Friday, May 11, 2012

A Letter to My Doctor

So May is national Arthritis Awareness month and arthritis has been all over my social media networks. I guess I am happy that with the advent of social media, it has become much easier to educate people on many different subjects, including arthritis. However, I have not personally written about awareness month simply because every day is arthritis awareness day! Life with a chronic illness simply means that some days are better than others and some days are much worse, but with arthritis, you are always somewhat aware.

While the disease is getting a great deal of publicity this month, I haven't seen much about the doctors, nurses and researchers that become part of their patients lives, dedicating more time and energy than we give them credit for; finding ways for us to manage our disease and live the most productive lives possible. I have heard many stories of doctors who didn't listen or didn't care or understand, it's always easier to give voice to the negative. However, throughout my life with Arthur, I have been blessed to have two rheumatologists who took care of me like I was their child; and in some ways I probably was.

This week, my rheumatologist of 20 years retired. I arrived in her office as a teenager, stubborn, filled with denial, worried more about the upcoming school dance than I was about medications, therapy or my future and the fact that I would spend the next 20 years with that tiny wisp of woman with brassy curls and thick glasses. Always matter-of-fact and determined, Dr. Hanna took care of me (often battling with my stubborn ways) and as the years went on, I never pictured a time without her. Though I said "Thank you" often, I don't think it was ever enough, so recently I put it into words.

My last visit with Dr. Hanna was odd. Rather anti-climatic, I don't think either of us knew what to say as it didn't feel like the last time. So to honor Dr. Miriam Hanna, I'd like to share my gratitude and though she's a private person, I hope she won't mind.

Remember to always be grateful for someone who helps to shape your life.

Dear Doctor,                                                                                                              

I have thought about this day for years, knowing that one day you would retire, closing one chapter and beginning a new one for us both. I only hoped it wouldn’t be so soon.

So how do you thank someone who has virtually had your life in her hands for 20 years? Thank you just doesn’t begin.

I cannot remember a time that you weren’t in my life or on my speed dial. Whether you realize it or not, you have become a part of my family, falling into our common conversation as easily and often as some relatives. “What’s Hanna say?” has been a phrase mentioned over our dinner table more times than I can count. My parents trusted you to take on my case when I was still a child and you have stayed with me as I have learned how to be an adult and make a life, mostly successfully, with this rotten disease. And I KNOW I haven’t been an easy patient. Much like a parent, I know you have been exasperated with me more often than I realized and it is only in hindsight that I can see how much work I was/am. But you stuck with me. 

I’m sure when Dr. Wortman referred me 20-years-ago, you had no idea what you were getting yourself into. Lord knows I had no idea. At 16, I still held the secret fantasy that because I had “juvenile” arthritis, it would just, “Poof,” disappear when I became an adult. We all need something to hope for. I guess we learned together.

Whether you know it or not, I have always considered myself very lucky to have you as my doctor. I have many friends who have not been so fortunate and I have to admit that it scares me to go out and face the fact that not all rheumatologists are willing to invest in their patients as you have in me.

Life with RA is painful—physically and psychologically—some days/weeks/months, it’s been hard not to give up.  But it has always gotten “better”—or you just learn a new normal. We ride the waves and just wait for the storm to pass. Because you worked with me, advocated for me and were honest, always, with me, I have been able to earn my degree, to build a career and to become a voice for others with the disease. I’m still waiting for Prince Charming, but that’s another story. The point is, I am living my life because of you.
Again, I feel at a loss as to how to express my gratitude. I hope that this letter gives you at least a little idea of the good you have done and the impact you have made on my life and those who love me. Your care has affected the lives of people you have never met because of what it has enabled me to do. So please know, all of those battles with insurance companies, hospital bureaucracies and (sometimes) obstinate patients were not for nothing.   

I wish you all the best in this next chapter of your life. I will continue to be a voice for the patient and for the doctors who care for us with all of their hearts. Be well, Doctor. I will miss you. 

1 comment:

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