A Knock on the Door

knockFour years ago, a young woman I’d been seeing for several weeks in my clinic called unexpectedly Friday afternoon and canceled an upcoming appointment for the following Monday and did not reschedule. The receptionist sent me a message as is our policy for patients who “cancel and do not reschedule”. It gave me a bad feeling that she was turning her back on her treatment plan and I was uneasy about the upcoming weekend without knowing what was going on with her.

I could have just put on my coat and headed home at the end of that long Friday but decided to call my patient. She didn’t answer her phone. I mulled over my options, looked up her apartment address and drove there. As I approached her door, I could hear someone moving around in her apartment, but she didn’t respond to my knocks or my voice.

I decided to stay right there, talking to her through the door for about 15 minutes, letting her know I wasn’t leaving until she opened up the door. I finally told her she could decide to open the door or I would call 911 and ask the police to come to make sure she was okay. She then opened the door, tears streaming down her face. She had been drinking heavily, with liquor bottles strewn around on the floor. She admitted an intent to overdose on aspirin and vodka. The vodka was already consumed but the unopened aspirin bottle was in her hand. I was the last person she expected to see at her door.

I called the mental health unit at the local hospital and they had an open bed. I told my patient that we could save time and hassle by heading over right then and there, and avoid the emergency room mess, and the possibility of an involuntary detainment.

She agreed to come with me and be admitted voluntarily for stabilization. I went the following day to visit her and she greeted me with a hug and thanked me for not giving up on her when she had given up on herself. In sobriety, her eyes were brighter and she was more hopeful. She never expected anyone to care enough to come looking for her, and to stand firm when she was rejecting all approaches. She was astounded and grateful, and frankly, so was I.

Four years later, a small card arrived this week in my clinic mailbox on a most challenging work day, from an unfamiliar address two thousand miles away. The name looked vaguely familiar to me but when I opened and read the contents, this time it was my turn to let tears flow:

“Dear Doctor,

I am not sure if you will remember me considering you see a number of patients daily; however, I am a patient whose life you changed in the most positive way. I never truly THANKED YOU for listening to me and hearing my silent words of grief and hearing my cries for help. If it had not been for you, had you not knocked on my door, I would not be writing this letter to you today. I don’t know exactly what to say to the person who saved me from hurting myself fatally. You were a stranger in my life, but a dear friend in my time of need. THANK YOU, for everything that you did for me. You have a permanent place in my heart, you have given my spirit hope, you have reminded me that a life is worth living. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Sincerely, L_____”

I’m grateful 4 years ago I had the sense to go knock on her door, the stubbornness to stay put until she responded, and most of all, I’m appreciative for her gracious note letting me know it made a difference. Now, on a most difficult day this week, she made a difference for me.

She has knocked on my door and I have opened it, awash in my own tears.

2 thoughts on “A Knock on the Door

  1. What a wonderful story, and how wonderful of you to have followed your instinct & not given up until your patient opened her door. I believe that we are meant to be in certain places at certain times, & I also believe in miracles. Thanks for sharing this heartwarming story !

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  2. Ah, Dear Emily, I got sidetracked upon reading this the first time and didn’t get back to comment; subsequently I have remembered mostly when I’m away from the computer, but NOW have remembered when I can write something. So here it is: a major lesson of my life has been that the more we trust our instincts, the more trustworthy our instincts become. I’ve never encountered a situation as dramatic as the one you depict, but I have had a few people come back later and thank me, often for something I hadn’t even been aware of doing. It’s pretty humbling, as I know you understand. Some people would rather trust research and statistics than instincts. My experience is that we are all unique, so the numbers don’t mean the same for one person as they do for another; the best we can do is assess all the lessons from all the times we guessed right and the times we guessed wrong and keep letting our instincts provide guidance. Some people question listening to “voices,” as in “God told me …,” so I can credit instincts and know in my heart of hearts Who I’m listening to. Obviously, you do, too.

    A young woman was so upset in her quest for a job that she missed her target address by a whole block, coming to 1717 instead of 1617. Her target said “penthouse,” so she came to the top floor of my building and got pretty teary when I told her the company she wanted was in the building up the street, leading her to my window so she could see the building and how to get to it from my building. Stating that she HAD to find a job, I invited her to sit down and calm herself. My suggestion was not what she wanted to hear: “Go home. You are in no condition to talk to a prospective employer today; you need to be calm and confident and convey to them what you can bring to their table, not simply what YOU need. So go home. Write today off and start over tomorrow with a resume and an attitude that can get attention.”

    So she did. She went home. A week later, she called me and thanked me for the advice; the folks she had been trying to find had filled their vacancy but they made a couple of suggestions and she was following through on them. My role was pretty simple; it takes little effort to be kind to people, and I was old enough to know NOBODY will hire somebody as emotionally topsy turvey as she was that day. The big decision on my part was whether or not to “get involved;” she could have put any number of spins on my willingness to help. My basic instinct is to do the best I can do. Period. So I went with it. I had no job to offer her, so my best was to help her channel her assets.

    I never learned if she actually found a job, but the difference in the sound of her voice in a week was an enormous payback for trusting my instinct.

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