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Monday, June 25, 2012

A patient advocate: This is her partner

Dr. Suzanne Koven's story:
     For many years I've provided primary care for two women in their 70s who have lived together for decades.  Perhaps because of the era in which they came of age, they'd never identified themselves to me as a couple, though it seemed clear that they were.  They finished each other's sentences, took notes at each other's medical visits, and, when I called to discuss one of their test results, both got on the phone.

     I sometimes wonder whether I should have encouraged them to be more open with me about the nature of their relationship, but I sensed this was not what they wanted. I'm still not sure I was right.

     Once, one of the women became critically ill and required months of hospitalization outside of Boston.  The other was at her bedside all day, every day.  The doctor on the case called periodically to update me - progress was at times discouraging - and her companion also phoned regularly.  She always left messages that began by identifying herself as the patient's "roommate" or 'friend."  

     Eventually, because of excellent medical care and, no doubt, the "friend's" loving attentiveness, the patient recovered and was able to return home.  When I got the call with this news, the message was slightly different:  "This is her partner...", it began.

     A small word, a subtle shift, and yet I couldn't help but read volumes into it.  I imagined the woman, after months by her partner's side, after decades of denying their relationship, finally saying to herself, "Dammit, I've earned the right."

     Of course I don't know for sure if that's what she said to herself.  But I do know this:  I received dozens of phone messages every week, thousands very year - and I can't remember one that moved me more.

     Read another story about the healing power of love in a glamorous younger couple.  Thanks to Dr. Koven for this story, reprinted from today's G section of the Boston Globe.

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