Saturday, September 15, 2012

I Forgive You

Staring into the tiny mirror perched above the bathroom sink, he started his morning in the same fashion he had done every day for the past thirty years.  He winced from the splash of aftershave on his face, he straightened his bow tie one last time, and he studied his own steely gray eyes in the reflection in front of him.  His lips barely moved as he softly pronounced the words to no one in particular.

I forgive you!

The drive to the hospital took less than five minutes.  The walk from the doctor's parking lot to the physician's lounge was half that.  He picked up his lab coat from the hanger next to the mail boxes and rushed up the stairs to see his first young patient. 

Matt was just a teenager if calculated in years.  But in view of his multiple rounds of chemotherapy and failed bone marrow transplant, he had traversed several long and difficult lives.  And even in death, he evaded the immaturity and self centeredness of many of those his age.  He had one last request of the doctor who had navigated his medical care so expertly, to help explain his last decision to his parents. 

The family meeting lasted a full hour.  He left Matt curled with his mother and father on the hospital bed, and raced to the office.  The methodical pace of the clinic helped take his mind off the tragedy.  In each child's eyes he saw the pain that Matt suffered.  The pain he was still suffering.  And in each parental tone of concern he remembered the anguish of the two individuals whose hearts were breaking at the very moment.

By the end of the day, Matt's situation worsened.  Countless family members huddled at the bedside.  On the desk lay a school yearbook with signatures and well wishes written in bubbly and careless lettering.  He sat at a distance fingering his bow tie and clearing his throat from time to time.  Years of experience had taught him that it wasn't words that families sought at such difficult times,  it was the mere act of being present that brought comfort.

He ambled home at eight o'clock.  His wife had left dinner for him on the stove.  He sat quietly and picked at the food as he leafed through a throw away journal his beloved placed on the table.  He wasn't particularly hungry.

The call alerting him of Matt's death came in the early morning hours.  He fumbled while putting the phone back on the receiver in an attempt to spare his snoring wife from the inconvenience of her husband's chosen profession.  He woke up a few hours later without the benefit of an alarm clock.

He bounded out of bed.  He brushed his teeth, shaved, and took a shower in usual fashion.  He winced from the aftershave, and straightened his bow tie.

I forgive you!

A younger man may have been repenting for his own imperfections as a physician.  An angrier man may have been letting his patients off the hook for the intense frailty of the human condition.  But a wise man, he had long outgrown this type of immature frivolity

No.  He was absolving the universe of such random and abject cruelty.  He was purging all malice toward a higher being who could allow Matt and his parents to suffer so.

For him to continue, year after year, in a profession that inflicted deep wounds,

he had to lay his burden down.

It was a large heart with lots of hearts growing smaller inside, and piercing from the outside rim to the smallest heart was an arrow. Momma said, “Sister, that’s right pretty.” Then she turned back to the Store and resumed, “Glory, glory, hallelujah, when I lay my burden down.” *

*When I Lay My Burden Down , from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou


Rann said...

Thank you for allowing me a view into the heart and thoughts of a physician. In trying to be understood as a patient, I forgot that you are human, too. Thank you for your sacrifices.
Cancer survivor x2 and patient since age 25.

Unknown said...

This is the heart that I hope to have when I start practicing.

Gwen said...

You write with such emotion and understanding of yourself. I appreciate your writing. Even if there are no comments under your posts, understand that someone is reading them.