Not an Insignificant Exchange


The short version for those who don’t have much time:

  • Where I live, there are 3 Great Voices of Authority: God, Doctors, Football.
  • Single words, short phrases, or simple sentences, have The Power to change lives.
  • When something stupid, thoughtless, inconsiderate, moronic, or potentially harmful falls out of a mouth – even the mouth of one of the 3 Great Authorities – you have not only the Right but a Duty to speak up.
  • Speaking up at times like #3 can change lives, too.

The longer version:

Two years ago, at our first visit, the cardiologist looked at my husband (who was then a recent recipient of a stent in his heart) and said, “You’re lucky. You know how you’re going to die.” I sat there and said nothing, in part because I was struck speechless with such a stupid thing being said by one of The Great Authorities, and in part because this was a conversation between my husband and this doctor to which I was a mere observer who didn’t want to risk the doctor “taking it out on my husband.”

Today, this same cardiologist walks into the room, and instead of saying “Wow, you look great. I can tell you’ve been seriously exercising” or anything comparable, he immediately starts hammering away at Andy about nutrition and eventually says (and I quote), “If you want to live to be 88, you need to watch what you eat and to cut down on the fried foods.”

Having heard enough, I take Andy’s face in my two hands, look into his retinas, and say, “Baby, we’re shooting for at least 98, okay?” When he nods, I turn my attention to the cardiologist . . .

“You deal with hearts,” I say, “I deal with psychology and emotions, the driving forces in life.” And before I can finish that train of thought, he says, “I deal with more psychology than you might think.” I am both relieved and borderline thrilled to know he realizes that.

“Then you understand about the power of suggestion,” I tell him. “When you put a finite number on how long my husband or anybody else, for that matter, will live, you plant a seed that might grow into a self-fulfilling prophecy. So what say we leave out the finite numbers and ages and stick to concepts, information, and most important of all: encouragement and support.” I guess it comes as no surprise to hear that my contribution quickly brings the visit to a close.

To his credit, though, when the cardiologist shakes my husband’s hand as we exit the office, he says, “Okay, we’ll shoot for 108. Or 109. Yes, 109. Let’s make it an odd number.”

And me? I just smile and say, “I like odd.”

[ :: ]

Jeanne Hewell-Chambers has long owned and seldom apologized for her authority issues.


  1. Susan F.

    Wow, Jeanne…that reminds me of my late Father-in-Law who had been told by his friend who was an actuary that he was likely to live to only 73. He had planned his life to only 73 and his wife’s life to somewhere in her 80s. The irony was that she didn’t make it past 70 and he lived to 89. I’m convinced that he lived that long because my husband and I kept hammering away at him that statistics is not an infallible science so, he decided to see just how long he could live!

    • whollyjeanne

      Yes, EXACTLY! The power of suggestion – especially from one of The Great Authorities – is quite stunning. Good for you and your husband for debunking as often as needed.

  2. sarah

    interesting how you heard the limitation in the number, while the doc was trying to communicate the possibility in it. perhaps his psychology was to put more power in his recommendation for diet change, but instead he raised an armful of emotional red flags that hid the one he wanted to wave. glad to hear the real news, that Andy is doing so well. every day is a treasure and there is no knowing the rest. for me, it is best if the work of the moment, the experience of the moment has no other goal than presence in that moment. in my opinion financial planning is always hypothetical right up to the last minute since conditions are so, well, conditional.

    • whollyjeanne

      this is the same doctor who, on our first visit 2 years ago, sat down, looked at andy, and the first words out of his mouth were – and i quote – “You’re lucky. You know how you’re going to die.” you may be right that he was attempting to raise the urgent flag (which may or may not have been needed), but i steadfastly maintain that nice guy he is, he needs some training in communication. two things i know you and i agree on: (1) the good news is that andy is in good health, and (2) that living in the moment, in the present, is where the treasure is. we have friends who have eaten by the book, exercised by the book, and still died in their driveway far, far, far too young. you just never know, so live while you can.

  3. grumpy moon britches

    I hate doctors…

    • whollyjeanne

      i know, moonbeam. i know. xo

  4. judy martin

    Love your writing, Jeanne.


  5. Kimberley McGill

    I so love what you did!
    I wish I could remember the name of the doctor I heard on NPR a few years ago. He told the story of a patient that overheard doctors saying he had a galloping heart. He was released to go home, armed with all his instructions for nutritional and other life style changes and his doctor telling him how important it was to take care of himself after his heart surgery to ensure he could live a good long time.

    His prognosis wasn’t that good, but his doctors didn’t go into all those details. Just information and encouragement, as you mentioned. This man went home in high spirits, not only because his doctors encouraged and informed him – but also because he’d interpreted what he overheard about having a galloping heart as having a strong heart, he associated it with the strength of a horse when in reality a galloping heart is quite the opposite – he just didn’t know that.

    Over the next few months his improvement was so astounding his doctors counted it as a miracle.

    So there ya’ go.

    wishing you and your husband all the goodness life and the Universe has to offer!

    • whollyjeanne

      what a beautiful story that goes hand in hand with the way i feel. thank you for sharing this. i just read it aloud to my daughter and husband.

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