Luckily I still had the file. After seeing patients for a couple of decades, I have to get periodically ruthless with the shredder for those I haven’t seen in a long time and 7 years qualifies as a long gap between appointments but when I saw her name in my calendar, I knew exactly who she was and had clear a sense of where we had left off…somewhere I regarded as the early stages of treatment, in the sometimes vast space of no man’s land, a long long way before done. Where had she been? Why was she coming back? Hadn’t my attempts to treat failed?
I’m sure we’ve all thought about the patients that don’t return and effectively disappear, after the first, the third or the sixteenth appointment. Chances are, there is often some sense of failure…’I failed in keeping them engaged in the process’ or ‘I failed to get them the results they were after’…and certainly sometimes, ‘they failed to undertake a perfectly good management approach because they weren’t ready.’ But this is really just left up to our imagination & we tend to fill in a lot of gaps with our particular bias.
We’re both full of smiles when she enters. It actually feels like reuniting with an old friend, because the rapport building it turns out has a long shelf-life (for both of us). She’d moved interstate, then back again and today she has traveled over 2 hours to come and see me. She likes me, she’s in fact fond of me and therefore she proceeds to share deeply what’s happening for her and I feel so honoured that I am trusted in this way with such personal information, but I am also a little surprised. Didn’t my treatment approach fail? And then she drops the biggest surprise bomb of all…
“What you did really helped me. I know I couldn’t take everything you wanted me to but I stayed on those things I could and it made such a difference. That’s why I am back. I really think I need your help again”
Well blow me over with a feather and then pick me back up again! It helped!! This lovely woman had gone from being trapped by her crippling anxiety & phobias in her house with very minimal functionality, to 7 years later here she is with her partner and 2 kids (!) in the car waiting for her appointment to finish! That all necessitated conquering massive fears which had appeared virtually impossible when she came to me in so much trouble initially. I am not for one millisecond, claiming responsibility for the monumental shift that has occurred over this period in her life – the mysteries of the world & humans are much more complex than that – but to just hear those magic words ‘What you did really helped me’ – meant I had contributed in some way to this incredible story. And you know what…we were somewhere I regarded as the early stages of treatment, in the sometimes vast space of no man’s land, a long long way before done. 😉
I’ve had this happen before, but each time takes my breath away. So keep reminding yourself of the positive role you, as a practitioner, are playing in so many people’s lives, by listening, supporting, educating and treating…and know that ‘the one that got away’ may have in fact been your greatest success story.
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