The following story was written by Dr. Pei-Li Huang:
If I had not gone into medicine, I would have liked to become a writer. Even now, I have dreams of one day writing a book. But I am stumped by the question that faces every would- be writer: what should I write about? Every fictional story that comes into my mind is topped by the true stories that I encounter every day. So I have become a collector and teller of stories.
Some of these are stories of inspiration that I tell other patients in an attempt to bolster hope. Sometimes these are cautionary tales. But true stories have a power all their own. The following is one of these true stories that has affected me deeply:
Jan was the medical secretary assigned to me at the practice I worked at several years ago. I still tell people she was the best medical secretary I ever worked with. When she needed laparoscopic surgery, I was her surgeon and I was the one who prescribed Provera, a synthetic progesterone pill, when her blood tests showed she wasn’t ovulating. Two weeks later, when she still didn’t get her period, she showed me the results of her lab results. She was pregnant. Jan was shocked. I was surprised, but not shocked. Sometimes this happens, I explained, with a significant twinge of guilt. It’s rare but it does happen. The progesterone induces ovulation.
I watched her first pregnancy ultrasound scan which showed a viable early pregnancy. She and her husband couldn’t have been happier, despite the surprise of an unplanned pregnancy. With irregular periods, she didn’t think she could become pregnant without fertility treatment.
A few months later, when I told Jan and Helen, my office nurse, that I was leaving the practice, all three of us broke down crying. Jan had her baby six months after I had my youngest child, and I heard she left the office to get a degree as an ultrasonographer. We bumped into each other two years ago, in –of all places –the waiting room of our gynecologist’s office and exchanged news. Her son Ronnie was doing well, my daughters were doing well, and we promised to stay in touch.
Recently she friended me on Facebook and I began to see fleeting glimpses of her life, through the photos and updates she would post. But then I became alarmed. Something serious had apparently happened to Ronnie, who was only 5 years old. Jan was posting entries about going to the cancer center and Children’s hospital, and Ronnie was getting radiation and chemotherapy. As tenuous a connection as I had to Ronnie, I did inadvertently cause his mom to ovulate, and I had seen his first baby picture as a tiny flickering grain of rice on an ultrasound screen. I wrote to Jan, and she wrote back:
“Ronnie had brain surgery for a rare type of medulloblastoma. He just finished his daily radiation (30 treatments to his head and spine) on January 8th as well as his first type of chemo which was once per week. On February 5th he starts his next chemo which will be 2-4 days in-patient every 4-6 weeks. This could last anywhere from 6 to 12 months. They won’t have the final decision until the 3rd. Since his tumor is so rare (only about 50 documented cases) they have no idea how to treat it. It’s frustrating but it’s hard not to stay positive with Ron’s amazing attitude and personality. He makes it easier. It’s funny the strength you find in times like these; strength you never knew was possible. People often ask “how do you do it?” . . . My only answer: “Because I have to. There is no other option but to be there for my son.”
Ronnie is now a healthy six year old and one of the stars of a recent telethon for the Children’s Cancer Center.
How can any story I write compare to this?