Monday, December 5, 2011

Spoils of War

When asked about his breathing, George would puff out his chest and release his booming tenor. On good days it would seem to last for minutes; on bad, it would peter out in seconds.

If I noted the soars on his feet, he would reminisce about his infantry days. His eyes would sparkle as he described how the heal of his brand new army boots would develop holes after hours of marching through rough terrain.

And if I questioned him about his blood sugars, he sat quietly with a blank look on his face and held his arms up at his side. George was nearly blind. He couldn't read a glucometer or decipher the tiny markings on an insulin syringe.


George was alone. He had no living family or friends nor money to hire a caretaker. He spent his days in a small apartment that he rented after the death of his wife. His physical existence was limited by illness and geographic disability but his world was anything but small. His mind was alive with music and poetry. His heart was overflowing with memories of his beloved wife.

Every two weeks he ventured out of his apartment an hobbled over to my office. Each visit was filled with questions which he often answered obliquely with stories. I learned that his wife once worked in an exclusive club for Hugh Hefner. That to pass the time, in his younger days, he would take a twenty mile walk from city to suburbs and then back again.

As he left my office, I was keenly aware that the doctoring skills that I learned in medical school had no place here. I had metamorphasized from an advisor to a student. I had become a companion, George's last connection to the outside world.


When I told him that I was moving my practice, The smile vanished from George's face. He knew that he wouldn't be able to travel the thirty minutes to my new location.

With artificial enthusiasm, I promised that I would find a local doctor to take care of him. He looked more feeble than usual as he described how his next door neighbor had recently died of a heart attack. She was a year younger then George.

As I watched him amble out of the front door that day, I felt a deep pang in the pit of my stomach. I knew I was choosing my own well being over his.

It was at that moment that I decided I would take care of George at home. I could stop by his apartment a few times a month on my way to work.


When I called the next morning to break the good news, no one answered. A few hours later, I received a note from the local coroner.

George died the night before. The paramedics found him lying on his kitchen floor. The coroner believed that it was a natural death. When he examined the body, he found and old frayed photo clasped tightly in George's hand. It was a picture of a woman dressed in a playboy bunny uniform.

If there's a heaven, I'm sure that George has found it.

It probably looks like an upscale club with a large picture of Hugh Hefner in the corner.

And George is being served

by the prettiest woman in the room.

1 comment:

prancingpaws said...

I continue to be touched by your humility. Your decision to care for George at home was very kind.
Sad that you did not get to tell him of your decision, but how nice that he is with his wife.