We switched rotations the other day, so I was on rounds for the last time, and telling the patients that they'd have a different doctor in the morning, that I just wanted to say goodbye and wish them well.
"I've really enjoyed having you as my doctor," one patient said. A patient I like, but who has an unfortunately poor prognosis, and probably doesn't have a whole lot of time left. "Will you come back and visit me next week?"
"Sure, I'll come back and visit, if you're still here."
Silence for a beat. Now, what I should have said next is nothing. But sometimes you start to overthink things. And so, instead, what I said next, as I experienced a terrible inability to stop my mouth from saying words:
"Oh, no, I meant 'if you're still here,' as in, if you're still in the hospital. If you hadn't gone home yet."
"I know what you meant."
"No, no, or not even home, but to a different facility. Or if you're taking some tests when I stop by. Or if you're in the rehab building. I didn't mean I didn't think you were going to be around next week, in the bigger picture sense."
"No, no, it's okay."
"Not that I know more than what we've told you, or that I can guarantee anything one way or the other. The doctors coming onto this rotation are really good. I'm sure they'll do whatever they can--"
"So, yes, I will absolutely stop by and visit."
"You don't have to, it's fine. I was just saying that."
"Good luck. I'll miss you."
"And I just meant I'll miss you because I'll be gone-- I mean, I'll be somewhere else-- not because you'll be. Although hopefully you'll get to go home."
"And I mean home like the physical place, not in a spiritual sense."
Okay, so maybe it didn't go on for quite that long, and the hole I dug for myself wasn't quite that deep. But it certainly felt like it. And more.