Some were angry. Unbeknownst to me, my hospital, which has always been efficient, had sent out a letter informing patients of my departure and giving them the opportunity to choose one of eight other doctors to take care of them – even before I had a chance, some to inform person from them. How should they choose and why hadn’t I told them I would go, they indignantly demanded.
Feeling just like my patients, I quickly sent out my own follow-up letter choosing a specialist in their specific cancers and telling my patients I would miss them.
I then personally apologized for the first letter for weeks.
And although I always tell my patients that the best gift I could ever hope for is their good health, many brought gifts or cards.
A man in his sixties had just received another round of chemotherapy for a leukemia that kept coming back. I think we both knew that the next time the leukemia returned, it would stay here. When I walked into his exam room, he greeted me where my other patient had left off.
“I can’t believe you’re leaving me.”
Before I could even sit down, he handed me a simple brown bag with white tissue paper sticking out from the top and asked me to remove the contents.
Inside was a drawing of the steel truss arches of Cleveland’s I-90 Innerbelt Bridge, above which the city skyline rose.
“It’s beautiful,” I told him. “I don’t know what to say.”
“You can hang this on your office wall in Miami,” he suggested and started to cry. “So you’ll always remember Cleveland.” And then, covid-19 precautionary damn, he went over and gave me a big bear hug. After a few seconds we parted.
“No,” I said, ripping open. “I’ll hang the picture and I’ll always remember you.”
Mikkael Sekeres (@mikkaelsekeres), former director of the Leukemia Program at Cleveland Clinic, is the director of the hematology department at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami and author of “When Blood Breaks: Life Lessons from Leukemia. ”