Missing the Knock on the Door

barndoor

 

When a great moment knocks on the door of your life,
it is often no louder than the beating of your heart,
and it is very easy to miss it.
~Boris Pasternak

 

 

 

Years ago, a young woman I’d been treating for depression for several weeks in my clinic called unexpectedly on a 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 after a very stressful work week and even more stressful year. I was discouraged about many aspects of the clinic work load and the after-hours responsibilities only seemed to get heavier.  I was frustrated at how ineffectively I was communicating to administrative supervisors about the need for change.  I was ready to quit and walk away.

Instead I decided to call my patient to find out how she was doing.  She didn’t answer her phone. I mulled over my options, looked up her apartment address and drove the few blocks to get there. As I approached her door, I could hear someone moving around in her apartment, but she ignored my knocks and my voice and when I tried the door, it was locked.

So I stayed 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 unlocked 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.

Miraculously the mental health unit at the local hospital had an open bed. I told my patient that we could save time and hassle by heading over there together 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 visited the hospital the next day 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 knock on her door when she was at her lowest point,  and she struggled to answer, as consumed as she was in her own painfully beating heart.

She was astounded and grateful and frankly, by deciding to do what I knew was necessary and right even though it disregarded every workplace policy, so was I.

Four years later, a small card arrived in my clinic mailbox on another 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 the knock on the door was to get my attention, to focus the beating of my heart on what was most important – not the stresses of my work place — and 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 when all she could hear was the beating of her own painful heart. I had 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. When I needed it the most, she made a difference for me that has kept me on the job all these years later.

She knocked, oh so gently, on my door and I opened it, amazed that someone cared, and found me awash in my own tears.

 

 

6 thoughts on “Missing the Knock on the Door

  1. “This moved me to tears, recognizing the miraculous in it–seeing once again the hand of our loving, gracious God–arranging not one but two “divine appointments”–rescuing two beloved people at their point of deepest need. He is so awesomely faithful!!! I’m so glad you shared this, Emily!

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  2. Thank you, Emily. And the girl’s parents thank you. We pray that if our children ever find themselves in that awful dark hole , that God would send someone, like you, to follow their “insteads” and knock on their door with a caring hand. May our own too distracted hearts care enough to hear and trust and obey those strange urgent promptings to knock, that knocking that passeth all understanding.

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  3. Thank you so much Emily for the reminder that the knock on our heart door is one we need to answer…we never know how God will use us or remind us that He needs our help to do His work. And He smiles down on each of us….I do appreciate His grace and love…

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  4. You are amazing. Recently, I cancelled and did not reschedule, but my doctor did not follow-up.
    My reason for not rescheduling is my dissatisfaction with my doctor.
    Yesterday, I spent time on the phone with a man in the referral and information center at the hospital willing to spend time looking through the physicians network. I didn’t know they had such a service. I explained to this guy what I wanted in a doctor. After several calls back and forth, he found a doctor he thought fit my description accepting new patients and when I later read several reviews for this doctor…it sounded like the kind of person I want to be my doctor…someone like you. Time will tell if she is.
    In the meantime, your patients are richly blessed to have you in their lives.

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  5. This is very moving, and thank you so much, Emily, for sharing. …. my teen daughter has been suffering terribly of late from anxiety and depression — So, yes! We must always perservere, continue knocking, never give up: whether it is friend, family, or stranger …. Not always easy, but necessary.

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