the inadequate $20 bill and a recipe: oatmeal double-chip cookies

The man sat with his hands folded in his lap, legs dangling off the edge of the salmon-colored exam table. As we talked, he occasionally rubbed his fingers, swollen from arthritis. He had been my patient for some time, and I asked him about his cancer, his reason for seeing me, and about the rest of his life, something I’m always interested in when I see my patients. I learned that he had recently lost his job. With the income loss, he was in the process of losing his home. In fact, he would be homeless within the week.

He told me this in a straightforward, direct manner, but I could sense the swell of panic rising in his voice as he told me more of the details. He had been through this before, but this time was worse. Plus, he needed two prescriptions, and he couldn’t fill them because he had no money.

“You don’t have any at all?” I asked.

“None,” he said, gravely.

I turned away from him and stared at my computer screen, where I had his medical chart pulled up. I scanned through various screens of his chart as if I were hunting for a critical piece of medical information that would aid in my diagnosis or treatment of this problem. In truth, I was flustered and I felt helpless. I hid those feelings from him by focusing on his chart, on his list of diagnoses and prior surgeries and documented family history. Not surprisingly, I didn’t find any of the answers I was looking for.

Finally, I wrote the two prescriptions he needed, and then I said, “I’m sorry you’re going through this.”

I fished a $20 bill from my wallet, handing it to him. “For your medications,” I said.

That $20 felt so inadequate, so trivial. When someone doesn’t even have a roof to shelter them from the elements, or money for food, does filling a prescription really matter?  Does keeping a doctor’s appointment really matter? I left work that day with a heavy heart, believing that I should have done more.

I still wonder if I could have done more.

I baked these cookies this past weekend, the first baking I’ve done since returning from our cruise. Baking is therapy for me, maybe more so than cooking is. The precision of the measurements, the exactness of technique – it’s a comforting process. And, of course, taking a bite of a warm oatmeal cookie, fresh from the oven, provides the solace like that of wrapping a warm blanket around yourself on a damp, chilly day.

I wish I’d had some of these oatmeal cookies, warm from the oven, to give to my patient along with that $20 bill.  He deserves them right now, more than anyone I know.

Yield: approx 45 cookies

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Oatmeal Cookies with White Chocolate and Peanut Butter Chips

Is there anything more comforting than a warm oatmeal cookie, especially when loaded with peanut butter chips and white chocolate chips? I don't think so.

Note: This dough can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator for up to one week. Or, freeze balls of dough in the freezer for up to one month.


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1-1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
8 ounces white chocolate chips
6 ounces peanut butter chips


Place oven rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. Add oats and stir until well blended. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, on medium-high speed, beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in vanilla, then add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour and oat mixture. Add white chocolate chips and peanut butter chips, beating until just combined.

(Note: You may store dough in refrigerator, covered, at this point.)

Form rounded tablespoons of dough into balls (measuring 1-1/2 inches across) and place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper about 2 inches apart.

Bake cookies in batches in middle of oven for 20 minutes, or until pale golden. Cool cookies on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to baking rack to cool completely.

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23 Responses to “the inadequate $20 bill and a recipe: oatmeal double-chip cookies”

  1. 1
    Sarah — April 12, 2012 @ 8:40 pm

    Ouch, that must have been hard. I am a social worker and often come home after listening to so many sad stories to cook. It’s kind of conflicting but also comforting. You’re doing more than most by just being there to listen, so keep it up sister.

  2. 2
    Miss @ Miss in the Kitchen — April 12, 2012 @ 8:48 pm

    What a sad situation. Your patients are fortunate to have such a caring physician.

    The cookies do look so comforting and delicious.

  3. 3
    Georgie — April 12, 2012 @ 8:48 pm

    I think you’re a superhero! I know so well, what it’s like to be on both sides, the needing and the giving. I bet he’s grateful and perhaps you gave him some hope and for certain put as smile on his heart for that moment.

  4. 4
    Macaroni Mama — April 12, 2012 @ 8:54 pm

    I believe you need to have homemade cookies readily available for indigent patients of yours. I have a microwave you can put in your office. This was a very touching blog. How heart-wrenching that must be for you to know your patients cannot afford their meds. XXXOOO

  5. 5
    Gail — April 12, 2012 @ 9:13 pm

    I don’t know how you do what you do, but I am so glad it’s you who does it.

