations on the matter of Tell Tale Hearts, a different nurse walked in and asked if I would like to see my original doctor instead of the one I was scheduled to see.
I was gobsmacked.
I said I couldn’t think of anything I would rather do and before I could gush anymore, she was out the door again. And within a couple of minutes there he was, standing in the doorway… grinning as if he had just found out what that evening’s winning lottery numbers were going to be.
He looked completely unchanged and displayed no outer signs of trauma or malady. We exchanged more grins, and then he spoke and I was instantly in sensory overload.
Something was terribly wrong with his speech and it was initially quite difficult to understand his words.
I should point out here that one of my more interesting cognitive issues now, as a result of the strokes, is what has happened to my hearing. It has naturally improved as my eyesight has waned… but now, wherever I go, I literally hear everything. If I’m in a crowded restaurant I can hear every voice from every table and I can hear every word each of them says to the other despite the fact that I cannot see who is saying what to whom at which table. It’s almost like I have a “Spidey sense” about voices and sounds and frequencies but a complete loss of any sense of direction or origin. It’s kind of cool when you want to be nosy but it’s horrifying when it comes over you like a wave yet is horribly distorted. My brain struggles to process it and translate it with any comprehensible clarity.
And so it was that, when he started talking, it sounded as if there was something wrong with his jaw, or his tongue, or maybe even his voice box or all of the above. My head was swimming and I was struggling to make sense of it all while working overtime not to show any facial expressions or act as if anything was the least bit out of the ordinary.
When he sat down, to his credit, the first thing he said was “before we talk about what’s going on with you these days, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.” That set both of us at ease, I think because I laughed and then he laughed and then he set about telling me everything that had happened… including some personal stuff about some of the ways his life had changed, both professionally and personally, since we had last seen each other roughly two years earlier.
And then we sat in silence for a minute or two, each of us trying to take it all in.
Half a year after our last appointment together he had suffered some type of coronary embolism event that ultimately led to his having had strokes on both sides of his body. They affected the left side a little more than the right and had caused his speech to become heavy and slurred and he, like me, struggled with something they call “word finding” … a thing we stroke survivors often have to deal with… where we know what we want to say but can’t pull the word out of our brain and push it through our mouths.
As he finished his story about the events of the previous two years and told me about all the Occupational therapy he had endured… and his fight to get back to work as a Neurologist… and all of the personal cost he had incurred during that journey, my head was swimming in my own personal flashbacks.
What kept playing over and over in my mind was the very advice he had once given me… at our last appointment two years earlier. And it came out of me before I even realized I was thinking about saying it out loud.
I told him how proud of him I was, and how deeply I admired and respected his determination to stand up, dust himself off, and get back in the saddle after everything he had lost and everything he had been through. And I told him that I was as sure as I could be that it was Karma that had kept me away from his office all that time… waiting until he was ready to come back to work and continue my care and take back the meaning and purpose in his own life that he had chosen to pursue all those years ago when he chose med school.
As Karma would have it, he had only just returned to work the day before my appointment and I think I was the first actual patient he had seen since getting back.
And for his efforts… for everything he had been through as he clawed his way back to his own meaningful and purposeful life… I want to believe that I gave him back some of the courage he had so freely given away to me and that he was reminded of all the reasons he never gave up. And he reminded me, at the same time, that all any of us can do in this life is either lay down and die or fight every day to make the most out of whatever hand we are dealt.
[Images via Wikipedia & Viral Novelty]