Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Caregiving: "the call"

There are phone calls I can never forget.  

“(One) score and seven years ago …” a phone call changed my dreams and life.

That is another story. This entry is about “the call” from (one) score and three years ago that kicked open the door of caregiving.

Sitting at my desk at work I received a call from a neurology office. For months and months Patti had been going for tests of one kind or another to try and determine an intermittent and remitting tingling/numbness she would get in her fingers.

The caller explained Patti was crying uncontrollably and could I come get her. No more insight except their address and directions.

Patti does not cry. This is a woman who had a root canal done without Novocain because she did not like the after affects of Novocain. In all these years I can only remember her crying one other time.

Upon arriving I found Patti still crying alone in an examination room. Her neurologist appeared and explained he had told her that “she probably has Multiple Sclerosis” … “I gave her some brochures to read” … “I returned to see if she had any questions and found her crying uncontrollably” … “She appears to be emotionally upset.” … “I do not think she should drive.

Neurologists have not gotten any better over the years. I imagine that serial killers have better interpersonal skills.

Those brochures from decades ago were laced with words like incurable, progressive, handicapped, wheelchair, shortened life expectancy. Can you think of more wonderful reading material while reeling from the shock of hearing the diagnosis “probable Multiple Sclerosis”?

I can never grasp the depth of Patti’s shock and terror. My memory is a conflicting storm of anger and compassion.

More like plastic pets, telephones now even tag along with us.

Yet any call could find you reaching to answer or reaching into life’s grab bag.

Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.”
Alexander Bell, March 10, 1876
(first successful telephone transmission of speech)

Caregivingly Yours,
J Patrick Leer


  1. What a shock. It doesn't help your mental health, does it?


  2. i was with my sis when she was told. She cried all the way home and then cried more but DH and i told her you have to fight this yes its not curable but don't read the brochures. It does change your life though. thanks for sharing :) stay warm its snowing like a banchee here


  3. geesh, you think they would have known in their years of practicing medicine that it might be wise to have a different approach to break devastating news to the patient (like perhaps have the patient bring a family member with them). I can't imagine the emotions of you and Patti that day.

    I have a love/hate relationship with the phone.


  4. .............many doctors have no 'bedside' manner, that is a given as that doesn't seem to be part of the medical education course of study.  I can imagine the extent of the anger and frustration you felt...and the devistation Patti must have experienced.  Words cannot ease any of those emotions but you have in your loving care given her a rock to cling to.

  5. I want to thank you for writing this. I got the news in March '07. I'm still grieving. I've lost my best friend and so many others because they don't understand why the news 'grabbed' me in such a way. Yes, I thought if I finally knew what was wrong, it would make me feel so much was the opposite. I was hanging in there for awhile, then it all hit me like a flood. I guess I couldn't handle the news on my own. I still need to get a grip on this so I will be able to move on in my life. Thank you Patrick for writing this.

  6. What an explosive feeling your words relate.  Very powerful.  CATHY

  7. I had lost this precious journal for more than a year.  It meant so much to find you again today.  We commented in each others journals more than a year ago and I got great courage from you and your wife.  
    My life has changed for the better and wanted to thank you for all your kindnesses to a perfect stranger who was scared and alone back then.
    My journal is now private but I've added you in case you ever have time, haha what's that, to visit.



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