I can still see my mother’s bright green eyes peering fearfully from above her gold-framed glasses when we heard the news.
Cancer had invaded her lungs, and it was so advanced she didn’t have long to live. Three, six months. Maybe a year, “si Dios quiere,” (if it’s God’s plan) a bilingual monotone doctor-in-training told us directly.
It was June 2015, and we clung to his last words.
The next days were a flurry of activity as more doctors-in-training walked in and out of her hospital room: One shook his head like my mother had behaved badly; another confidently (perhaps arrogantly) reassured her he’d make the cancer go away; one buried his face in his paperwork and never looked at her once as he fired off a round of health history questions. A few fought loudly and with us in the room over what treatment plans were best.
Another apologized and reassured us that they would be much more professional and compassionate moving forward. They mostly were.
Throughout our cancer journey, health care providers came and went. Some were more skilled than others. Others were more compassionate than some. Most were way too busy than any doctor should ever be for their patients.
Then there were the long waits, uncomfortable chairs, lost or misplaced paperwork, hurdling over Medicare, copays and payment plans, poorly trained staff, too-loud TVs, and cold or no coffee to get us through those exhaustive waits.
But we also came to know a lot of doctors (some still in training), nurses, technicians and support staff who made those horrible days a little more bearable – some with not only great compassion, but a great ability to sit, look us in the eye, listen and explain what was new and complicated to us even if they’d been through it a million times with a million patients.
Add to that a sincere smile, efficiency in their work and even comfortable chairs and hot coffee, and some days along her cancer journey were made a little less painful.
My mother often wondered if she’d bump into the doctors-in-training again along her journey. She had a few choice words for some, a “thank you” for a few others.
Mostly, she hoped and prayed that they would all become not just knowledgeable, but compassionate doctors who would always look patients in the eye.
And I know she would want to give a big “thank you” especially to her pulmonologist, Dr. Carlo Hatem, who always looked her in the eye, smiled sincerely and took his time to talk with her at every visit. And it didn’t hurt that he always had well-trained, efficient staff, comfortable chairs and hot coffee ready.
My mother wondered if that was because of his training or a God-given character trait. Perhaps a little of both.
Thanks to Dr. Hatem, oncologist Dr. Haroutioun Shahinian and many other health care providers, my mother lived past three, then six months – and even past a year.
At the end, my precious mother lost her battle three years later, on July 21, 2018 – porqué así lo quizo Dios.
Because that was God’s plan.
Cindy Ramirez is the features and digital editor at El Paso Inc. She may be reached at 915-534-4422, ext. 140, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.