Doctor in the House

It usually takes a situation like this (along with mystery illnesses, playground fractures, and midnight vomit fests) to make Earl and me to wonder why we didn’t diversify.  Yeah, engineering pays well and all that, but isn’t it possible some of our 13 collective years frittered away in graduate school could have been better spent becoming real doctors?  You know, the kind that can write prescriptions, do no harm, save people’s lives.  We have become competent do-it-yourselfers in many facets of our lives, and yet, realistically speaking, how could we ever learn enough to be able to set our own broken bones, treat our children’s many ailments, and cure my cancer?

Fortunately, where our myopia failed us, technology and others have filled in.  For example, I can quickly supplement my meager understanding of genetics or radiology with a Google search.  Need to figure out why our 4 year old can’t breathe easily and sleeps more than usual?  Easy — bring him to the hospital.  But in the hectic pattern of our work and school driven lives, there’s nothing like having expertise at our fingertips, a doctor in the house.  Enter my friend Anna (pronounced “on-uh”).  Physician by training, cellist extraordinaire by night, she has been a priceless repository of knowledge to draw upon when I’m confused by treatments, pathology reports, and discussions with my doctors.

Anna and I met years ago via a chance encounter involving a French seamstress, a library excursion, and a poodle left shivering in a street-side puddle.  Since then, our relationship has blossomed into a celebration of common interests:  music, children, walking, classic books, trashy books, swimming, celebrity gossip, food, Regency England.

My breast cancer survivor cousin recently remarked to me that, for good or for bad, cancer diagnosis can stratify relationships in surprising ways.  Though cliché, you do find out who your real friends are.  I tend to think this results more from people’s varying comfort levels in dealing with serious illness rather than a devious plan to sever ties when the gettin’s good.  Ultimately, we all want to do right by our fellow human being if for no other reason than, someday, it might be us lying on the hospital gurney heading off to surgery.

As I could have easily predicted, Anna has never flinched, never wavered.  From mammogram to diagnosis and every step of the way since, she has been an anchor when each new medical uncertainty nudges me further into a sea of apprehension.  My newly self-styled BrFF (Breast Friend Forever), she doesn’t force opinions or cast judgment but rather offers advice when I ask, listens patiently when I need to vent, provides medical knowledge when I profess ignorance, awaits with compassion when I falter.

Yes, indeed, you do find out who your real friends are.


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