Thursday, February 2, 2012


I knew Leslie my whole life. A friend of my parents, she remembered the day I was born. So I felt a slight sense of trepidation when she asked me to be her doctor. But how could I refuse?

I have always been cognizant of the pitfalls of taking care of family and friends. I constantly worry that personal feelings will blur the lens of objectivity. On the other hand, I could see where my loved ones would enjoy knowing that their doctor has extra "skin in the game".

Little did I know that a few years later Leslie would be gone,

and I would find out in the worst way.


I couldn't help but sigh as I sat down to the large stack of papers that had collected on the desk in my absence. I stared up at the clock. One hour before my first patient would arrive.

I hugged my shoulders tightly and shuttered. After a week of tropical sun, I wasn't yet ready for the torrent of cold that came with returning to Chicago. My seven day vacation felt like an eternity. Now I was a foreigner in a foreign land.

I grabbed a pen and started to sign. Papers flew right and left as I scanned each document and affixed my eligible scrawl. Ten, twenty, thirty signatures into the pile I stopped abruptly and held up the death certificate.

As I read Leslie's name my heart dropped. Nausea bubbled up from my abdomen. Guilt and remorse wracked my chest.

My partner must have forgotten to tell me that she died when I was gone.

I should have been there!


As the years pass, I no longer differentiate between taking care of loved ones and complete strangers. My fears of losing objectivity have been replaced with reality.

The closeness and personal bonds I form with long term patients are often more durable then ones with mere acquaintances. We suffer, we socialize, and we mourn together. I no longer draw such strict lines.

I believe the covenant between patient and physician is sacred. When I accept a person under my care, I pledge that I will stand by them through good times and bad. It is my duty.

But the problem is, when you oversee thousands of patients, it's like you always have a loved one in crisis.

No matter how hard I try to prepare for each vacation, I generally return to some type of tragedy or another. And I wish I could have been there to fulfill my covenant as promised. But what is one to do? I am only human!

I really look forward to the 1-2 weeks each year I leave the practice and go on vacation.

I kind of dread them to.


tracy said...

If only all physicians could be as caring as you are, Dr. Grumet.

Thamk you just isn't enought.

Karen said...

I was eating while reading this and I had to stop to give way for the tears. I wish all doctors are like you.