I have had a task on my to-do list for forever, inspired by all kinds of deep people, to write thank you notes to people who had a profound impact on my life. I don't know why I never get to it. But, the other day I did one. I happened upon the email address of a doctor named Rinaldo Canalis. I'd been looking for a place to send him a note that wouldn't get thrown away (like a hospital address might) for years.
About 30 years ago, Dr. Canalis and team helped rid me of a benign but invasive tumor near my pituitary. In caveman times (or probably in any decade before it happened, truthfully) it would've been a death sentence. But, because of modern medicine, the people who dedicate their lives to it, and a good helping of luck, I emerged out the other side, cured. The journey took a few years and, itself, had a tremendous impact on me but I'll save that for some other time.
Here is an edited letter I sent to Dr. Canalis below. Sharing it here, I think I just want to get across how incredibly important the work that we do as clinicians is and the outsized impact it has on individual patients. This is our reason to exist at Hippo. If you're a clinician and you think the radio-silence from most of your patients implies that they don't appreciate what you do, I think you're wrong. It took me 30 years to write this. I've had a few of these written to me over the years, but only a very few. Here's to hoping we all get a few more, but also to remembering that, for a myriad of reasons, there are countless people who deeply appreciate you. They just haven't gotten around to telling you yet.
Hi Dr. Canalis,
I happened upon your email address today for the first time, after thinking about writing to you dozens of times over the years. I hope this reaches you! My name is Aaron Bright and I was your patient as a college student when [...]. Needless to say, the episode had a profound impact.
But, you in particular, and every single time I visited your busy clinic, had an outsized affect on me. You are the person I emulated when I tried to figure out, years later, how I wanted to be a doctor and how I wanted to make patients feel. I'm sure you've heard it many times but I have never met anyone with a more sincere, authentic, caring, professional, and calm-inducing bedside manner.
I remember my dad calling you, concerned that he had changed jobs and that his new insurance may not be acceptable to the hospital. You told him "Mr. Bright, we are committed to caring for your son, and we will do that, no matter what, regardless of his insurance, we will see him through this." My dad got off the phone and cried for five minutes. He had been so afraid to lose you.
You had no small part in my choosing to go to medical school. I chose emergency medicine, and have conjured your memory in countless patient interactions. I do my best impression of you when I can feel the fear in the room, see the terror on a parent's face, or sense that this person needs to really know that I know what I'm doing. Subtle stuff, best understood by example.
Back when I was your patient, I was young, scared, and overwhelmed. I tried hard to make that tumor teach me something, and it did teach me a ton. I see it as one of the most important times in my life. I would not trade it away (although I would not wish for it again). Your technical skill helped save my life [...]. But your humanity changed my life and has been a main ingredient in my personal style of interacting with patients. It has also helped form the mission of my efforts in education.
I remember how you walk into the room, fold your arms, look into the eyes of me and my terrified parents, give a few seconds of silence and space to show you are present, and then launch into the problem solving. I remember looking forward to coming to see you for reassurance and leadership along the path. I remember you going out of your way to track down a bulb syringe to replace the mutilated one I'd been using to clear out the giant crusty [...redacted for gross factor...] every day, I remember you laughing at my dark humor. You were truly essential to my recovery in every way.
Words will fail to show the impact you had on me and my family. But, I will just say, in the most sincere way possible, thank you.
Aaron Bright, MD, is an emergency physician and medical educator. He is the founder and CEO of Hippo Education.