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    Tuesday, April 04, 2006

    All Seasons for Thy Own: Here in Northeast Ohio you can feel the seasons turning from death to life. The breezes are warmer, the days longer. Daffodils are blooming, trees are budding. Birds are building their nests. But death surrounds me.

    There is a definite uptick in mortality from January to March. By April, when spring finally shows its face, the weight of all those deaths begins to tell. Once again, my practice has seen its cluster reach a peak over the past several weeks. Most of them were expected in one way or another. They were old, they had cancer, they had bad lungs, bad hearts. Every day was a gift and we all knew it. Their loss is no less sad for that.

    But yesterday, after signing what I hoped would be the last death certificate for a while, another loss came through the door. It wasn't my patient. I didn't know him, or his family, at least not in any tangible sort of way. I only knew him remotely from stories and pictures that one of my patients has shared at each of his visits. My patient called, distraught, to tell me of his death. It was his grandson. He was seven months old.

    I remember the last photograph he had shown me, just a few weeks ago. A beautiful baby, happy, content. "See that smile," he had said, "When you see that smile, it's as if you are looking into the happy face of God." And so it is, a baby's smile.

    Maybe it was a cumulative effect of so much death in such a short time, maybe it was a post-call lack of sleep, or maybe it was just the thought of that baby's smile, but this stranger's death was the final blow to that inner fortress called professionalism that keeps constant sorrow at bay through the bad times. I wanted to weep.

    Of course, I couldn't. There were patients to see. Patients with bunions, and runny noses, and stressful jobs giving them headaches. Patients who pay me to attend to their sorrows. They should not be disappointed. So, pile those bricks of the inner fortress back up, and soldier on. The banality of life and of routine makes a pretty good mortar, but not a long lasting one. At the end of the day, when the phones are turned off, the last patient and the staff long gone, that fortress crumbles again.

    There's a picture above my desk, put there by my son - a photograph of himself when he was about seven months old. Smiling, happy, innocent (although now with a caption balloon and funny phrase added, courtesy of his older goofy self.) I remembered what it felt like to hold him, to see his smile, to hear his laugh. To feel his joy of being. It was like looking at the happy face of God. And what it must be to lose that, even to lose the older goofy version. And I finally wept.

    Dear readers, keep my patient and his family in your thoughts and prayers. Their burden is a heavy one.

    posted by Sydney on 4/04/2006 08:51:00 AM 4 comments


    Thanks for your heart and compassion. I have a young friend (35 years my junior)terminally ill with a very unusual melanoma. All I can offer her is the company of our lovable dog which she eagerly anticipates. I will drive him to Cleveland to visit you if necessary.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:30 AM  

    I include in my daily prayer list(well, daily on work days - I need it to get my game face on for the office!) a special request for "all those gone too soon." Sucks that "too soon" includes such young ones.

    By Blogger Bob, at 2:53 PM  

    We are all human, and although you are in an unusual position, seeing loss more frequently, even if it is at some distance, it would be odd and disturbing if some deaths were not hard to take.

    I've often thought that the worst place in the world would be in a pediatric oncology ward. As I understand it, the 'burn-out' rate is quite high.

    One does have to admire those that assist in the care of terminally-ill children. They do that work out of true compassion, knowing full well that the costs to them will be high indeed.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:45 PM  


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:16 PM  

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