As I sat next to him, and now in a voice confident and ringing with anticipation, Mr A explained in painstaking detail how he determined which approach shot to hit to the 2nd green on the Black Course at Bethpage State Park.
Only 10 minutes earlier when Mr A and I first met he was weary, his face was drawn, and the sound of the aortic balloon pump keeping him alive made it nearly impossible to hear him.
Sitting down, which would seem like one of the simplest things to do, is the least practiced of five communication skills for doctors that Lenore would have endorsed and that research has shown can make a big difference in patient satisfaction.
When my grandmother was caring for my ill grandfather — she expressed neverending confidence in his physician. As a physician in training I was very interested about the qualities she saw in him that made her so confident that he was in fact the best doctor for her husband.
He talks to us. He sits with us. He takes time out of his busy day to let us know that he cares…
My grandfather passed away not too long after that discussion. Sadly it was likely that very same physicians fault. But no one needed to now that… my grandmother’s confidence didn’t wane through his last dying days.
I was instructed to prepare Mr A for emergency cardiac surgery that evening. The attending surgeon’s plane had just landed so I had about an hour. At first I stood at the foot of the bed … chart in hand, paperwork being diligently filled out after I could decipher what Mr A had said. In time a discussion started about the activities he had enjoyed prior to the onset of his heart issues. Golf, golf, golf... hmmm. Me too – I shared.
The next hour was spent talking about each and every hole on the Black course and the incredible amount of strategy it takes to walk off feeling like you deserved a seat at the 19th hole. The black course is famous in golf circles… especially for those of us from Queens, NY or Long Island.
Just as we finished discussing our own 18th hole strategy, the aides came to wheel Mr A away. He asked for two things. One, he wanted me to assist in the surgery to watch over him… and two, he wanted to play the black course with me when he was better.
I assisted in surgery that night. The surgery went well… technically.
But Mr A’s heart didn’t have the strength to start at the conclusion of the procedure.
I stayed with Mr A that night until he was brought downstairs to the Morgue. I then stayed with the family and shared the hour long discussion I had had with him before the procedure.
We wondered why dad thought you were one of the best doctors around, even though you’re only an intern ….
Exhausted, scared, and wondering if I could ever again go through the death of someone I let get inside my head — I left the hospital. My sticks were always in my trunk, so I go to the second hole “on the Black” — using the wise advise recently gifted to me, I hit the best approach shot of my young adult life.
I left the ball there as a parting tribute to Mr A.