He looked so small sitting in the chair.
The blood had drained from his face entirely, making him look pale white. He was wringing his knuckles in his lap and his larger-than-normal eyes looked like they were going to pop out of his skull if someone startled him at any moment.
He was terrified.
And who could blame him? Nearly everyone in his family had died of cancer. And here he was, called into the office by his mom, after getting a full body scan to look for tumors.
Then the physician I was shadowing entered the room, and fluidly began the most impressive encounter I have ever witnessed:
“Hey bud, what’s your name? How old are you? Oh – that’s right around the age of my own son! So have you seen the new Star Wars movie? What’d you think? What do you do when you’re not in school? What do you want to be when you grow up? Isn’t it funny how the doctors get to ask all the questions? Do you have any questions for me?”
Over the course of the next half hour, he carefully explained to the boy that he was predisposed to getting cancer – because a “superhero gene that flies around in a cape and underpants, guarding his DNA” wasn’t working quite as well as it should. Then, he showed him a picture of his brain, and the glaring white spot on the image that they had to remove. Somehow, after ingesting all of this information and realizing he needed neurosurgery, the boy was calm and curious. Drops of fear were being carefully wiped off as the doctor answered his questions and talked about his worries. He talked with the physician like they were old friends, and happily saved the doctor’s number in his cell phone to ask any questions that popped up after the visit.
I walked the boy and his mother to the primary neurosurgery unit, and listened as they explained the procedure they would be performing in a week. I couldn’t help the pride that swelled inside of me, watching the mother nod and determinedly try to remain composed, squeezing her son’s knee. She reassured his horror when discovering the scar on his head would be permanent, telling him the scar will look really cool – and earn him massive bragging rights at school.
As we were walking back, I asked him how he felt about the surgery. He thought about it for a moment, then replied with a smile, “Excited.”
In my opinion, any person that can break the news of having a brain tumor and the urgent need for cutting into your brain to dig it out and leaving the child feeling anything but terrified – is a superhero.