Her husband came in this morning. They were married for 65 years. I was both happy and sad to see him on my schedule; happy because I wanted a chance to tell him how honored I am to have been his wife's doctor, and sad because I knew words would come hard.
"How are you feeling?" I said showing as much compassion in my voice as I could.
"I am doing all right." he responded, even managing a smile.
Eventually tears came, and I put my arm around him and said, "There are a few patients that stand out in your life as a doctor, and your wife was one of them."
I have done this long enough to know that it does not matter much what you say in the moment. What matters is that grieving people know that you are there by their side. "If there is anything I can do to help - and I really mean anything - please call."
He seemed to find some comfort in the words, but I think the bigger comfort is in the relationship we have had over the years. That is what it really means to be a primary care physician. A huge part of our care we give is really...caring. It is the ongoing relationship with my patients that I cherish the most. I am a familiar face, a help in times of trouble, a hand of comfort.
It seemed almost trite to do the rest of the visit. I checked labs and examined him. The relationship needs to proceed. The goal is not an A1c value, a good blood pressure, or even a happy life. The goal is to have that relationship in place so that when a visit like this happens, no words are needed.