“I’m not doing so well.”
My 84-year-old patient was nearing the end of another denture fitting appointment, and he had just accidentally spilled all of his water on the operatory floor. “No no,” I said, “you’re doing just fine.” Trying to reassure him, I couldn’t think of anything better to say.
At the time, I didn’t realize that I was not going to see my patient again. Shortly after that appointment, I was informed that he had to be transferred to hospice and would be unable to make any future appointments at the school. Still, a few months later, his words come to me every few days, reminding me of something important.
Biking along the Greenway today, my wife and I were happy: we will soon celebrate two years of marriage, we have years of happiness ahead, and are excited about the unpredictable nature of life. Like a path strewn with riches I don’t yet know of, my life winds away in front of me.
I’m just old enough to know I should enjoy what youth I still have.
I’m young enough to be able to execute.
But there’s still this poison that creeps in: as we biked along, I’m getting upset about something at school, or upset that there’s something in my eye, or angry that I didn’t pack sunscreen. The point is: loss of perspective is poison. It yanks you out of the experiential and into the narrative. And it happens to me with shameful frequency. Sometimes, not always, but sometimes, my patient’s words crash through my shortsightedness: “I’m not doing so well.”
Alex, here you are, doing great. But you think there’s something wrong. You’ve got years ahead, but you’re stuck dwelling on short-term minutiae. You’ve got your health, but obsess over the jog you didn’t take. Inevitably, when I recall my patient’s words, I feel a sense of guilt. Somewhere, in a quiet room, my patient is sitting. He can’t do the things I can. His best years are behind him. He has family, but more often than not they’re elsewhere. He told me getting married was the best thing he ever did, but now his wife is gone.
Yet, I have the audacity to get upset over something in my eye.