Saturday, December 17, 2016

In Memoriam

The text was innocent enough.  Eddie died.  Unlike most human beings, there was no dagger of pain or even pang of grief.  Those types of feelings had long been subdued.  Instead there was just a subtle disturbance, a prick.  I found the normal platitudes bouncing through my skull and down the spinal cord, out through the arms into my hands.

He was old.
He lived a good life.
It was his time.
He didn't suffer.

Words I have said aloud so many times that now I forget to halfheartedly mumble them at all. And of course, the last is a lie.  We all suffer.  Maybe not during death, but in life.  Patients and doctors alike.  Pain is neither a blessing nor a menace, it's more like a life long companion.  A fellow traveler.

A traveler that I, overtime, have begun to ignore, to minimize along the way.  I take care of old people.  My patients die.  All the time.   Over and over again.  I have learned to take the phone call, comfort the family, and say goodbye during interrupted dinners and in-between performances at my children's school.

It's a fallacy to think that these are just professional relationships.  Medicine can only be transactional in it's most basic form.  To really care for people, you have to give of yourself.  You need to be present.  Occasionally offering your own struggles, and always your hand, your shoulder, and even your heart.

Healing is destructive, and painful.  It's taking on another's struggles to lessen their burden.  It's removing your own armor and accepting the glancing blow that rips your own skin.

I'm tired of ignoring the wounds.

Eddie was old when I met him ten years ago. He was crass and chewed tobacco.  He was rough and tough and often swore in Yiddish that I rarely understood.  His hands were thick.  They clapped me on the back every time we saw each other.

And he was so proud of me.  Last week I went to see him, he smiled broadly and proclaimed to the nursing aid that was adjusting him in bed.

That's my doktor.  Hey, where ya been?

I'm here Eddie.  I'm still here.

Now get some rest.

1 comment:

Janice said...

Like a laser beam, many of these sentences bore into me, my heart. "Pain is neither a blessing nor a menace, it's more like a life long companion. A fellow traveler." This traveler seems to visit often around the winter solstice. You shined a light so I might notice when they arrive. Thank you for sharing another exquisite piece.