It had not been a particularly good day. Complex patients, demanding families, and a grim medical record, which was very difficult to navigate. But then something happened that I will never forget.
I was in the midst of playing some Frank Sinatra standards, my go-to pieces at the grand piano in the Mayo Clinic’s Gonda building lobby—my place to decompress after such a day—when a young woman sat down in a chair next to the piano.
I suspected she was in her mid- to late twenties, middle class, very appropriately dressed. I glanced at her but our eyes never met. She pulled out a handkerchief and quietly started to cry. It was one of those is gut-wrenching scenarios where she was embarrassed, I was embarrassed, and I was not quite sure what to do, so I continued to bang out a couple of measures.
Our eyes briefly met, and she offered a soft “thank you” and then walked up the marble grand staircase, out of the building, and out of my life, but not out of my thoughts.
On the drive home I pondered that I did not handle this very well. What I should have done was to simply acknowledge, “Are you okay? Something I can do?”
But for some reason I did not want to violate her space. That night I participated in a black tie formal medical program with some international medical super stars visiting in Rochester, Minnesota. At the dinner, I glanced up when the efficient wait staffer quietly set a dinner plate in front of me. I met eyes with the young woman who had sat next to the piano that afternoon. We did not exchange a word. She went about her professional business, and I went home to try to sort this all out.
The message goes something like this. I dropped the ball, I fumbled, I should have inquired about her welfare and offer to somehow acknowledge that there was one being on the planet who was available to listen, not fix it, not to advise, but to simply be present.