Posted by: notdeaddinosaur | December 15, 2010

The H Card

The most moving speaker at the AAFP convention I went to in Denver a few months ago was a doctor with Stage 4 cancer who had survived well past all expectations for his disease. While talking about achieving happiness through balance in life, he pulled out of his wallet a card made for him by his daughter, a preschool teacher.

“This is the C card,” he told us. “It says, ‘I have cancer. I can do whatever I want.'”

What a great idea, I thought. As much as it resonated with me, though, I couldn’t help but feel there was more to it than that.

Recently I was comforting a dear friend who had lost her mother. Remembering this handout from the AAFP, I held her close and said, “You’re a mourner now. You can do whatever you want.” I might as well said, “You have the M card.”

There’s this crotchety old guy in his eighties whom I’ve known for years. He does whatever he wants. I don’t think he actually carries a card in his wallet that says, “This is the O card. I am old; I can do whatever I want”, but he might as well. He is indeed old, and so he is entitled.

Please understand that I am not speaking about total abandon; freedom to rape, murder, pillage, stay home in bed all day, refuse to pay taxes, and so forth. Within the broad context of fulfilling one’s obligations to society — caring for one’s family, body, and finances — I think the secret of true happiness is discovering sooner rather than later the freedom to do whatever you want.

Call it the H card. Just being human ought to be enough to do whatever we want. We can wear purple; we can paint our fingernails black (and any other parts of our bodies as well); we can eat cake for dinner; we can ride shopping carts through the parking lot. I don’t think we should wait until we have cancer, or lose a loved one, or blow out some arbitrary number of birthday candles, to do whatever we want…and to be happy.


  1. This from that COG in his 80s. Actually I carry an O/W card – I do not only what I want to do but also what my wife wants to do.

  2. Love the advice. I could carry the M card and the H card. At what age do I get the O card?

  3. I think I’m just going to hold onto my Y [youth] card until I get my O card. It’s not like anyone is going to come after me to confiscate it, right?

  4. A wonderful post – I think I will sign up and get my H card!

  5. I love this post.
    And I’m going to share it on my blog đŸ™‚

  6. I like all of your posts but,esp. this one. I have all of these cards and have finally learned to do what I want when I want at 70 its about time!!!

  7. I don’t understand — unless someone is incarcerated, don’t they ALWAYS do what they want? I’m mean, who’s forcing an adult to do something that they don’t want to do? Truly, I don’t understand.

    I mean, if someone says, “I did XYZ, but I really wanted to do ABC.”

    Me: “Well, why didn’t you do ABC then?”

    Someone: “Well, I thought XYZ was the more responsible thing to do.”

    Me: “Then you really DID want to do XYZ more than you wanted to do ABC, since you apparently wanted to do the responsible thing.”

    As Ricky Ricardo used to say: “Lucy, you have some ‘splaining to do.”

  8. […] The H Card […]

  9. As a physician I’ve noticed that about 90% of hospice/palliative care counselling involves giving patients and families permission to do what they already know in there hearts they want to do.

    Several years ago, I actually wrote the word “permission” on a prescripton, handed it to the wife of a cancer patient and explained I was “giving her permission” to take care of herself as well as her husband.

    As far as having cake for dinner (see end of original post), I’ve discovered that if you put your slice of cake in the microwave, you can have your cake and heat it too!


  10. I read and look forward to your weekly post. This week’s is like a breath of fresh air; you don’t know how bad I needed that. (I work in retail, and it is four days before Christmas. Is it just me or do folks seem to get more irate the closer it gets?) Anyway, I allowed myself to do what I’ve been wanting to do all day–scream. Yep, while driving home I screamed to the top of my lungs. And it felt really, really gratifying:-)

  11. My H card stands for “heart attack survivor” – although I suspect that we survivors tend to be a hardy and stoical bunch. I’m generally reluctant to EVER play the heart card – even, in fact, while I was in mid-heart attack during a cross-country flight!

    My longtime family doc calls this my “PR curse”, after 3+ decades in that profession, in which it really doesn’t matter if you have a migraine or the stomach flu, you just tapdance out there with your happy face pasted firmly on to run the press conference or the media interview as if all is fine, just fine, perfectly fine.

    Most of us cardiac survivors want nothing more than just to feel “normal” again during a period when nothing in our lives feels remotely normal anymore. And because most of us don’t look SICK, it’s easier to hide out than it would be for an OLD person, for example! To pass out our H cards would just serve to draw attention to ourselves by “making a fuss”, which, of course, would be really, really bad, right?

    Most people simply have no idea how I’m actually feeling, nor will they – and I appear to be complicit in that charade most days! That’s why I wrote “You Look Great!” And Other Things You Should Never Say to Heart Patients, on HEART SISTERS:

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