“It’s Never As Bad As You Think,” by Kelly Parsons, MD

 “It’s never as bad as you think.”

“Excuse me?” I turned to the middle-aged woman, standing next to me at the coffee service in my hospital’s cafeteria.

“It’s never as bad as you think.” Plain white blouse and pressed tan slacks. Clear plastic tubes—nasal cannula—snaking from her nostrils and behind her ears to an oxygen tank on the floor at her feet. The tank was tucked into a rolling luggage bag decorated with colored polka dots.

“I had a CT scan today,” she said. “My son usually takes me. But today he couldn’t. I was so worried! So I prayed to the Lord this morning that everything would be okay. And it was! I got down here just fine, and I got my CT. It wasn’t so bad.” She poured creamer in her coffee. She had tremors and nearly spilled the creamer over the side of the cup. “It’s never as bad as you think, doctor.” She looked at me, and her smiled tugged at the nasal cannula.

Had she read my mind?

I’d had a long day, and it wasn’t over. A moment earlier, I’d been feeling very sorry for myself, and thinking: yeah, things were kind of bad. Looming work deadlines; trivial grievances; perceived slights.

This woman’s lungs were failing her from any number of possible diagnoses—cancer, pulmonary fibrosis, emphysema. She needed bottled oxygen to breathe. And she was happy about a CT. About getting a CT. She didn’t know the results. For all she knew, her condition had worsened, and her doctor would soon be calling with bad news.

But results would be for a different day. Today had been a good day.

Because she’d gotten her CT.

And it hadn’t been so bad.

I was ashamed.

I smiled, stammered my agreement and wished her a pleasant evening.

“You too,” she called after me as I headed for the checkout line. “I hope you have as wonderful a night as I’ve had a day, doctor.” She waved cheerily. My own smile widened.

I was still grinning as I walked outside, headed toward my next meeting. The early evening was warm and clear. I was still ashamed. But the woman’s unprompted kindness had brightened my mood, and dissipated my cloud of self-absorption.

It’s never as bad as you think.

I stopped in the failing light.

And I thought of Beth.

It’s never as bad as you think.

It was exactly the kind of thing Beth would have said.

Beth: my friend and colleague for the better of a decade. Healthy, active, and fit as she’d edged toward sixty. She’d dated Tom Selleck briefly during the early 1980’s, in Hawaii, where she’d worked as a scrub nurse. She loved to tell that story. Such a gentleman, she’d say. She kept a picture of Magnum PI taped to the cover of a three-ringed binder in her office.

She’d never smoked a day in her life.

The pain began in her back and soon spread to her hip; a nagging pain that worsened with standing and movement. Her doctors had expected the MRI to show, perhaps, a herniated disk—certainly not the tumors that riddled her spine. CTs and biopsies confirmed the diagnosis: aggressive adenocarcinoma of the lung with numerous skeletal metastases.

Stage IV lung cancer.

A death sentence for most.

Beth knew that.

Did I mention that she’d never smoked a day in her life?

The chemotherapy, advanced immunotherapy, and radiation worked, for a time. The tumors shrank. The pain receded. After her hair fell out, she favored wigs and colorful headscarves. She complained good-naturedly about the steroids, because they made her feel puffy, and swelled her feet until she couldn’t wear her favorite shoes.

The irony was not lost on her: healer had become patient. Perhaps that’s why the first thing she wanted to do once she felt better was to go back to work. Nursing was her calling; caring for cancer patients her passion.

She could no longer stand all day. Working in clinic was out of the question. We instead assigned her to phone triage. It made her so happy, consoling patients over the phone. Some knew of her diagnosis, others didn’t. Beth seemed to sense who would benefit from her own experience and who would not.

Cancer can be devious. Cancer can be relentless. Beth’s was both. It shrugged off the treatments and returned to dismantle her, piece by piece. Beth didn’t so much fight the cancer as disavow it, focusing her waning vigor on those around her. She worked the phones; took patients to lunch; celebrated her daughter’s engagement; drank wine with friends. The more the cancer took, the more she gave. And as her body shrank, the bigger she seemed to grow.

When she could no longer walk, she could no longer work. Reluctantly, toward the end, she gave up even the phone.

It’s been nine months since Beth died. When her patients, the ones she comforted as she herself was dying, return to our clinic, we hug, and cry together, and celebrate Beth. That is her legacy.

Bodies wilt. Organs weaken. Limbs cease to respond. But Beth, and the woman in the cafeteria, reminded me that selflessness endures; and that compassion provides dignity and grace long after the body cannot.

I’ve never suffered from a life-threatening illness. I don’t profess to possess the wisdom of those that have. My time will come. I hope when it does, I’ll remember.

