In the last month, I have had three episode of unexplained swelling of my mouth and lips, usually triggered by a fruit. My conclusion was that it must be an allergy so I dutifully set up an appointment with my immunologist.
My immunologist is a bright, rather matter of fact and keep-to-business type of young woman. She is however very compassionate and I witnessed it when she sat all day in the ICU as I got Adriamycin after the allergic reaction to it 3 weeks before. Although she doesn’t hug or call me “sweetie”, she nurtures me with all her professional competence.
When I had met her the first time, she declared “Look, you’re a doctor and weird things happen to doctors so get used to it.” It didn’t feel comforting at that time, but it was the truth. One episode of full body hives and 3 bouts of swollen mouth and lips, I am convinced of her theory of misfortunes of physician patients.
Today however she looked pale. A ghastliness that couldn’t be explained by just having been on call over night or stressors of every day life. She lost her train of thought, walked out, and came back to check if she had missed something. I reminded her of what she forgotten to answer. She then said “I am sorry I have had a death in my family over the weekend.”
As the conversation unfolded, she sat down in the chair fully embracing the seat, not the “I am out of here” descent on the edge of the swivel chair. She started to share, “My sister-in-law died in a car accident. She was only 43.” My heart sank. Someone obviously close to her heart had died and she was here at work, passionately giving to others when she herself feels broken.
Yes, that is what doctors are made of. This passion isn’t fed by the pay check that so many complain about or the recognition or appreciation – it is the internal obligation to help set things right for others, to relieve their suffering , a sense of a greater responsibility, a greater purpose. She talked and I talked.
She was grieving and my whole last year has been a prolonged journey of grief. We had a moment, a moment where I was listening and she was talking.
We talked about the unfairness of life, of the two kids that her sister-in-law has who are 5 and 2 and her brother who is feeling completely lost. I shared how I had thought about what my husband and kids will do without me. We talked about Anne Frank and Victor Frankl, and about surviving.
She saw me, I have gotten through last year, her eyes were scanning me and my existence and at least momentary victory over cancer ….some thing to validate her belief that she, and her brother, and his kids will get through this. She then stood up wished me luck, and moved on to the next patient.
The karmic cycle had made one complete loop.
It seemed that she that she found what she had forgotten.
I came home and hugged my kids and I remembered, I am here, I am blessed. Somewhere, a family is grieving the loss of a mom.