I have recently had three shocking reminders of how quickly life can change with the suddenness of a freight train. In my career as a doctor, I’ve had to deliver bad, even devastating, news more times than I care to remember. Each time is hard – but I always remind myself that no matter how difficult it is for me, it is life altering for my patient and their family. I have been fortunate in the last five years, that this has been a rare thing. I work with my patients to control their health problems and try to prevent any major ‘you better sit down moments.’ We try to head off issues before they become issues.
It was then with some rather great shock that I have had three patients in as many months that have had life altering moments happen to them.
I have been astounded by how well each of them has reacted to their new diagnosis. The first is an adolescent who will have to deal with a disease for the rest of his life. He struggled initially but seems to be coming to grips with the challenges that face him. His family is incredibly in tune with his needs and has taken the life change in stride. They have also been well supported by a medical community that is well versed in guiding families through a new diagnosis.
The second is a young adult who was already struggling with, and conquering, a difficult form of mental illness. She received a very rare diagnosis that carries a high rate of mortality – or as she told me – ‘Well, Dr. P, it’s terminal.’ She now has the most upbeat attitude of pretty much anyone I know. She and her family are struggling with a sudden, perhaps life-ending, diagnosis with grace and laughter. They are searching for the best medical care they can find for a disease they hadn’t heard of just a week before. I know in my heart that if anyone can beat it, she can.
The third family is just in the process of finding out about a new diagnosis that is, as of yet, undetermined. They have a brand new baby who is going to have a severe, life-altering disease – but we don’t know what it is yet. The family is understandably distraught and struggling to come to grips with not having the perfect newborn that everyone expects. But they are now getting the best care and hanging in there, awaiting a diagnosis. Often times, not knowing what’s going on is much, much worse than having a diagnosis.
These three patients have reminded me of how precious life is and to never take one single minute of it for granted. Its cliché, but when the kids are crabby or an insurance company is giving me a hard time, or I’m stuck in traffic, I stop myself and remember that these are the moments that make up my existence. Life can turn on a dime and the only thing we can do is enjoy the time that’s allotted to us.