Hope

What is hope? Merriam’s definition is to want something to happen or be true or think that it could happen or be true.[1]  I think there’s one key aspect of that definition that needs to be included: the desire needs to be realistic or possible. I could want to have no residual effects of this brain surgery, but that wouldn’t be realistic. I could want pigs to fly but it just won’t happen. This is not hope, it’s a delusion. I mentioned in one of previous posts that I have taken up reading since my surgery. The first book I read was a gift from Megha called The Anatomy of Hope by Jerome Groopman. In it he masterfully deconstructs hope and its role in his experience in medicine. In a chapter titled “False Hope, True Hope” he describes encounters with a cancer patient he took care of as a medical student until he was an attending physician. He tells poignantly of a patient named Frances Walker, who had been diagnosed with cancer of the colon. He and his partner indicate to her that chemotherapy can induce remission in her case. While he acknowledges that this is technically true, he later calls it a “sin of omission.”[2] He states that “the evasions, the elliptical answers, the parsed phrases were all supposed to be in the service of sustaining hope. But that was hollow. It was false, a seductive yet only temporarily satisfying illusion.”[3] The truth is that there is not set definition of hope in this situation. I like to define it as a desire or wish of an outcome that is obtainable. In each of the guest posts hope shined through. I realize that it might be unrealistic (thus not a hope) to envision a day for myself where none of the effects of this ordeal could be detected and life returns to the way it was before the surgery; even the scars on my head will forever serve as reminders. But my hope has evolved. In the hospital after the surgery I had clinicians constantly telling me that they expected a full recovery, bolstering my expectations; my younger sister was trying to schedule a trip to Lansing over Memorial Day Weekend of 2013; I was still confined to my hospital bed then, but remember saying to her, “I’ll be fine then Al[4]. You don’t need to visit.” I had envisioned myself playing the same Memorial Day tennis tournament. Now, over a year and a half later, I know that playing competitive tennis is out of the question; but when I think back to where I started this journey, confined to an ICU bed with my only capable movement being slight shifts in the hospital bed, I realize that I am incredibly fortunate to be where I am today. When a stranger sees me hobbling to the grocery store, they think what an unfortunate, handicapped man. If I could only show them how much hard work, how many hours at the gym, how many speech exercises it took to get me there, then they’d understand. If they knew where I was a year and a half ago, heck, a few months ago, then they’d be impressed with my progress. This is why I still have hope for my continued recovery. I still believe that more progress lies in the horizon, and that this is not an unrealistic desire.

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[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hopehouse, New York, 2004, p 53

[2] The Anatomy of Hope, Jerome Groopman, Random

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[3] i.d p 53, Groopman also authored another book titled “How Doctors Think”. For a great interview with Katie Couric check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3XxS-p31qY

[4] Ever since childhood I’ve called her ‘Al’. A mutual friend later told me that she does not let anyone else call her that.

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