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Learning From Patients (continued…)

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“Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.”  ~ Susan Sontag

I see this quote living out in my own life and in the lives of those I see everyday.  Afraid to acknowledge this dual citizenship, we keep this “other” passport shoved into the back of the drawer, hoping we’ll never have to claim it.

Caring for and supporting new and old citizens of the kingdom of the sick is a daily practice in the clinic.  A practice which all of us perform with much compassion.  For compassion is what is perhaps most needed when one learns of their dual status.  Listening, holding a hand, providing a space for feelings to be felt, I see how important it is for each of us to care for one another — to be gentle and kind with each other.

On the other hand, there are those who have become full-fledged citizens of this darker side.  They come into the clinic wearing their passports for all to see.  There is no shame for them in this foreign land, only lessons yet to be learned, and life yet to be lived — to its fullest!  Not that they do not experience fear, grief, sadness.  They do, but they also have a deeper understanding of the preciousness of life and of the need to live life to its fullest.

One such patient shared with me that when she was diagnosed with cancer at 58 she promised herself a 60th birthday celebration that would be 60 days long!  A few weeks ago,  I started to think about her, realizing that I hadn’t seen her in several weeks.  She came in a few days ago full of excitement, a sparkle in her eye. “Where have you been?”, I asked. “Celebrating my 60th birthday!”, she exclaimed.  She had rented a beautiful house in a beautiful spot, and had invited all of her friends to come visit and celebrate life for sixty days.

Why is it that we so often wait for these special moments, wait to fulfill our dreams and desires? Perhaps it is easier when someone tells you that you may not live through the year.  But the truth is that none of us know when that moment in time is.  I know it sounds cliché, but I’ll say it anyway: live like everyday is your last, and embrace your dual citizenship as a reminder that life is so precious, and that you are inestimable.