The first time it happened, I was convinced that the book was somehow misplaced. We had had an open house in the department, with large groups touring our new and very high tech facility. I thought perhaps the cleaning service had tucked the book away for safe keeping. But it was odd that of the three large format coffee table books in my consultation room, only one particular book went missing. The second time it happened, I was shocked because the inevitable conclusion was that a patient had taken it. The third time—well, it almost happened again on Thursday but it didn’t because now I am on high alert. This, in spite of the fact that I wrote inside the blue cover, “Dr. Fielding’s Book—please do not borrow!”
When new patients come into my department for their first visit, they are taken into a comfortable room, furnished with a couch, two armchairs, a coffee table and two end tables. There are large framed photographs on the wall, seascapes and landscapes with bright horizons. Sometimes patients have a little wait between the time that my oncology nurse takes their vital signs and gets the basics of their history, while I am looking at CAT scans and PET scans and bone scans so that I can better make recommendations. When we opened five years ago, I thought it would be nice if I brought in some picture books for patients to look at, because I know that when I am at the doctor and am nervous about a test, or frightened by a possible diagnosis, I can’t concentrate on words. I would rather look at pictures, especially calming, soothing pictures.
Since the beginning, there have been three books on that coffee table. The first, a gift from my daughter, is Eliot Porter’s “The Color of Wildness.” The second, a gift to myself, is Alison Shaw’s “Vineyard Summer.” And the third, a gift from a friend, talented photographer Karla Ogilvie, is simply called “Encinitas InSight.” The cover of Karla’s book is irresistible. The picture is of two boats, painted blue, each with a name and number, long since pulled onto dry land and converted into houses. Nothing speaks to the off-beat and wonderful character of our town the way these grounded boat houses do, except perhaps the Cardiff Kook, a bronze life sized surfer who is dressed up for every major holiday. Since our department is in Encinitas, I guess it makes sense that it is that book which keeps disappearing.
On Thursday, I saw an 83 year old woman with an early stage skin cancer. My medical student took her history in the consultation room, and then he moved her into an exam room where he did the basics of the physical exam. When I came in, the first thing I noticed was that she was clutching the Encinitas book, having moved it from one room to the next. I greeted her, and trying very hard not to be too obvious, I gently pried the book from her hands and placed it on the chair beside her, while I spoke to her about radiation therapy and took a look at her skin. We covered all the basics, and she elected to proceed with treatment. As she got up to leave, I saw her glance sideways at the book, and I dove for it. Handing it off to the medical student, who understood the subtle hand signal as I waved him to return it to its rightful place in the consultation room, I escorted her to the front desk to make her treatment planning appointment.
Karla has been a great sport about all of this. Every time the book disappears, she pretends to be flattered, and she comes back to the department with a new copy. I’ve stopped asking her to autograph the book for me personally though. It’s only a matter of time before the book goes on walkabout again. Karla, if you’re reading this, maybe it’s time we started selling your book. On the other hand, knowing you, I am sure that you are thinking that if that’s what a new cancer patient needs to be calm, comfortable and happy, so be it. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.