Monday, February 13, 2012

The Bearer Of News

I could feel the sharp edge of fury slice through my chest as Joe's eyes darted to and fro. His grief had transformed into the bitter cud of despair. His jaw muscles grinded as he chewed desperately.

As the bearer of news, I had become the target. Joe's words were innocent enough, but his tone purveyed a sense of accusation.

How could this happen so fast?

Joe rocked back and forth with his head in his hands. He looked around the office as if he had never sat on the exam table clothed in a skimpy gown; as if he had never been my patient.

His mother in law was in the hospital medical ward with a belly full of fluid carrying clumps of tumor cells enmeshed in vital organs.

She was dying.


There were very few people as saintly as Joe. When he married his sickly wife, he also took on the care of her sickly parents. Over the years of watching them in my office, it became obvious that he had a special relationship with his mother in law.

Since Joe's own mother died when he was a teenager, his new family fulfilled his deep emotional needs. He doted over his mother in law, and stood by her during the tumultuous spiral of chronic medical problems. Years of rheumatoid arthritis had left her joints crippled and her lungs could barley expand against the iron cast of scarring and fibrosis.

So when her belly began to swell, Joe brought her to the emergency room. A Cat Scan revealed and abdomen full of fluid and tumor deposits. She was too frail for surgery, to weak for chemotherapy.

Joe didn't need to be told what to do next. He vowed to give his mother in law the dignity he was to young to give his own mother. He would let her die in peace. He would protect her from the long arm of medical intervention and cushion the mighty fall of the living.

Although his anger toward me had cooled, he would never look me in the eye again. I helped arrange hospice care, and moved her to a nursing home down the street. A week later, I stood above her as I told Joe the time was near.

He thanked me for all I had done.

At that moment, I didn't realize that I would never see him again.


Joe and his wife disappeared from my outpatient practice. It took a few months to realize something was wrong. I left a message on his cell phone but he never responded. I was hoping to at get a fax number to forward his medical records.

I guess I can't blame Joe for his reaction. Sometimes, even when everything is done right, the sadness and anger are still insurmountable. Joe associated me with the loss of his loved one. A loss that resonated deeply for someone who had lived without a mother for so long.

I hope to run into Joe one day on the street and tell him how sorry I am for his pain. I find it difficult to think about him still harboring such feelings toward me.

It's hard enough to lose a patient you care for,

to lose a whole family is devastating.

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