5 November 2007

If Only I was 21 - The Ocker Doc

All doctors have a favourite patient. I haven't seen mine for 4 years. I can't even remember what he looks like. I just remember his approach to life. Why do I remember? Because I want to be like him.

Imagine that! Wanting to be like a cancer patient.

This man was a patient when I was a 'young' doctor. Actually this is untrue for I was never a 'young' doctor. I reached the status of a junior doctor when I was 'old'. If the truth be known, at least half of the consultant that I worked for were younger than me. This is the result of a first career in teaching (another story!).

I looked after him in hospital during radiation therapy. He had had a small lung cancer removed 6 months before. The operation had gone well. Unfortunately he developed headaches and difficulty with his arm, similar to the problems of a stroke. His general practitioner was very good and he had the diagnosis made quickly after a CT scan (previously known as a CAT scan, and the brunt of many animal jokes!). He had a cerebral metastasis … sorry, a small piece of the lung cancer had entered the blood stream and lodged in the brain.

The immediate but temporary solution is steroid tablets to reduce the associated brain swelling. Pleasingly he recovered with these tablets. The longer lasting solution lies in radiation therapy to the brain. Depending on the circumstance, surgery to remove the brain lump might be also undertaken. It wasn't in his case.

He lived some distance from the radiation unit (Nelson Bay, NSW that beautiful summer destination in Australia) and so was staying in the hospital during the radiation therapy. We spent some time talking, as his medical needs were very minor.

Later I saw him regularly as a senior training doctor (also older by this time!) in the clinics. He was always on a high from living! Why is life so good? I asked. He replied that when he was in hospital some one said to him that no matter what happened with his cancer, he still received his remaining days one at a time. I was told to make sure that each one was a good one, he said. I have, and guess what? What? Each day is better that the last one - I wish some one had told me this when I was 21!

He didn't say it, but he was glad I had told him at 61 also.