It must be strange.

I had a doctor’s appointment today to schedule a couple of planned diagnostic procedures to keep an eye on my insides after what feels like a lifetime of gut-related issues. I’ll be getting my 5th colonoscopy and upper endoscopy within a month and if everything looks good, I can probably wait a little longer until my next set.

The surgeon who will be performing the procedures will have performed 3 of those 5, and our appointments are so much different than they used to be. When I first started seeing him, I had been admitted to the hospital he works for with a fairly major G.I. bleed that he pinpointed and corrected through open abdominal surgery. He saved my life and I am grateful to have the opportunity to have lived through the 13 years since that dreadful summer.

When we first met, I was just a dying man looking for someone to try and make sure I was gonna live. After that was solved, I continued to see him as time passed and life changed in all of the ways it does over such a period of time. I have lived a few different versions of life in that time and finally landed on something stable and worth identifying with.

Our appointments started as diagnostic and he took the standard role as a doctor, informing me of what the best course of action was, presenting me with options, and allowing me to decide how to proceed. He was professional and cordial, but I could tell there was a little sense of humor under it all, and on occasion we would share a laugh about the absurdity of our bodies.

Fast forward to the appointment today, and it was like seeing an old friend. He walked in to the appointment a good deal later than he usually is and it all started with a deep sigh of apology. He started to explain what kind of day he had been having, and before elaborating too much, looked over to realize the door was still open and he pushed it closed. Then he explained a little bit about the bureaucracy he had to take part in being the principal surgeon for the hospital, and his frustration with the processes he is beholden to. For just a few minutes, he was able to vent these frustrations and I gave him a sympathetic set of ears and learned a lot about what he deals with in the process. This was all before he even asked the first question about why I was visiting or my condition, and I encouraged it because I suppose he doesn’t have a lot of folks he can confide in. It was a really cool exchange and even if the man hadn’t already saved my life, I’m pretty sure I’d enjoy hanging out with him outside of this setting.

It occurred to me that it must be strange to be a doctor. People put you up on this sort of pedestal and hang on your words because as was the case for me, they could mean life or death. But when you want to let off steam in this kind of position, you have to be careful about where and when you do, lest you be seen as unprofessional. I saw a man who was worried about the same kind of trivial nonsense that makes up most of our lives, and it made him seem completely human. I cuss like a sailor but no one cares because I’m not diagnosing them. He let one “fucking” rip today and I could see the real-time panic he experienced because he said it out loud but I about burst into laughter because it’s exactly what I would have said were I in the same situation.

As always, the appointment was informative and achieved the intended ends. But today felt like seeing an old friend and I left energized and happy to have the ball rolling on these important tests. My first read on who the man is came in 2011 when I was actively bleeding to death, and with one comment I knew that I could trust him and I liked him immediately.

He walked into the room and introduced himself to my folks and outlined his plan to correct the ulcer and stop the bleeding for good. It would involve open surgery and although it was exploratory, he was certain he knew where it was and that it would work. Upon hearing the plan, my mom, being a person of faith said something to the effect that it was out of our hands now, to which this legend said “No it’s not. It’s in my hands.” I will never forget that because it was such a ballsy thing to say to the mother of a patient who was dying. But when he said it I laughed and I knew that I was going to be fine.

I am still here today because he was right and his training and decades of experience produced the desired results. The ulcer was fixed and I evaded death, experiencing a fundamental shift in my perspective about the value of our time here. I arrived mortally wounded and left forever convinced that death is nothing to be afraid of, it’s not living that is the real tragedy.

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