The Little Chair

Last week I ran into Dr. Timothy A. Thomsen, MD, a Palliative Care Physician and colleague who had given me my camp stool. He was carrying his own little chair. He’s planning to retire in the next couple of years.

We talked about the little chairs, which he gave me and another colleague, Dr. Clark, going on two years ago.

I’ve tried to call the little chair other names but “the little chair” fits the best.

The name reminds me of Will Strunk’s “little book,” which was his “parvum opus” on English grammar and usage, The Elements of Style. I think the parallel is the idea of keeping things simple.

The little book was about a few fundamental principles of writing in the service of clarity. The little chair is about a few fundamental principles of humanism in medicine, also in the service of clarity.

Most of the time, physicians tend to stand over patients lying in hospital beds, looking down at them. One way to achieve clarity is to sit with each other, eye to eye. This tends to convey mutual respect and a willingness to hear what the other is saying.

We spoke of retirement in general terms since that’s what we’re both doing. He mentioned his notifying others that they would need to start searching for another leader to replace him.

They can find another physician leader, but they can’t replace Tim.

“…the impact of the stool upon families and patients is profound and it seems to convey a caring and humanism which is absent when we stand or sit some distance away.  ‘I care about you and want to get close to you so you know that I do.’  It speaks to your willingness to be vulnerable.”–Dr. Timothy A. Thomsen, MD.

He said he’s heard people calling the little chair the “Amos chair” or the “Clark chair.” If I can, I would like to correct that and remind everyone that it should be called the “Thomsen Chair.”

One challenge is that there seems to be a shortage of little chairs. A trainee asked me where he could get one. I had to tell him I didn’t know. The company Tim bought ours from isn’t selling them anymore. I told him it’s possible to make one, which led to a self-deprecating joke about my lack of skill with tools.

I’m uncertain what I’ll do with my Thomsen Chair when I’m fully retired. I still have some time to think about it.