Several years ago, I had the best primary care physician ever, Dr. Kalaiselvi Ayyanar. Dr. Ayyanar was extremely thorough. She never rushed our visits. I could tell her about the littlest symptom and she would always follow-up. She was caring and personable, the kind
of doctor you wished all doctors would emulate (especially that mean HMO gynecologist that made you acutely aware of how doctors contribute to health disparities). Dr. Ayyanar cared and was awesome.
If I had to guess, I would say she was (at most) a few years older than me. I started seeing her after I returned home from living abroad and sought out “good doctor” recommendations. I liked my previous physician but he was located way out in Virginia and I could no longer tolerate the long commute. After I found Dr. Ayyanar, I continued to see her until I left for graduate school two years later.
Around the holidays in 2011, I was home from school and going through a stack of mail. I found a letter from Dr. Ayyanar’s practice stating she had passed away. I was welcomed to start seeing the doctor that replaced her or another physician within the practice. I called the practice and emailed the friend who referred me. Dr. Ayyanar had been sick. How could she have been sick when she was so young? How could I have not known she was sick? I was devastated. To me, Dr. Ayyanar’s death was totally unexpected and it hit me much harder than I imagined.
Apparently the signs where evident, but I never put the pieces together. I attributed her thinness to her body type and thought her straight bob haircut, even though it was always a little off, was just her hair. It didn’t dawn on me that she was wearing a wig and the thinness was because of breast cancer. As hindsight is 20/20, everything became clear. However, at that time, living in a world where my favorite doctor could even be terminally ill was not a possibility. I loved Dr. Ayyanar. She treated me with dignity and respect and I referred everyone who was looking for a good doctor to her.
Although she knew I valued her, I still wish I would have spent time at my visits asking about her wellbeing, asking what I could do to help. Thinking about Dr. Ayyaar always makes me sad. I knew I had to write her the thank you note I never gave her when she was alive, saying "Dr. Ayyanar you are a wonderful physician and I always appreciate your thoroughness and level of care. I wish more doctors were like you, because you make disparities better."
When it comes to gratitude, I know the things we believe other people should be grateful for are rarely things for which they feel grateful! I know it does a disservice to everyone when we use our personal lens to decide what should constitute gratitude in the lives of others; therefore, I have decided to just be better at letting people know when I am grateful. As Dr. Ayyanar kept entering my thoughts this holiday season, sending her some love was the perfect way to begin.