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The Unexpected People Who Change Your Life

I’m amazed at how people can subtly change our life, sometimes without us even knowing it. This past week, because of an unexpected situation, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the people that have changed my life.

Some of you know that I deal with chronic pain and undergo a somewhat intensive treatment on a regular basis. Last week, I walked into my doctor’s office with my wife and my service dog, Half Pint ready for another treatment. The three of us always go to my treatments together and Half Pint has become so well loved by the staff that they claim her as their office mascot. It’s one of Half Pint’s favorite places to accompany me and she gets excited every time I tell her that’s where we’re going. And last week was no exception. We all walked in with smiles.

#34 Caption- Half Pint becomes a service dog

But the climate in the office was different that day. The staff, usually bubbly and excited to see us (especially Half Pint), were not their smiley selves. Following one of the medical staff back into the treatment room, I said,

“How are you today?”

“Ok,” she responded. “Just sad, you know,” as if I was supposed to know what she was talking about. But I didn’t.

“Why sad?” I asked, beginning to clue in to the fact that I was missing something.

“Didn’t you get the letter?”

What letter?” I said, starting to feel nervous.

“Dr. Chris is retiring at the end of the month.”

For a moment, my world stopped. She explained that, due to complications with his own chronic pain, he was retiring in hopes of avoiding extensive surgery. Instant tears formed in my eyes. I was totally caught off guard.

Waiting for Dr. Chris to enter the room, I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. The shock I felt was similar to when you receive the news that a family member was in a serious car accident, or your best friend was diagnosed with cancer. Retirement is supposed to be a happy, celebratory time. But it was clear that nobody was excited about this unexpected news. It was even reflected on Dr. Chris’ face when he walked in the room. This was not planned. This was sudden, and this was hard. I fought tears throughout the entire appointment. (That will teach me to check my mail!)

Making it through my treatment, I barely got it to the car before I fell apart. I cried the rest of the night.

Spending the next several days in bed (as I always do following this treatment), it gave me time to analyze the situation. I didn’t expect the news of my doctor retiring to have such a strong affect on me. But it did, and I struggled to sleep for days afterward. My heart was heavy for him and the extent of the pain he was battling, for his family and the transition this meant for all of them, and for me and what this meant for the future of my own treatment and recovery.

What I realized in those heavy, restless nights was that Dr. Chris had become more than just my doctor. Seeing him every few weeks for the last two and a half years, he had taken me from being bed-ridden, to being functional and mobile again. When other doctor’s doubted my pain because they couldn’t find evidence of it on a screening test, Dr. Chris believed me. He knew instantly what was wrong and gently, with love, care, and compassion guided me towards healing.

When I experienced an unexpected setback this last summer, he  looked me in the eye and made me promise not to get discouraged, because he knew I was going to get better. It was like having a D.O. and a built in therapist all rolled into one. He joked around and teased me to keep the pain of what I was going through light-hearted. And he always asked about my personal life, knowing the level of stress I was under often dictated the extent to which I continued (or didn’t continue) to heal. As time went on, he often ended our appointment with a hug rather than a handshake. He went above and beyond his call of duty as a doctor and I never doubted that he truly cared.

Reflecting on all that this past weekend made me realize, Dr. Chris and his office staff have become more like family than simply the medical office that I visit ever few weeks. I’ve trusted Dr. Chris. I’ve felt safe under his medical care. And I’ve relied on his wisdom and encouragement to lead me towards further recovery and mobility.

It’s clear that I did not see this coming. In fact, I thought we would move away from Colorado long before Dr. Chris would retire, and frequently told my wife that if we did, I would still come back to Denver for treatments and follow-ups with Dr. Chris as needed. He’s been the only one I’ve trusted with my medical care after many misguided attempts at other facilities.

So my life is about to change to a degree. And it’s with great sadness that I move forward and attempt to establish my care with another physician. This has made me acutely aware of the importance of never taking people in your life for granted. You never know when your life or their’s is going to change.

So this week, I urge you to consider:

Who’s in your life right now that, whether you’ve been aware of it or not, is changing your life?

Do you take them for granted?

Who’s life are you influencing and how can you encourage them this week?

I encourage you to take inventory of your life and those who, in either the foreground or background, are doing things to change your life for the better. Make a special point to thank them this week.

I will have my final appointment with Dr. Chris this coming Tuesday. I will do my best not to cry, and I will be bringing him a home-made apple pie (which I hear is his favorite) as way to say thank you, and “coping” cookies for the staff as they face the big transition ahead.

Dr. Chris–thank you. You’ve saved and changed my life. I will miss you deeply.

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