A patient called a while back to make an appointment and left a message on our voicemail. She said something really nice. She said: “the sliding scale is love in action.” We’ve been open almost six months now, and the honeymoon is in full swing. I just love our patients, and I know the feeling is mutual. I can tell because they bring fruit.
Chico is a city surrounded by orchards – walnuts, almonds, and lots of fruit trees. I’ve lived here a year now, and as the fall equinox rolls around again, I’m aware how much the seasons here are marked by each new harvest: we have lovely sweet little mandarins all winter, and then the strawberries come out and last a good long while, and then the stone fruits – cherries, then later on plums, peaches, and nectarines. Now the figs are ready to be appreciated for all their decadence. (BRB, I need to go to the kitchen)
Four quarts of fresh-picked figs in a paper bag. That’s what our patients gave us Wednesday night, at the end of a long and successful free day event. I had just two nappers left at 6:58, and I sent a text to my business partner saying “I’m going to call this one at 29 txs for the day.” And then I looked up and in walked #30, 31, 32, and 33. I just grinned and ushered them into the treatment room. Round about quarter to nine, while they were enjoying the last of the muffins and tea in the reception room, is when the bag of figs showed up. It was our second gift of fruit in a week. The other day a patient brought me a melon from her garden. I love our patients. And love is a verb. Let me tell you more.
Very early on, when we were seeing – oh, about ten patients a week, a young man dropped in to the clinic and he said exactly this “I am a prince. Money is no object. If I give you a lot of money, can I have a private treatment?” No kidding. That happened. I just kind of giggled inside while I explained how it works, and that, in our community space, he would get the very best treatment possible. He was satisfied and I led him in to the (empty anyway) treatment room to find a recliner. Maybe it was the word “prince” that started it, but I just had to laugh at finding myself in the middle of what sounded like a fairy tale. Like a children’s book with a morality lesson to deliver. Something about temptation, or integrity, or the like. I still giggle thinking about timing, about the challenge to the sliding scale and the group treatment concept. It only got funnier when his check bounced.
But the story’s not over.
Several months later, he returned, cash in hand, to make good on the check. He gave a sincere apology and a perfectly satisfying explanation. Very princely behavior, and very sweet, too. He left and said he’d be back in for treatment soon. Has he been back? No, but the story’s not over yet.
Another one: A few weeks ago I treated a patient for some musculoskeletal pain. She came for just one treatment, so I never really knew whether I’d done a good job for her or not. I figured probably not, since she didn’t re-schedule. I decided that story was over, and I felt badly about it. Then, on a busy shift recently she dropped in. When she got settled in, I went over to check in, and after a few preliminaries I learned what she had come in for that day. She wanted help with stress and insomnia. Her mother had died. Yesterday. And today, she wanted to be – – in our clinic. I was touched and honored. I was reminded again of the finality of death – and only of death – and that our stories with one another are not over until they’re really, truly over. Until then, we have time to keep adding to the stories of our relationships.
Last one: We had a patient with hip and sciatic pain who came in regularly – twice a week for maybe 15 treatments. Each time, we would make more or less progress. Sometimes she would get out of the chair ecstatic at the pain relief. Other times, she’d feel the pain again right away when she put weight on it. We tried so much – we did Skip’s “wolverine,” we did GB channel local work, we had her walk around with LingGu/DaBai in… but we were never able to fully resolve the pain for her. She called one day to cancel her next appointment, and basically to say goodbye. She said she felt like she made some progress with us, but it had stalled, and she wanted to try other things. That she appreciated all the work and attention we put into her treatment. It was a pretty classic “It’s not you, it’s me” kind of call. I so appreciated her willingness to talk it through, and especially respected the courage it takes to engage so fully, even when things aren’t happy and hopeful anymore.
It’s difficult, but I’m trying to remember that the story is not over yet.
I’m starting to think that love as a verb – love in action – is leaving the stories open. I’m trying to remember that the meaning I decide on for any event – a bounced check, a one-and-done, an abandoned course of treatment – is just a guess. I’m working on expanding my sense of time and suspending judgment for longer and longer. When my ego asks: “How did it go?” I’m hoping love will answer: “I don’t know, dear. Not yet. Please just focus on your next patient now, okay?” That’s love in action.
And, of course, love brings fruit.