  6. 6
    SMITH BITES — April 12, 2012 @ 10:37 pm

    You’re a good person MJ – and doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing when you should be doing it. And I know I don’t need to remind you that your patient is where he’s supposed to be – in your care . . . The world needs more MJs

  7. 7
    Brian @ A Thought For Food — April 12, 2012 @ 11:41 pm

    I’m not a religious man, but you are an angel darling. I mean that. I’m sure that meant the world to him. It wasn’t trivial at all. He needed those mess and you provided that to him.

  8. 8
    Lori @ RecipeGirl — April 13, 2012 @ 12:03 am

    oh man. What a tough job, and what an absolutely lovely human being you are. I’m sure that $20 meant the world to him… I mean, how many people would do that? Feel good about what you did 🙂

  9. 9
    Jayne — April 13, 2012 @ 3:48 am

    Gosh MJ, yours is a hard job. I think the way you handled the situation was lovely. Poor man, to be suffering with cancer and losing his home, I feel so distraught for him. Your cookies sound delicious, if anyone is in need of a cookie it must be you.

  10. 10
    Kathryn — April 13, 2012 @ 4:18 am

    I’m not sure that I would have the strength to do what you do, you are a pretty amazing person.

  11. 11
    Paula — April 13, 2012 @ 8:27 am

    You are a wonderful, caring person and a credit to your chosen profession. That gesture represented so much more than money for medication to your patient.

  12. 12
    Jenny — April 13, 2012 @ 9:52 am

    You are a wonder. I worked for an oncologist for eight years. I took their calls on the weekend to help my doctor, I went to their houses to hold their hands, I baked for their families – I did everything I could because I knew my doctor was so busy and had a family. He would have never done what you do – he was a good man – but he wouldn’t struggle with finding a way to help him or even given him $20 – he would have maybe mentioned to me – to see if a social worker could help him. The $20 doesn’t mean anything to this man – the fact that you thought and felt enough for his circumstances to give him the $20 – means the world to him. You renew my faith in humanity. xo

  13. 13
    Mary — April 13, 2012 @ 12:41 pm

    While $20.00 seems inadequate to you, the compassion you showed your patient gave him a small peaceful pause in a stressful situation. Good on you!

  14. 14
    Aggie — April 13, 2012 @ 2:20 pm

    What Gail said.

    My heart always hurts for anyone struggling like this.

    MJ, your storytelling is beautiful, even though the situation isn’t.

    And those are my kind of cookies. Comfort on a plate.

  15. 15
    jenna — April 13, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

    We are called to love one another and what you are feeling in your heart is that conviction. Sometimes its the smallest acts of kindness that mean the most…

  16. 16
    Di — April 13, 2012 @ 3:43 pm

    I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been, to be so close to human suffering on so many levels. You are a blessing Merry Jennifer.

  17. 17
    Kiran @ — April 14, 2012 @ 1:15 am

    You are a blessing to many, that’s for sure. xo

  18. 18
    Shaina — April 15, 2012 @ 1:38 am

    Heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing his story.

  19. 19

    You did what you could and I am sure it meant more to him than you will ever know! xoxo

  20. 20
    Noble Pig - Cathy — April 16, 2012 @ 5:41 pm

    The smallest acts of kindness are sometimes the most memorable..that was wonderful.

  21. 21
    Jamie — April 17, 2012 @ 8:17 am

    My sister is a doctor in geriatric medicine in Tampa and I hear similar stories and it does break our hearts. How helpless we feel and so wish there was a way we could do more. Maybe a plate of homebaked cookies, as trivial as it seems, on the corner of your desk could at least bring a temporary smile to someone’s face. And that is wonderful.

  22. 22
    art and lemons — April 19, 2012 @ 2:08 pm

    Lovely storytelling rich with compassion and truth and even the seemingly smallest of gestures matter!

  23. 23
    Jenny @ BAKE — April 20, 2012 @ 6:13 am

    I’m sure you did more than most would have done

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