Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Impatient Mistress

Leave him alone, he's talking about dying again!

My son gently pulls at one of my daughter's arms as she thrusts the other towards my face. Her delicate fingers are wrapped around a small tattered paperback book. She wants me to read to her. I squint and struggle to concentrate on the words coming from the mobile phone glued to my forehead. I make menacing looks hoping they will scare easily and run off. They stand their ground emboldened by experience. My children are all to familiar with these histrionic antics.

My son is right. I am talking about dying again. Five thirty in the evening is as good a time as any. My family is accustomed to me discussing such things: at dinner, on weekends, at their cousins birthday party.

Death is an impatient mistress.

And my patients are old and frail. They wallow in the tempest of disease and antiquity. Their bodies fail at the most inopportune moments, and I refuse to learn the venerable deception of unavailability. Which means that death infuses even my most private occasions.

Yet the fault lines of our lives can also shift in sudden and cataclysmic ways. Once the growth plate fuses, the child's bones will expand no further. Missed opportunities become memories of inconsequence.

Father, husband, physician...physician, husband, father.

Moments lost.


Anonymous said...

You tell us about things we should all be aware of. Important issues of life, death, compassion and responsibilities and how they overlap. Life is like that when a person is passionate. Some of the lessons are learned, not from what we think is important when we are growing up, but what we know through our parents. Untold stories we see through example. That is where lessons of compassion, ethics and values are learned. You teach lessons to your children by the kind of person you are.

Cynthia Archer, MD, "recovered" primary care internal medicine doctor said...

I understand as I too have had to be the physician first and Human being last for all too long. Your choice is your own. Our jobs will not become Humane on their own, boundaries will not create themselves and, as you aptly stated, moments lost. To be a physician first always is to cheat yourself, your family and ultimately your patients. When you face your family falling apart and have to choose between your wife and children, or patients. Will you really choose those you serve above those who have only you as their father? Those who don't have a choice. Those who wonder why your job that they don't really understand means more to you than they do. It's not that you see it that way, you don't. It's that they do. Choose wisely.