Notes from a Healer

Triple Digits

Brian T. Maurer

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December snows blanket the landscape; winter has officially arrived.

Now ten years of age, Jonathan comes to the office for his annual checkup. His mother brings him in today along with his sister, who is now a budding adolescent.

I have cared for Jonathan since he was a newborn; I can recite his medical history like my street address, bank account and social security number. Jonathan was born with a pedunculated tumor attached to the wall of his left ventricle. So far the mushroom-like growth has given him no problems. His cardiologist and I keep our fingers crossed each time we see him.

“Here for your physical exam today?” I say, holding his open chart in my hands. “You’re ten years old now—congratulations! You made it to the double digits.”

Jonathan smiles. “Yeah, I guess I have.”

“How does it feel to be ten?”

“Not much different than nine,” he says, with the wrinkled brow of a child philosopher.

“There’s no turning back now, no stopping until you hit the triple digits, right?”

Jonathan regards my face with a puzzled look.

“The triple digits,” I explain, “are when you hit 100. Do you think you’ll ever get to be one hundred years old?”

He ponders a bit before he responds. “Sure, why not? I probably will live to be a hundred.”

“Well,” I say, “if you do get to be one hundred, I want you to call me up and let me know so I can congratulate you.”

Again that slightly puzzled look. He’s not sure what to make of my banter. His mother smiles. Then his sister says: “He’s making a joke, Jon. By the time you make it to a hundred, he’ll be long dead.”

Jonathan flashes a big grin. “Oh, yeah; I get it.” Then he looks at me and says: “You’re already pretty old. How much longer do you figure you’ve got?”

“I’m not sure,” I say, “but I’m hoping to finish out the year.”

“Gosh,” he says. “You’ve only got a couple of weeks to go.”

Perspective is everything.

About the Author

  • Photo of Brian T. MaurerBrian T. Maurer has practiced pediatric medicine as a Physician Assistant for the past three decades.  As a clinician, he has always gravitated toward the humane aspect in patient care—what he calls the soul of medicine.  Over the past decade, Mr. Maurer has explored the illness narrative as a tool to enhance the education of medical students and cultivate an appreciation for the delivery of humane medical care.  His first book, Patients Are a Virtue, recently reviewed in The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine, is a collection of patient vignettes illustrating what Sir William Osler called “the poetry of the commonplace” in clinical medical practice. Interested readers can read more of the author's writings at his website and blog.

  • Published: December 31, 2009