Saturday, February 20, 2010

Those Little Holes

I occasionally find myself with free time while at work. It's especially so on these snowy days when the wind blows thick sprays of snow across the roads, startling you as you're driving in your car. All around you there is a blinding whiteness and for a moment you feel a gripping fear. When you can finally see, a relief settles, and you slow down with the rest of traffic.

My patients sometimes cancel their appointments on these days, and I don't blame them. My once full day is then pocketed with welcome idleness. Twenty minutes here, a five minute respite there, and sometimes there's even a full uninterrupted hour.

I like these breaks in my day: I sip my mug of unfinished Jasmine Pearls green tea, left over from lunch; I chat with my colleague, and we launch into a discussion of the books we are reading at home.

These moments energize me. They contrast with the unceasing flow of activity, the hours that run into each other, unrelieved by restful pauses. I spend the time with my patient, immersed in the interaction, each individual unique with her needs, his pain. I emerge from my examining room, often desiring a pause to imbibe the experience freshly received, a chance to reflect a little on its import.

But there is no time to do so. The day pushes forward in a whirl, and I find myself unwittingly on a treadmill.

So when I do have these holes in my schedule, I find them precious, careful not to fritter them away. To emerge from them with renewed vigor, to clear away the skeins of cobwebs that accumulate, those are my hopes.

The computer sits tantalizingly on my desk, on-line news and lighter fare mere clicks away. I try to resist, knowing from experience that these distractions ruffle rather than calm, dull rather than sharpen the senses.

I have in my desk drawer, stashed between script pads and insurance forms, a book of poetry. During an unencumbered moment - between seeing patients - I read a poem. As I put the book down, getting ready to see my next patient, I feel the musicality of the verses, the humanity in them.

Or I brew another pot of tea, if time permits. If it's later in the afternoon, the tea may be Silver Needles, a white tea. Sometimes, I have maxed out on my ration of caffeine for the day and so I brew a pot of blueberry rooibos. I feel the warmth of the mug in my hands; I gaze at the watercolor of the azure-blue sky and water tacked on the wall above my desk.

Sometimes, I just sit at my desk, sipping from my mug, not looking at anything. I think about my patient I just saw. I still see her face, alternately sheepish and defiant because she is still smoking. She has emphysema and is unable to walk for more than a few yards without becoming winded. Her daughter sits nearby and shakes her head from time to time as her mom emphatically tells me, "I am really near quitting. I just need to cut down at my own pace."

The patient's daughter has heard this before, many times in this office, and she sighs, leaning back in her chair. My patient puts on her coat as our visit ends. She gives me a hug and tells me that maybe when I see her in three months, she will surprise me with good news.

1 comment:

Marilyn said...

I hope your patient does surprise you in three months. Enjoy those special quiet moments.