Sunday, June 8, 2008

What the Doctor Said

Here’s a poem that I have always found to be somewhat perplexing. Not that it’s difficult or deep or anything like that; it’s just that it states a simple truth of life that baffles me (and I’m sure everyone else too).

By Raymond Carver

He said it doesn't look good
he said it looks bad in fact real bad
he said I counted thirty-two of them on one lung before
I quit counting them
I said I'm glad I wouldn't want to know
about any more being there than that
he said are you a religious man do you kneel down
in forest groves and let yourself ask for help
when you come to a waterfall
mist blowing against your face and arms
do you stop and ask for understanding at those moments
I said not yet but I intend to start today
he said I'm real sorry he said
I wish I had some other kind of news to give you
I said Amen and he said something else
I didn't catch and not knowing what else to do
and not wanting him to have to repeat it
and me to have to fully digest it
I just looked at him
for a minute and he looked back it was then
I jumped up and shook hands with this man who'd just given me
something no one else on earth had ever given me
I may even have thanked him habit being so strong.

Carver points out something that confuses and astounds. Why do we say “thank you” to doctors who give us bad news? We all see it, we all know it, and we all know it’s ridiculous—yet we all do it when we’re in that situation.

I have led a very sheltered life, and have been very grateful to the Fates for it. I come from a stable household; my parents love each other and love me; we never struggled for money but never had so much excess that we got spoiled; I never had a best friend betray me or commit suicide or take ill with caner; my grandparents all lived long enough to attend my wedding. I could go on, but I’ll spare you the Little House on the Prairie speech. My point is just that I don’t know much about loss or suffering or sorrow. So when I read a poem like this, it reminds me of that one moment that stands out as the most painful I can remember.

My wife and I got Spaz when we first moved in together about seven years ago. He was a September 11th cat, one of the abandoned ones whose owners must have either been lost or simply lost track of him. So we adopted him, fell in love with him, and, two months after he arrived, lost him. He had feline AIDS and he was suffering. We had to put him down because it was the only responsible thing to do. But it hurt. A lot. We had him just long enough to be sure that he was a member of our family, and we were comfortable with our routine with him. So that night, a Friday, we took him to the vet and put him down. He had his little green catnip mouse in his paws as he lay on the cold metal table, and we left it with him when we numbly went out of the office. As we walked through the front door, we both were sobbing, practically unable to walk. But for some reason, we both, through our tears, felt compelled to say “thank you” to the vet techs behind the counter. What they were thinking I can’t say, but all these years later I still think of that moment and wonder why did we say that? They just killed our baby and we thanked them!

So this poem rings true, even to me.


Brooke said...

Oh. You made me teary. I still miss Spazzy Cat... (but don't tell Roy). That's a good poem, though.

Anonymous said...

I think we thank them for doing the hard work of delivering the worst kind of news. We thank them for helping us do what we had to do, even though it sucked. It sucks for them too, and yet they are there to do it.