I can tell when a patient wants to get out of my office. It was Marsha’s first appointment, and she wasn’t making eye contact, her eyes kept flicking to the door, and she was answering all my questions with mumbles.
Most people don’t like going to the doctor – especially the gynecologist – but Marsha seemed particularly, almost pathologically, nervous. She had come to me for a second opinion. Her original surgeon had recommended removing her uterus and ovaries for the severe pelvic pain she suffered. This represents a drastic approach for a childless woman in her early thirties.
Marsha made it clear to me she didn’t want another examination from a male doctor. Now, I do what I can to make my patients comfortable, but a gender change is not on the table. I alerted Marsha that there are plenty of wonderful woman physicians she might like to see.
After some hemming and hawing, Marsha elected to let me take care of her, and a few weeks later, I took her into surgery. Just one look inside revealed that her pelvic organs were virtually glued together with scar tissue. Instead of removing the uterus and ovaries, I cleaned out the scar tissue that seemed likely to be the cause of her pain. The surgery went well. Marsha’s pain dissipated almost entirely.
Pain That No Surgery Can Cure
Yet during the coming months, it became obvious in the follow-up appointments that Marsha suffered from a problem that went beyond a surgical diagnosis and cure. She was in her mid-thirties – living alone, estranged from family, and with almost no social contact beyond work and trips to the grocery store. Marsha chose to be virtually alone in the world. As her trust for me grew, Marsha’s story gradually came together, revealed in bits and pieces.
It wasn’t totally unexpected that sexual abuse played a part in Marsha’s past. What was uncommon, however, was the degree and amount of abuse she had experienced. For as long as she could remember, Marsha’s male relatives – including her father and her brothers – had enforced sexual relations upon her. It had begun when she was five years old, and had continued until she was fifteen – old enough to finally fight them off, and shortly afterward, to move out of the house forever.
Removing scar tissue from the human body is technically difficult. But it’s a simple job compared to removing the scars of childhood abuse. When you excise abnormal tissue, the remaining healthy tissue comes together and heals. But how do you remove the unholy, festering memories? Marsha was physically healed, but far from resuming the act of living. I couldn’t see how Marsha could learn to love other people, when those who should have given her those first lessons were the source of her earliest injuries.
I pondered these questions in thought and in prayer. To Marsha, I recommended counseling, the church, volunteer work…but my suggestions were met with an unyielding resistance born out of deep mistrust for all people. Truthfully, it made me sad to have Marsha as a patient. It’s difficult to see a patient whom you’re not able to help.
A Life-Changing Prescription
Then one day, a simple solution presented itself. I decided to write Marsha a new prescription. On my pad I wrote: Do one good thing for someone else today. Write down what it was. Repeat daily.
I told Marsha it didn’t matter what she did, or when she did it, or who she did it for: just keep the love in her heart, and search for the opportunity to share it with someone else in need. Once a day.
I had no idea what Marsha would do with her “prescription.” Throw it in the nearest trash can, I suspected. I just knew she needed a different kind of medicine – the kind that isn’t manufactured by any pharmaceutical company. Healing of the body can only go so far: it is the health of our soul that makes us truly alive.
Two months later Marsha returned for her next appointment. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that she had made a friend. She had simply helped someone at the store with her groceries. She attributed it to her new prescription, and promised she would continue to follow it every day. Six months later, I learned she had made some more friends. She had even joined a book club and was attending a local church.
And a year later she went on her first date. Ever.
Over the past several years, Marsha’s health has improved so much that now I only see her from time to time. Recently she sent me a card. She wanted to let me know she was getting married. And across the bottom of the card, in a small and hopeful postscript, was a note that she was hoping to have a baby.
I have no idea why Marsha decided to take her “prescription” seriously. Maybe it was the fact that it was written on an official pad. Or maybe she could feel the desperation in my last ditch effort to help her.But perhaps it’s simply that Marsha recognized the truth. I believe that we are hard wired to recognize the truth when we see it, and the truth is this: Love is the necessary ingredient for a healthy life, and it is not always the love we receive that heals.
More often, it’s the Love that we give.
-Dr. Mike Litrel