Saturday, January 21, 2012

Notification

No it's alright, I'll notify the family.

I hung up and took a moment to clear my head before making the phone call. It was the middle of the night and my eyes felt as if they were sown shut. I hobbled into the bathroom and stared at my cell.

I was about to make a call that would forever change someones life. Right now, they were tucked away in their beds sleeping quietly. In a few moments there would be chaos. I felt uncomfortable conveying such information over the phone, but I had no choice. I couldn't just wait till morning.

I listened to the ringing and thought about the nature of being a physician. It always made me sad to know that I become aware of such profoundly intimate news before the family. A few moments later a sleepy voice picked up.

Hello?

I try not to mince words when giving notification. It's not something I practice, but I make sure to use the word "death" or "died" in order to be absolutely clear.

I apologize for waking you up. But early this morning your dad's heart stopped. The nurses and physicians performed CPR but were unsuccessful. Your father died. I'm so sorry.

I never know what the reaction will be on the other side of the line. Often there is grief, sometimes anger, occasionally relief. On this particular night there was silence. The static of my phone connection was interrupted by rapid staccato breaths. She was hyperventilating.

Unable to hang up and certain that my words would be unhelpful, I held the receiver to my ear and waited. In those fleeting moments my mind began to drift back to childhood.

I thought of my father.

*

I knew that my dad was sick, but at the age of seven it hadn't quite sunk in. The week before, I was pulled out of school and brought to the hospital. I sat with my mother in the ICU waiting room, and played with crayons and blocks. I had no idea that he was already dead. A brain aneurysm had ruptured and the damage was done. His physiologic functioning was now dependent on machines that could fill his lungs and help his heart beat. But nothing could replace the brain tissue that was lost.

The next Monday I went to school as normal. But upon returning, the living room was full of relatives. In the center stood my mom. She was crying. She took me in her arms and whispered in my ear.

He's gone.


I sat on the couch next to my brother. As I looked around the room the faces were sullen and glum. I wasn't quite sure the significance of everything that was happening.

It was only later that I realized how permanently my life had changed.

*

My seven year old son is more emotionally mature then I was at his age. Occasionally while sitting in his bed, before he falls asleep, he'll ask me about my father. He questions me about death and what It feels like. I tell him I don't know.

He wonders what will happen to him if I die.

I start to say that he will be okay and that his mother will take care of him, but stop mid sentence. I look into his melancholy brown eyes.

If ever someone comes to tell you that I have died, I want you to remember how my face looks right now. I want you to think about how happy I am and how much I love you. No matter what happens,

both you and I will be just fine.

2 comments:

Maggie said...

"If ever someone comes to tell you that I have died, I want you to remember how my face looks right now. I want you to think about how happy I am and how much I love you. No matter what happens,

both you and I will be just fine."

That is so perfect. That is SO much the truth that children need to hear from their still-alive parents. That is SO the right thing for each of us to hear from our beloveds.

Having been on the receiving end of that phone call, and been the deliverer of that news, and lost parents and a sibling ...

I must tell you that you've got it just right, at least for me.

Thank you, thank you!

Teufelhunden said...

Beautiful. Thank you.