The Bank Letter
By Dr. Shafiq Qaadri, MD
Banks seem to be writing lots of polite letters these days, taking out full-page newspaper ads, expressing their neighborly care and concern for our needs. But the family of one of my cancer patients received an appalling letter from one bank. It took a hard line reply on my part to wrench this noble financial institution out of its smug complacency.
One of my patients, a 47-year-old man, had just returned from overseas after two years. For several months, he had been complaining of abdominal pain, weight loss, general malaise and fever. A lower GI series revealed a 13 cm infiltrating tumor, which was diagnosed as disseminated colon cancer.
I myself was shaken, as this man and his very pleasant family had been patients of mine for ten years. The wife was devastated, but found herself having to be strong for their three teenage daughters. She asked to be started on antidepressant medication immediately, and we began the bereavement process together.
The unfortunate fellow was deteriorating rapidly and was expected to live a few months at the most. The wife found it too difficult to cope, and I agreed to certify some time off for her. But the bank she worked for thought otherwise.
The tone of their letter was offensive. Basically it said, hey, bad things happen to good people, we're sorry you're upset, but not on our time; we have grief counsellors in house, available to you after you’ve put in a good day. Three lines were especially galling, and I quote: “Stress is an inevitable fact of life. It is our bodies’ normal reaction to a new and/or unpleasant situation…Our bank policy is such that your husband’s illness is insufficient for the leave requested.”
That provoked me, and this was my reply:
To the esteemed officer of said financial institution, this lady’s husband of twenty years is dying of metastatic colon cancer, unfortunately of an aggressive and already widespread nature. This lady, her three teenage daughters, and her physician are all dealing with this terminal illness.
Your bank policy is neither a consideration, nor a determining factor, in these very grave and special circumstances--in my opinion. She is unable to work at this time, until stated otherwise.
The letter worked. The wife was able to spend the remaining two months of her husband’s life at his side. He died in her arms, and she was able to bury him with dignity, gaining some measure of personal peace.
Dr. Shafiq Qaadri is a Toronto family physician and Continuing Medical Education lecturer. www.doctorQ.ca
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