Eight of Swords By D.I. Jolly
Dr Franklin checked his watch and opted to order a coffee instead of a beer. He hadn’t exactly wanted to start to drink at three in the afternoon, but his morning had been a lot more stressful than usual, and the idea was there. What stopped him though was his company. Although not there yet, his best friend, and former co-worker, Dr Edwards, had been only 1 year sober, and Dr Franklin wasn’t about to make it harder for him. It was the third time he’d reached the 1-year mark and, between the two of them, they were determined to make this time count.
Which wasn’t to say that Dr Franklin never drank in front of his friend, but this was different. This wasn’t a glass of wine over dinner. This was a beer to calm his nerves between patients, and that, as they both knew, was a very slippery slope. Besides, Dr Franklin had always prided himself on being the more analytical of the two. Dr Edwards had been a brilliant doctor in his own right, but he’d taken it all so personally that, in the end, he had almost drunk himself to death before he was able to ask for help. Which was why Dr Franklin was so desperate to see his friend now. He needed that emotional intelligence and understanding. He needed to know why his patient felt the way that they did. He needed the perspective that he lacked.
The two friends shook hands and smiled when they saw each other, and although he tried, Dr Franklin knew he couldn’t hide how he really felt from his friend. But also knew that he wouldn’t push the topic unless he was prompted.
“Traffic is always such a nightmare this time of day,” said Dr Edwards as he sat down. Then they smiled at the waitress who handed out menus but waited for her to walk off before they continued—an old habit they both kept as they often spoke about confidential patient information. “I swear, it takes twice as long to get here at mid-day than it does in the morning. Do these people not have jobs?”
“That seems a little harsh don’t you think? Considering that you are currently unemployed. Maybe they’re university students? I mean, we didn’t have jobs until after we graduated.”
“Rich university students then, or at the very least, reckless with their money.”
The waitress returned to the table and again it crossed Dr Franklin’s mind to order a beer. Something he’d never actually done just for comfort at mid-day and the idea was so foreign to him that it showed on his face.
“Just coffee for now, thank you.”
Dr Edwards ordered the same, and as they waited for the waitress to walk off, a small silence began to grow between them, and it was clear that something wasn’t just a little bit wrong. But still, Dr Edwards waited. The coffee came and the waitress went, and still the silence sat between the two men, until finally Dr Franklin found his words.
“I uummm… I lost a patient this morning.”
The silence that had sat between them suddenly felt like it filled the whole room. Dr Edwards looked at his friend, and Dr Franklin looked at the sugar packet as he tore it open and poured it into his coffee, then at the spoon as he stirred it, and then at nothing.
“Did it happen this morning, or is that just when you found out?”
“They, she… Came to see me this morning, we had our usual session…” Silence fell between them again, but Dr Edwards knew that this was a critical time for his friend, so he got up from across the table and moved to sit next to him. “I, even thought we’d had a breakthrough. She had been struggling with herself for so long that, when I saw a sparkle in her eyes, I thought it was hope. Turns out she had made a decision and it had apparently lifted the weights off her shoulders, and I missed it. I missed the signs that we’re trained to see… She dove in front of a train on her way home. I heard about it on the news about an hour ago.”
Dr Edwards put his hand over his friend’s and squeezed it.
“Oh my friend, I’m so sorry.”
“I just don’t understand, we’d put in so much work. She had put in so much work and was making progress. She looked so much lighter when she left my office, told me she hadn’t felt so clear in years. Now I know that that lightness, that clarity was from the decision to kill herself, and I just cannot understand it, cannot understand how those two things fit together.”
He turned to look up at his friend, but he didn’t have tears in his eyes, he wasn’t angry, wasn’t overwhelmed. He was confused and frustrated, because he wanted to know something he just could not piece together himself.
“Would you like my professional opinion?” asked Dr Edwards after another silent minute.
“No, I know your professional opinion. I would like your personal insight into this situation.”
“Personally, I think you can be too cold and analytical for your own good sometimes, but that’s beside the point. Maybe she was tired of working hard? People, all people, even the most resilient have limits. And maybe that final decision really did bring her peace. Maybe deciding to put down the suffering, put down the hard work and just accept defeat really did bring her the light and the joy you saw. If it is the patient I think it is, and I’m sorry about it, and for her, but if it is her then I get the impression that this might have been the first time in her life that she felt fully in control. Which is deeply sad.”
“It is, was, her yes, and yes, maybe you’re right. But still, we’re trained to watch out for sharp turns like that.”
“It’s alright to trust your patients sometimes, John.’ The table fell silent again for a moment as Dr Edwards let the words sink in, “And of course, of course it’s not the outcome you or anyone wanted. It’s never a solution. I also wish that she had chosen another path, but we both know that people who decide to kill themselves do so because they just can’t see the other paths anymore.”
“I just wish I’d caught it; I mean she was in my office this morning. It’s my job to show her those other paths.”
“Do you think it’s your fault? Do you think you could have done more?”
“Could have done more? Honestly, no, I don’t think that I could have, but maybe a more open-minded doctor, I think… no that’s not fair. But yes, I guess I do blame myself a little. You know how much I hate turning away patients when I feel like I can help them.”
“Were you going to say that I could have helped her?”
“Yes, but I didn’t want it to come out in a way that it seems like I’m blaming you for anything, or shaming you for your own life issues. Because, frankly, that’s not fair and not true.”
“It’s also not true that I could have help her. I might have been able to, but maybe my issues would have only pushed her to her final decision faster. And it’s also not your fault for wanting to help her. Though, in my opinion, you do take on too many patients at once. Not always, but you do take on a lot sometimes.”
For a moment, Dr Franklin thought about how he no longer had a doctor he trusted to refer patients too but stopped himself because he felt that that too would come out as an accusation and he didn’t want to lay that on his friend’s shoulders. So he took a deep breath, a large sip of his now cold coffee and said:
“Well, to her, and to doing better. Thank you, my friend. Your counsel continues to mean the world to me.” They clinked coffee cups, and, with a forced smile, Dr Franklin said. “Now, let’s order some food I’m starving, do you know what you want?”
“Obviously the pumpkin soup.”
Dr Franklin rolled his eyes.