Mrs Warren* came into my practice yesterday.
Mrs Warren is the mother of Hannah*. Hannah was a 35 year old beautiful young mother of three children, who passed away from metastatic breast cancer two weeks ago. Hannah was my patient three months before she succumbed to her illness.
I heard Mrs Warren’s voice at the front desk reception.
I stayed in my office, consumed by guilt. When Hannah was dying in hospital two weeks ago, one of the nursing staff informed me about her readmission into hospital. ‘Things are not good, I don’t think it will be long.’
‘Maybe I should pop by and visit.’ I thought, mentally swiping at the tears that threatened to clog up behind my eyes.
‘I think they will really like that. Hannah loved you. She thought the world of you.’
I started, then realised I had thought out aloud, the nurse was just responding to my comment.
Days, then weeks passed. I couldn’t bring myself to visit her. Several times I walked towards her room – steeling myself to walk in to face her emaciated semi-conscious form on the bed, surrounded by her grieving family – then finding myself turning, striding rapidly away.
Hannah was my age. She was a lawyer, a lawyer who studied hard, worked long hours, made sacrifices and achieved. She once told me that she was the youngest associate ever to be offered partner. She told me how there was no female lawyers in her department at which we both smiled simultaneously in mutual understanding. She said she sees a reflection of herself when she looks at me. As I do, when I see her.
I never went to see her, I never said goodbye. I never attended the funeral. AFter all, I told myself, she wasn’t a friend. She was a patient. The only thing I did, was to write a card to her family.
Now her mother is standing in my office. And I am kicking myself. I should have made more of an effort. It would have just been ten minutes of my life; After all, my ten minutes would have been nothing compared to ten minutes in her last days. My cowardice overwhelmed me, I found myself hiding in my office, afraid to move. Or breathe.
‘Hello Mrs Warren, we are so sorry to hear about Hannah.’
‘Thank you.’ I imagined her waving her hand elegantly. Mrs Warren always reminded me of a grand matriach, she moved and spoke with such pride and grace. ‘I just wanted to come in and thank the doctor for her card.’ A sniffle. ‘It was so lovely that I had to read it to Hannah yesterday.’ A brief silence was followed by a sharp snap of a handbag. Must have been a tissue. I could almost see her in my mind, using the task as an oportunity to gather her composure.
‘You know, we had so many people at the funeral last week, the church had to leave the doors open.’ There was less wobble in her voice. ‘We got so many flowers and cards.’
‘She had so many specialists, but doctor was the only one who sent a card. Please thank her for me, we were so pleasantly suprised……’
I shut the door.
Tears were running down my face. I was humbled.
It seems the two minutes it took for me to write a card was enough for them.
*All names have been changed to ensure confidentiality and protect privacy.