It is spring time in our area. Even though it was still cold and it was very windy, my wife and I took a stroll yesterday afternoon at a park in downtown Des Moines. The park is smack at the center of our city, akin to the Central Park of New York City.
As we were walking we have noticed several renovations and new features in the park making it more beautiful and engaging. We then came to a marker at the trail where we were treading and it featured an influential person whom the trail was named after. His vision and philanthropic contribution was the reason this recreational park exist today.
That prominent man was once a patient of mine. Here is my story.
I just moved to Iowa at that time and joined a practice of a large multi-specialty group of physicians. Perhaps only a few months into my stay here, when that famous person was referred for a pulmonary consultation to our practice. Maybe the senior partners in our group were hesitant to care for him, knowing who he was and caring for him could be distressing as you could be under the spotlight all the time given that he also owns one of the city’s newspaper company. So, he was assigned to me. Since I was new, young, and naive, and I don’t even knew the man, I happily obliged.
After a couple of clinic visits and a series of testing, I came to a certain diagnosis of his illness. It was a difficult diagnosis. Even though it is not cancer, this lung disease is a terminal condition with progressive deteriorating course and most patients succumb in about 2 to 3 years time. Even today, there is still no cure for this illness. You can just imagine how tough it was for me to give the bad news to my patient. Of course by that time I already learned of his VIP status.
Though I knew it was incurable I offered him that we try a medication for his disease, for nobody can really predict the outcome, plus we had nothing to lose anyway. For reason beyond my expectations, it worked!
Several weeks into our treatment in his follow-up clinic visit, my patient claimed that he was feeling great, less short of breath, and has more energy. He then told me that since he has a birthday coming, he plans to throw a big party, “a celebration of life,” as he called it. And he wants me to come to that party. He gave me the time and venue, but no other specific details of the party.
The time of the party came, and since I knew how VIP he was, I dressed nicely for the occasion, though not in tuxedo, for I don’t even own a tuxedo. The venue was a historic building in the city, for it was an old masonic temple that my patient saved from being demolished, and instead he bought it and refurbished it into a theater for performing arts.
As I came out of the elevators and stepped into the grand hall where the party was being held, I realized how opulent the event was. There was a live band playing. Waiters and waitresses in their immaculate suits serving the guests were roaming around the room. The dinner tables were set elegantly. I scanned the great hall and all the guests in there were probably all the bigwigs and local celebrities of the city. I suddenly felt out of place. As a humble transplant from Sampaloc, Manila, I sensed I don’t belong there.
The staff at the entrance asked for my name and I was led to a table at the front of the great hall. There was a reserved seat for me! The host, my patient, saw me coming in and looked my way, as I was being seated on the table.
Shortly thereafter, the band stopped playing. My patient went up the front stage and grab the microphone and gave a welcome speech. He relayed how sick he was in the past several months and how he thought he was a goner. But he said he was doing much better and experiencing a “rebirth,” and that was the reason for the celebration.
I was just starting to warm up to my seat as I listened to my patient continue on his speech when he specifically mentioned that he was thankful for the doctor who was taking care of him and who was partly responsible for his “rebirth.” I was caught off-guard and totally surprised. He then called my name and requested me to stand. There was a big applause as I stood up, and all eyes were upon me.
After my patient’s speech, food was served which was definitely exquisite, but I hardly ate. I was still stunned at my new found fame. People around the table where I sat showed genuine interest in me and tried to strike a conversation with me. Perhaps they were still wondering how in the world, this unlikely Filipino migrant, burst into the scene.
I did not stay for long in the party. In fact I was there for a very short time. I cannot stand the limelight.
Sadly to say, also short-lived was my patient’s improvement. After a honeymoon phase response with the medication, the disease showed its ugly head again. A little more than a year later, he got admitted to the hospital and his wife specifically asked for me to visit him even though other doctors were already caring for him. They just wanted a familiar face to see him as he quietly slipped into the eternal night.
As this flood of memories came to me as I was looking at the marker on this trail, I looked around and saw these landmarks that this benevolent man had left. I smiled, for he also left a mark in me.
(*photo taken in downtown Des Moines)