Cultivate an attitude of gratitude

March 10, 2011

What gets this author motivated for each new day in practice? Thankful patients.

What gets me up and moving on those days? Thankful patients. Even if only one person in 10 takes time to express gratitude for the doctor's efforts, those who say thank you or bring a token gift reassure us that our work is not in vain.

REMEMBERING GRATEFUL PATIENTS

Ever the compulsive doctor, I insisted on performing a physical exam, which revealed a thyroid mass. I sent Ashley for a thyroid ultrasound, which led to a biopsy, which led in turn to a diagnosis of thyroid cancer-only a month before school began. She had a hemithyroidectomy, started college, had a second opinion over Thanksgiving at a local tertiary center, and at winter break had the rest of her thyroid removed.

In a letter that I received a month after school started, Ashley thanked me for finding the cancer before it got out of control and spread. I turned tearful as I reflected on the unfairness of the situation. This sweet, articulate, and polite young lady-a year younger than my oldest son-shouldn't have cancer. That she is bearing it with such grace, and even can think to thank me, is a testament to her character. It's obvious that her mother raised her well.

Ashley reminds me of another bright woman attending a prestigious Ivy League college. Emily Zhang also developed a thyroid condition right before her freshman year. Fortunately, it was just thyroiditis. I monitored her condition with blood tests forwarded from school during her freshman year. When a geology course piqued Emily's interest a year later, she signed up for a summer geology expedition to Australia-a country that's on my short list of dream vacations.

Knowing of my interest in rock collecting, she brought back a rock for me with an interesting fern-like pyrolusite formation. (I fear that my desk will collapse someday under the weight of earthen gifts.) Another patient brought in rocks from her daughter's trip to Ireland, and I recently shared tips on travel books before asking a young man departing for a few months of globetrotting to bring back a few rocky tokens. Patients like these, who humor my interests and are grateful for my help, make medicine a joy.