A Message from the Doctor

A few weeks ago I went to the doctor as I’d been feeling unwell following a trip to India. After he completed an initial diagnostic I jokingly asked, “Am I going to die?” to which he replied, “Yes…but not just yet.” He did, however, order a number of tests.

Last week my phone buzzed, and I glanced at a text from the clinic, which I read as:

The doctor has reviewed your test results. 

Please phone the clinic to make an 

URGENT appointment. Do not reply.

I stopped what I was doing and called the clinic to grab the first available appointment, which was the day after next. This meant postponing a number of important meetings.

Over the next few days I mused on the illnesses I might have, and the morning of the appointment I paced around the reception area waiting for the doctor to give me the news. When he came out I was surprised at his relaxed demeanour and his informal chit chat as we started the consultation, so I asked if we could cut to the chase and talk about my results.

He seemed bemused at my question, so I pulled out my phone and showed him the text.

The doctor has reviewed your test results. 

Please phone the clinic to make a NON

URGENT appointment. Do not reply.

I had, of course, missed the most important word of the text. He smiled, pointed out the word NON, and proceeded to downgrade my imaginary terminal diagnosis to a mild vitamin deficiency.

After the consultation, I reflected on two lessons. Firstly, when it comes to important texts and emails, it pays to slow down and read things carefully. Secondly, it was a sober reminder that at some stage, yes, we are all going to die. We just don’t know when.

No regrets

Because I fly a lot, there is a little game I play when we are taking off. I ask myself, “If this plane goes down, will I be filled with regret, or will I be able to smile knowing I’ve lived a good life?” (By the way, I have learned it is best to keep this question to yourself, as when I once casually said it out loud while traveling with a young staff member, she turned white and grabbed my arm in terror.)

In 2009, Bronnie Ware, an Australian palliative care nurse, wrote a famous blog listing the five things that most haunted the terminally ill patients she had looked after. She summarized these as:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Bombarded by the constant noise and interruptions which distract us from any serious reflection time, I reckon this is something worth pondering. Life is fragile, held together by a far more delicate thread than we may care to acknowledge. Whatever you are doing, and whoever you are talking to, you may want to occasionally ask yourself, “If this is the last thing I do, would it sit well with me?”

And so ends another year, perhaps one of the most uncertain and stressful most of us have experienced for some time. I wish you and those near and dear to you a happy and healthy festive season. As well as hanging out with family and friends, I hope you also get to spend some time looking after yourself, so you can start 2020 with a fresh and optimistic perspective. And remember to read important messages carefully!

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