The Day I Realized My Oncologist Was a Real Person


I always viewed my doctors as being unapproachable on a personal level. I thought they were there to examine and diagnose me, imparting wisdom I could never hope to attain, but one day I realized I was very wrong.

It was almost the end of the year, and I was working hard to see all my doctors before our insurance restarted the annual deductible. Through some detailed planning, I’d managed to get an appointment with all of my “-ologists.” There wasn’t a month in the calendar that didn’t have at least one appointment scheduled.

Getting an appointment with my oncologist was hard. He was so busy, and I was afraid I wasn’t going to get in under the wire. After explaining my situation to the scheduler, she managed to find a work-in appointment for me. Those appointments were available for people who needed to be seen but weren’t on the regular schedule. She said I might have to wait a while. I told her I didn’t mind waiting. I could always check social media or read a book.

When the day came for my appointment, I dressed and got ready to go. I was in a happy mood. It was almost time for Christmas, and I wasn’t having any cancer-related problems. This visit was going to be routine. The doctor would order blood work and, depending on the tests, would plan the next steps accordingly.

The lab tech was efficient and found a vein quickly. I was thankful for that. Often, they have difficulty sticking me because my veins are so tiny and since they have to use my hand, it makes it even more challenging.

I was taken back to an exam room and went through the routine blood pressure, temperature, and oxygen level tests. When the medical assistant had completed her job, I was asked to wait for the doctor.

A short time later, I heard a tap at the door and then watched as the door opened. My doctor entered and smiled. His white lab coat was unbuttoned revealing a funny Christmas sweater. As he greeted me, he saw me looking and said, “We’re having an ugly Christmas sweater contest after work today.” I couldn’t help but smile. This was the first glimpse I’d gotten of his humanness.

For some reason, I’d always put doctors on a pedestal, feeling they were so well-learned I didn’t dare talk to them as friends. But Dr. P’s ugly sweater made me wonder if, underneath his years of education, there might be a simple guy who enjoyed more than just medicine.

The lab tech brought in the test results, and Dr. P said everything looked great. My tumor markers were in a good range. That bit of news was a wonderful gift and I told him so. He asked if anything was bothering me, and I said the only concern I had was chronic insomnia. After a few questions, he decided I would benefit from seeing a specialist.

When the visit was coming to a close, Dr. P sat down on his rolling stool and started talking to me about my holiday plans. I was shocked! Where was this coming from? I’d never had an oncologist who took the time to ask about my personal life. Most of the time, they only seemed to care about my physical health.

I shared a few of our family plans and then, he flipped on his computer, pulled up the screen, and said, “Hey, have you seen this?” I looked intently as I expected to see some sort of medical news but instead was surprised to see a YouTube video of a local Christmas light display. The doctor grinned as the video played. Colored lights flashed on and off to music. When the video was over, he turned and said he could show me where the house was located so I could take my granddaughter to experience the display.

I’m not sure if I sat there with my jaw dropped, but it felt that way. Here was a prestigious doctor talking to me like I was a well-known friend. It was very unexpected but a nice surprise.

When I left his office, Dr. P wished me a happy holiday and said he’d see me back in a year. He reached to take my hand and as he shook it, he asked if I thought he’d win the ugly sweater contest. I told him I wasn’t sure and asked if he would open his lab coat so I could see the design on his sweater better. Obliging, he opened his coat wide, and the biggest grin crossed his face. That sweater was so ugly! I told him I’d be very surprised if he didn’t win. That’s when he raised his hand and gave me a high five.

I’d never seen him as a human before, but I did that day. It was a good feeling to know there wasn’t such intellectual distance between us that we couldn’t talk as friends.

On my next visit, I’m hoping to learn a little more about my oncologist. Maybe others have been able to view their doctors as friends all along but for me, this was a whole new experience and I kind of liked it.

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