Several years ago, a young patient in her 20s was scheduled for surgery. It wasn’t clear yet if her tumor was benign or malignant.
She was a newlywed and very much in love.
As I spoke to her and her husband before her surgery, I reviewed my plan. I could see they were scared, but trying not to show it. I wanted them to feel positive, to focus on a possible good outcome.
I looked at the young husband and said, “Now, are you familiar with my rule about stitches?”
He looked at me quizzically and shook his head. “Well,” I continued, “if your wife has five stitches, she will need flowers and candy to completely heal. If she has eight stitches, we’re talking jewelry. If she has 12 stitches or more, we’re talking matching jewelry.”
Everybody chuckled. The air got a little lighter.
We proceeded to the O.R. and the case went well. Her tumor proved to be benign.
I went out to the waiting area and saw her husband. In his hand, he clutched a big box of chocolates. And, on the table in front of him was the biggest bouquet of flowers I had ever seen.
“What’s all this?” I asked.
“You said flowers and candy,” he said, matter-of-factly.
I gave him a super big hug, but probably not as big as the one he received later from his wife.
Since that day, I often will tell the spouse about the need for special things to help their loved one heal.
Sometimes, when my patient is the husband, I tease his wife and say that many husbands like a home cooked meal. Or, I’ll suggest she get him a bell to ring so she can be at his beck-and-call during his recovery.
What has happened since I started suggesting this is nothing short of amazing.
One male patient reported to me on his first post-op visit that his wife had bought him a red sports car. Thinking he meant a toy car, I asked to see proof.
Sure enough, he proudly showed me a photograph of his new convertible!
The next week, I was relaying this fun story to another patient and her husband. I joked that I didn’t see how anyone could top the sports car story.
There was a pregnant pause. The husband looked at his wife and said, “Do you really want that beach house?”
I raised my eyebrows to the ceiling and said, “What??!”
It turns out they had been looking at a beach house for their retirement and had recently found one in North Carolina. She nodded to her husband and said, “Oh, yes.”
When that patient came in for her post-op visit several weeks later, I queried her about the beach house. She said they were still going through negotiations with the seller and wasn’t sure it was going to work out.
Three months later, a post card arrived at the office. All it said was, “Got the beach house!”
I kid you not.
There was so much dancing and jumping in our office that day, you’d have thought WE got the beach house!
Recently, I asked a patient who had come in to get sutures removed if his wife had given him a present. I asked it in jest to take his mind off the suture removal.
He paused for a moment and said, “Yes, I did get a present. My wife said to me today, ‘I wish you didn’t have to go back to work. I’m going to miss you.'”
Sometimes, YOU are the present.