Thomas Richard Delancey was born in Portland Oregon on a July morning in 1945, the only child of two physicians. Although his parents had always hoped he would attend medical school, Tom would travel a different road. Shortly after graduating with his Bachelor’s Degree in 1966, he was drafted into the Army as a Second Lieutenant, and three days before his 22nd birthday, boarded an Army transport for the 10,000 mile flight that would formally introduce him to jungles of Vietnam.
Eleven days later, on a rainy Saturday afternoon, Tom’s parents received word that he had been killed during a mortar attack on his base compound. His father, Richard, badly shaken by the death of his only child, took a leave of absence from his medical practice and for the next eight years rarely left his home, anesthetized within a cocoon of despair and alcohol. He divorced his wife in 1970.
In 1976 Richard was hospitalized with prostate cancer. The night before his surgery was scheduled he had a visit from the surgeon. David Cohen, a former colleague and one of his closest friends. “As you know, Richard,” David said, “the pathology report was good. Your biopsy revealed a small, encapsulated tumor with no evidence of metastasis. And normal circumstances both the surgery and recovery would be uneventful.”
Then David leaned over and looked into Richard’s eyes. “But these are not normal circumstances,” he said. “Personally, I don’t think you’ll make it off the table.”
Richard was stunned. “Why on earth would you say such a thing?” he shouted angrily. If this is your idea of humor, I think it is ill timed and in very poor taste. “What exactly do you call this macabre bedside manner?” he snarled.
David slowly stood up and said, “I call it the truth, Richard. You have squandered the last decade on self pity and anger, and in the process, turned your back on everything that gave your life meaning: your wife, your practice, and your Creator, to name only three,” In short, ” he continued. “you didn’t lose your will to live – you simply gave it away.” Then he carefully reviewed the entries in Tom’s medical chart and prepared to leave. “The good news,” he said, as he walked towards the door, “is that you have 14 hours to reclaim it.”
That night, Richard confronted his demons, but after a decade of self hatred and despair, he was unable to find the forgiveness and self compassion he needed to release them – as hard as he tried, he could not surrender the pain of his past. At 3:00 AM, a tired and beaten man, he closed his eyes and began to weep. It was during these lonely hours that he suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up to find David standing over his bed.
“What time is it?” asked Richard. “4:14 AM,” David replied, “and yes, I realize how late it is, but I wanted to share something with you.” David then placed a small chalkboard, two pieces of colored chalk and an eraser on Richard’s bedside table.
“My father gave me this chalkboard when I was eight years old,” David said quietly. “Each night, after saying my bedtime prayers, my father would bring the chalkboard into my room. He would then ask me to write the most important things that happened to me that day on the slate.” “He told me it didn’t matter if the events were ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and then sat patiently while I wrote them down. Then he would hand me an eraser, and I would erase everything I had just written.”
“Now son, when you wake up in the morning,’ he would say, ‘you start the day with a clean slate. No past or future concerns, just the miracle of the next 24 hours.”
“But what should I do with it?” asked Richard. David said nothing. He just gave Richard a hug, quietly closed the door to his room, and headed to the nurse’s station to review his charts.
Later that morning, after successfully removing his tumor, David helped the post-op team bring Richard back to his room.. While the team was transferring the patient back into his bed, David noticed his chalkboard sitting on the night stand. But the two six inch pieces of chalk that he had left earlier that morning were now only small nubs, and the eraser was caked with chalk.
The chalkboard had proved to be the turning point in Richard’s life. Eight months later he fell in love and married one of the nurses who had cared for him in the hospital. He also returned to medicine. No, not to his gastroenterology practice, the specialty he had trained for. Instead he decided he would pursue psychiatry.
Today, Richard is a board-certified psychiatrist – a prominent therapist with one of the longest patient waiting lists in San Francisco. He and his wife are also the proud parents of a new daughter.
If you ask Richard why he is one of the most sought-after psychiatrists in the Bay Area, and what is so unique about his psychotherapeutic technique, you will discover that he is actually quite modest about his success.
There’s nothing very mysterious about what I do, ” he will tell you, “I simply start each session by handing my patient a chalkboard.”
copyright (c) 2001