It’s never as bad as you think.

Dr. Kelly Parsons is a practicing urologist and the author of two novels. Author Stephen King praised his first novel, DOING HARM, as the “best damn medical thriller I’ve read in 25 years.” His second novel, UNDER THE KNIFE, has been called an “an engrossing story about revenge, grief, technology, and hospital practices” (Associated Press) and an electrifying thriller that “tops the charts in suspense” (Suspense Magazine). He is a professor at UC San Diego medical school and lives in Southern California with his family. His novels are available everywhere books are sold. Check out his website http://kellyparsonsbooks.com, Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/AuthorKellyParsons/, and Twitter feed @drkellyparsons.

4,447 Replies to ““It’s Never As Bad As You Think,” by Kelly Parsons, MD”

  1. hello!,I love your writing so much! share we be in contact extra about your
    article on AOL? I need a specialist in this house to solve my problem.

    Maybe that is you! Having a look ahead to peer you.

  2. Today, I went to the beach front with my children. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4
    year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.”
    She placed the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is completely off topic but I had to tell someone!

  3. Hi, I do believe this is a great blog. I stumbledupon it 😉
    I am going to come back yet again since i have book marked it.
    Money and freedom is the greatest way to change,
    may you be rich and continue to help other people.

  4. Hello would you mind stating which blog platform you’re using?
    I’m looking to start my own blog soon but I’m having a
    tough time selecting between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
    The reason I ask is because your design seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something unique.

    P.S My apologies for being off-topic but I had to ask!

  5. After looking at a handful of the blog posts on your web page, I seriously appreciate your way of writing a blog.
    I saved as a favorite it to my bookmark website list and will be checking back in the near future.

    Take a look at my web site as well and tell me what you think.

  6. What you posted was very logical. But, what about this? suppose
    you typed a catchier title? I ain’t saying your content isn’t
    good, but what if you added a headline that makes people desire more?
    I mean “It’s Never As Bad As You Think,” by Kelly Parsons, MD – HealThySelf HealThyWorld is kinda
    vanilla. You should glance at Yahoo’s front page and watch how they write news headlines to grab viewers to click.
    You might add a video or a pic or two to grab people excited about
    what you’ve got to say. Just my opinion,
    it would bring your posts a little bit more interesting.

  7. Amazing blog! Do you have any helpful hints for aspiring writers?
    I’m hoping to start my own website soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
    Would you recommend starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many choices out there that I’m totally confused ..

    Any ideas? Thanks a lot!

  8. My spouse and I absolutely love your blog and find many of your post’s to
    be precisely what I’m looking for. Would you offer guest writers to write content for
    yourself? I wouldn’t mind composing a post or elaborating on most of the subjects you write related to here.
    Again, awesome web site!

  9. Hello! I realize this is kind of off-topic however I needed to ask.
    Does running a well-established website such as yours take a
    large amount of work? I’m brand new to writing a blog however I do write
    in my diary everyday. I’d like to start a blog so I can share my experience and thoughts online.
    Please let me know if you have any recommendations or
    tips for new aspiring blog owners. Appreciate it!

  10. Nice post. I was checking constantly this weblog and I’m inspired!
    Very helpful information specially the ultimate section 🙂 I
    take care of such information much. I used to be seeking this particular info for a very long time.
    Thanks and best of luck.

  11. I will immediately grab your rss feed as I can’t in finding your e-mail
    subscription hyperlink or newsletter service. Do you’ve any?
    Kindly let me know in order that I may just subscribe.
    Thanks.

  12. I am extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your weblog.
    Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself?
    Anyway keep up the excellent quality writing, it’s rare
    to see a nice blog like this one these days.

  13. I’ve been surfing online greater than 3 hours nowadays, yet I never discovered any
    interesting article like yours. It’s pretty price enough for me.
    In my opinion, if all webmasters and bloggers made just
    right content material as you probably did, the net will likely be much
    more useful than ever before.

  14. Hey there just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The
    text in your article seem to be running off the screen in Opera.
    I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something to do
    with internet browser compatibility but I figured I’d post
    to let you know. The design and style look great though!
    Hope you get the issue fixed soon. Cheers

  15. Please let me know if you’re looking for a writer for your site.

    You have some really great articles and I believe I would be a good asset.
    If you ever want to take some of the load off,
    I’d love to write some material for your blog in exchange for a link back
    to mine. Please send me an e-mail if interested.
    Kudos!

  16. Wow! This blog looks exactly like my old one! It’s on a totally different subject but
    it has pretty much the same page layout and design. Outstanding choice
    of colors!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *