Sunday, August 9, 2015

When Does Life End? Ask a Humble Doctor.

About a week before I write this, I met a man for the first time.  Though it is unlikely that I will see him again, it is unlikely that I will forget him.

This was a side trip for us, as we meandered for a weekend through the beauty and nostalgia of Ohio.  Once you find yourself about an hour south of Cleveland, you are in a Land of Barns, where cornfields and cattle punctuate the countryside.  There are miles and miles of open roads unblemished by Starbucks, CVS or Big Box Retail.  Is the air truly fresher or does it just seem that way?

On the Open Road in Ohio

We drove out to meet this man to examine his wares.  The GPS faithfully led us to the desired location, but we assumed that we were misled as there was no business sign to alert customers like us.  Not quite the marketing strategy we know from city life where advertisements will soon appear on toilet paper.   He has an unusual profession, which I will not identify, as this might be enough to identify him which would violate his privacy.

We looked over his shop and he then invited us into his home to show us how his stuff might look in an actual home.  When he learned what I did, he then told me that he had seen several gastroenterologists on a medical odyssey that started 3 years ago.

The man’s profession is not important.

The medical facts that resulted in a delay in his diagnosis of cancer are incidental.

His Christian faith, evidenced by numerous crucifixes adorning his property, would likely be deemed to be paramount by the man himself.

The doctors told this man that he had 3 months to live.  That was 3 years ago.  As a trained medical professional, it is my considered judgment after decades of medical training and experience, that he is quite alive.  Not just alive, but alive and well.  Not just well, but downright inspirational. 

When he was given this dire news, his response was that ‘it’ll have to kill me’, as he intended to fight back.  He did.  He has one final surgery remaining this fall.

The doctors were wrong, dreadfully wrong.  Perhaps, they were relying upon textbooks, which my new friend didn’t read.  He had his own playbook, which helped him to find a pathway back to life. 

Of course, doctors, as members of the human species, make mistakes.   We give wrong advice.  Sometimes, we give the correct advice, but something unexpected happens, as I suspect happened in this case.   Arrogance is the enemy of good medicine.

Sir William Osler, one of medicine’s preeminent physicians of all time, implored physicians to have ‘the grace of humility’’  No second opinion needed here.


  1. This man's will to live was stronger than the physicians' predictions of his demise. That is self-confidence for you!

  2. nice piece Doc, Ohio really is a beautiful place Tom Wetzel

  3. This post gave me goosebumps. Says a lot about the power of positive thinking and where there's a will there's a way!