Meeting a Doctor and Talking About the Worst Case

The other night I joined my friend Joe and my cousin Paul and some others and played the drums. It was a lot of fun. When I had a break I sat next to the wife of a man who played bass, and we began talking.  “What do you do?” I asked her.  “I’m a doctor,” she replied.

Then she told me a story about one of her experiences as an endocrinologist, or specialist in the body’s glands.  Once she had a patient coming in to see her, and as is her custom she shook her hand when they met in her office. “Hmm,”  she thought, as the shook her hand. It was clammy and moist. “She must have a thyroid problem.”  Later on tests revealed that indeed, this was the case. It was simply that handshake that gave her the idea of what the problem was.

I asked her about those cases when it all looks bad, and there is really no hope. She told me about a case of a woman in her sixties who had a tumor in her breast.  It turned out that three years ago, the woman had felt a lump, but since her daughter was getting married, she did not ever see anyone about it. Then there was a baby on the way, again, the woman demurred instead of seeking help. Then a full three years after she herself had found the lump, she went to see the doctor and of course, it had spread and was too late. Sad.

I asked her about what signs she sees that mean bad things.  “When the blood levels all drop, that’s bad,” she said. “If the blood levels are all sinking, it’s often because a tumor it taking away all of the cells that would show up on the test.”  So if she sees those downward spirals, well, it just may mean the worst.

I shuddered thinking about this, and how tough it must be to be a doctor having to tell a patient  that there’s no point in operating, since there’s nothing they can do. I cross myself and hope that I don’t experience one of these moments any time soon. But then again, nobody is really immune, are they?