My Big Fat Greek Encounter
Late again! My new doctor, who I met last year in the emergency ward after suffering a rather nasty concussion while curling.
If you’re not familiar with this winter sport, curling is akin to shuffleboard but you play it on a “sheet”. A sheet of ice that is, directing 44 pound “rocks” toward the opposing “house”. When not sliding them down the ice to knock out the opponents’ rocks, you are sweeping in front of the rotating objects like a madman at the behest of a screaming “Skip” (the captain of the four-member team) who determines if your manic, frantic action will help guide the rock to its desired destination.
This was my first attempt at playing the game, one that had always looked to me on television as rather docile, and I soon came to realize that wearing the wrong kind of shoes on the pebbled ice can cause you to go caboose-over-tea-kettle, landing on your head prior to landing in the back of an ambulance just prior to landing in the hospital.
Now that you’ve received your first curling tip, back to my new doctor.
After stitching me up, making sure I had retained most of my marbles, and discovering I hadn’t lived in this city for long and didn’t have a family doctor, he suggested that he take on that role even though he was an Internist. We really connected on that day and I’ve come to really like my soft-spoken and very spiritual, seventy-something Indian specialist. Knowing his tardiness though, I always book the first morning appointment.
His office is something out of a Sanford and Son episode with piles of medical books, and slanted stacks of patient records and other oddities stretching to the ceiling, row upon row. It disturbs my psyche staring at what gravity should have tumbling down on his patients causing further concussions, so I usually wait out in the hall.
So there I was, alone with my thoughts, smiling at cranky looking passersby as they meandered through the hallway. A few half-hearted smiles returned and a couple of good morning grunts were all I could muster out of the somber crowd. Then, in through the lobby walks this short, round-faced, olive-skinned woman with what I knew would be a beaming smile if we locked eyes. We did and she smiled and decided to sit next to me.
We exchanged pleasantries, joking about the long wait time, and she told me she was from Greece. She went on to say how beautiful her country was and how she missed it and when she mentioned her son, Stan, it was in the past tense. That was my cue to ask her if she would mind sharing what happened to him. She stared at me for a few seconds and I guess intuitively sensed this would be a safe thing to do. She then pointed to the back of her head and said, “brain tumor.”
I could see the pain in her face as she began to tell Stan’s story, first explaining how sweet and kind the 42 year-old was to her, his father and his many friends. Then, the pace of her speaking increased as she recounted, in vivid detail, how things led up to his doctor so coldly delivering the death sentence to the both of them. “You’ve only got a few months to live.”
She said Stan accepted the news very calmly but she became angry, yelling at her son that he couldn’t give up hope just like that. That he had to fight for his life! He told her that he already knew he was going to die and had come to peace with the fact. She just got madder and madder at him and they fought often.
Then, an eerie silence ensued. In a voice I had not heard yet, she admitted that she would never forgive herself for being so mad at him right up until he died, not months, but just a few weeks later.
Now the tears began to fall and she buried her hands in her face, starting to sob. It was at that moment I understood the real reason I chose to sit in the hall.
I put my hand on her shoulder and softly offered, “Stan is looking down at you right now, loving you more than he ever has, knowing that his mother fought as hard as any mother could ever fight for a son.”
It took a moment but she unmasked her sweet face and looked as deeply into my eyes as anyone ever has, exclaiming, “Oh thank you sir! You are so right! He IS thinking that, isn’t he? Thank you! Thank you!”
I somehow knew the weight of the world had been lifted from her shoulders. In the magic of that moment, in the dimness of that hallway, she had forgiven herself!
I thought her warm, wide smile was wonderful the moment we met, but now…
After a bit of silence, I changed the subject to something more light hearted – movies. She said her and her husband didn’t watch them anymore because Stan knew a lot about movies and would always recommend good ones for them to enjoy.
At that moment, my doctor briskly walked in through the lobby and as has become customary, he smiled and touched my shoulder on the way into his disheveled office. Knowing I had only a few moments left to spend with this wonderful woman, I asked if she had heard of the movie, “Mama Mia.” She said she hadn’t and I quickly explained how it was set in her home country of Greece and was very beautiful to watch. What I didn’t tell her was how joyful and uplifting it was.
My name was now being called by the receptionist as I asked my new friend if she would do me a special favor.
“I will do anything for you, sir.”
My request was simple. When she was done with her appointment would she go rent Mama Mia and watch it that night. She said something to the effect that, “you have made my heart feel so good today and I promise you I will watch it tonight.”
With that, she gave me a kiss on the cheek and said one last thing. “Stan would have loved you.”
Many times in my life I have been blessed with receiving a message at just the right time. More often than not, the messenger was a total stranger. That day I was given the opportunity of being the messenger and for that I will always be grateful.
I left my doctor’s office knowing somehow on that evening this sweet woman would be watching a special movie and smiling that wide smile, filled with fond memories of Greece, and her precious son.