Remember to Keep Listening

By: Kelly Teed, Class of 2014

The man with the springer spaniel

Once you’re in the groove of working, the patients the mountains of paper work and phone calls to make can start to blur together. But luckily genetic counseling is a job where that one person will snap you out of the blur.

A man had called to reschedule an appointment that he had made for his wife, and then when I called a few days before the rescheduled appointment to remind him about it he said they perhaps might not be able to make it after all. Then he called me again and we went back and forth about if he should come to get some information if his wife doesn’t feel well. I was a little annoyed by all these phone calls, because I was busy and I was feeling like a newbie pushover.

He arrived at the appointment without his wife (she had a fever) and started out by asking how long I had been doing this- my favorite question besides, “Why do you look so young?” Not a very good start, I thought.

As we made our way through my obligatory questions, I got to know this persistent man a little better. He and his wife had recently retired and moved to Atlanta because of the hub airport and settled in to enjoy what they thought would be their “golden years”. That’s when she got a rare late-stage cancer, and now everything was turned upside down.

He talked about how his wife had once been extremely active and had especially enjoyed horses and their dog. He’d lost over 30 pounds since his wife got sick, which he said was partially because he was now the only one walking their energetic springer spaniel. His wife, he said, was now primarily a patient.

What really struck me was this loss of the light at the end of the tunnel for this man. Just like so many people, it seemed they had spent their lives working hard, and raising their kids (now scattered across the country). All the while looking forward to living life for themselves and really enjoying each other, when time and money finally allowed for it. Along with him, I felt frustrated that cancer had taken this from them.

And I was also feeling mad, because this man was a good one. He wasn’t just going with his wife to all of her cancer appointments; he was trying to go to the appointments for her. He was taking everything on because she couldn’t. When I told him I thought he was pretty great, he shrugged and said they’d been married for over 40 years and if the shoes were reversed she’d do the same for him.

I don’t know what the moral of all this is, other than that I was shaken up by this dedicated husband who’d gotten a raw deal. And crying a bit after he left was a reminder to keep listening.

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