Today was one of those days that, had I been someone else, I might have been asking myself to sign a work excuse. I sat in the room trying to focus on the nice lady talking to me. All the while my head was pounding, I was feeling chills and sweating at the same time. I thought there might be a twinge of nausea coming on as well. It took an act of will to keep my eyes open. I wanted to go home and crawl back into bed. Playing hooky for two days has its price though. My friendly computer screen reminded me of the 80 plus items I needed to sign off on, the 20 scripts I needed to refill and the 10 questions that patients were waiting for a response on. I also had to run to the nursing home over lunch to see patients, because no one remembered to block off time on my schedule.
Maybe it was all the traveling this weekend. Maybe I'm catching some bug. All I know is that it was not turning out to be a banner day in my life. The temperature had dropped 45 degrees overnight. I was tired and grouchy and had already snapped at my wife. I wasn't winning any awards for Mr. Compassion today. I pressed on though. Two hours, 4 ibuprofen, and 30 oz of coffee later, I almost felt human.
But then there was Mary. Mary is 93 years old and nearly deaf. Her back is warped with arthritis. She sits in a wheel chair all day and watches The Price Is Right at the nursing home. Mary is one of those amazing people who always smiles. She is one of the happiest people I have ever met, and I really don't know why. Most of us would be miserable to live the way she lives. Many would say her life no longer has any value, that she is just an old lady who is no longer contributing to society. Mary never seems to see it that way.
"WELL HELLO DOCTOR!" she yells as I step into the room. The smile on her face is genuine. She is truly happy to see me. She loves company. "I FEEL GREAT TODAY", she assures me and everyone in a 300 yard radius. "HOW ARE YOU DOING?", she asks.
"Oh fine," I lie, too quietly for her to even hear.
"WELL GREAT, THAT MAKES TWO OF US THEN!" she says as she grabs my hand.
So I spend a few extra moments listening again to the story of how well her new heating unit works in the room. She tells me with great relish of how she diagnosed why her toilet didn't flush and then explained it to the young boy they sent in to fix it. She asks about my kids, and talks about the weather which she never gets outside to experience. I stay a little longer, because her attitude is contagious, and I want to catch it. She is healing me. She is a 93 year old battery charging me up for the rest of the day.
I leave feeling better and a little bit ashamed. I had been feeling sorry for myself and in so doing had forgotten the joy of being alive one more day. There are very few Mary's in this world, people who meet life head on with a joyful smile. I wonder what it is that causes the richest and most successful among us to self destruct on the front of tabloids, always miserable, always searching for the happiness they tell us comes from fame and money. The Mary's of the world know something that the rest of us seem too blind to see. Happiness is not the byproduct of good health, money, fame, or success. Joy is not dependent on anything. You just have to live it despite what the world dishes out to you.
I have a lot of practicing to do.