Tuesday, September 29, 2015


He squeezed into the elevator just as the door was closing.  There was a lightness about him, an excitement.  His jacket was newly pressed and uncomfortably free of nicks or stains.   He stood at attention with perfect posture.  There was no sign that working at this early hour on a Sunday morning, nor even being awake, was something out of the ordinary.  Extraordinary.

He glanced over at my tattered lab jacket without trying to seem obvious.  I'd like to think that it was the gray color (as opposed to his white) that gave me away as an attending physician.  More likely it was the telltale signs of aging that I have been doing my best not to notice.  I slumped against the back wall and waited for the doors to open.  My eyes flickered and closed for a moment, but opened quickly.

I was drawn to him.  The energy emanated from his body, and pinned me into the deepest corners of the elevator.  I couldn't decide whether to envy or pity him.  A young intern, he was at the mere beginning of his medical journey.   He couldn't yet fathom the degree of wonderment and heartbreak he would experience over the next few years.  The joy and the guilt.  The triumph and the disappointment.

There is a whole world ahead of him.  A world I have become strangely accustomed to.  Racing into the hospital on a Sunday morning is no longer novel or extraordinary.  It is part of my weekly routine.  I get up early and round at the hospital and nursing homes in order to be back home before the kids awake.  There is no excitement.

No wonder.

Instead there is a gentle quietness.  A certainly that comes from years of sparring with health and disease.  An acceptance of both the hardships and joy involved in spending one's time contending with the human condition.

As the door opened, I awoke from my reverie, and sprung towards the hallway and the ICU.  I patted him firmly on the shoulder as I passed by.

I caught one last glimpse of him as I turned the corner.

He was still standing in the elevator doorway,

his face a strange mix of confusion and pride.  

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


It was a short trip from the hospital to the nursing home.  I luxuriated in the mid-morning sun.  Wisps of fresh air snuck through the cracks of my barely opened windows.  Although I had just gotten credentials at this particular facility, the path I drove was all to familiar.  I turned my head as I passed the elementary school that I had attended as a child.

As I stared at the playground, a long buried memory percolated to the forefront of my consciousness. I must have been around 8 years old, a little after my father died.  I am playing by myself on the jungle gym, and glance longingly at the street in front of me. I am overtaken by a great sense of loneliness.   I want to run down the street.  I want to go home. 

"Home", at that time, was the building I lived in. 

Many years later, my mom remarried and we moved from Evanston (the city I was born in) to the neighboring town of Winnetka.  A mere 13 years old, feeling myself the center of the universe, I resisted the move wholeheartedly.  For years I mourned the departure from my beloved city.  Only a few miles apart, the emotional distance seemed immense. 

I pined for my old neighborhood.  I dreamed of riding my bike down the old streets to my favorite places.  I was so in love, that years later, I returned to build a family.   

"Home", at that time, was the town I was born in. 

As I got older, I found solace not in places or things, but in people.  My interest turned to the amorphous task of building relationships.  Acquaintances, friends, lovers.  People and personalities became a currency by which to measure happiness.  I bathed in the luscious glow of humanity.  I gave and I took.  

"Home" became the people I surrounded myself with.

Recently, I have begun to believe that "home" is something much more personal, more internal.  Maybe it is a construct based on those people, places, and things that make us feel most connected, most safe.  

And driving by my childhood elementary school this sunny afternoon, on my way to the nursing facility, which will be followed by a jog with my wife, and then a walk to pick up the kids...

I feel as if, for possibly just this fleeting moment,

I have finally come home. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015


He had been educated at the finest universities.  He had graduated cum laude, or whatever the term is they use nowadays to signify distinction.  His pedigree was squeaky-clean.

But as he haltingly entered the dark building at the end of an otherwise unexceptional suburban street, he felt more like a criminal than a scholar.  His office was drab.  Each room a glow with the artificial light provided by an incandescent bulb.  He often wondered whether the lack of windows was to keep the light from piercing the imperturbable darkness or to trap the terror in.

He knew his place.  He was the last stop on a frightful train line that ended in horror.  There was no solace.  His clients never dreamed of needing his services, and yet they came.  Without fail, they averted their eyes to hide the excruciating pain and loss.  He met them in life's basement.  In a lonesome quagmire, he helped them wade through the morass.

In his younger years. his work clung to his back even outside the office.  He awoke from nightmares of the vilest kind.  Remnants of the day stuck to his clothing.  He tried to scrub and scrub but they refused to fade away.  A sort of blackness pervaded his waking hours.

It was in this acrid garden that a certain soullessness grew and flourished.  He found that he could approach his clients with a coldness that became rather comforting.  Empathy wouldn't pull them through the manure laden pit that they found themselves trapped in.  His voice, certain and clinical, could.

As the years passed, his body bent and his haired thinned.  Years of tumult left scars that were far passed the point of healing.  From time to time he found himself wandering through the office on the weekends, or in the evening when no one in particular was scheduled to visit.

He sometimes felt lost amongst his family and friends.  He occasionally had bouts of agoraphobia at home with all the light and windows.

He left the office cautiously everyday and found the outside world to be a place that was no longer black nor white but filled with incomprehensible shades of gray.

And that terrified him.

Most of all.