Lessons of Aunt Catherine

Kevin - Tampa, Florida
Entered on February 22, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50
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I believe in the art and science of medicine. I believe in being a doctor. When I was young, I had a great Aunt Catherine who lived with my family in her later years. The wisdom and comfort she gave my sister and I in those wonderful years make me look back on her as a saint. She was vibrant and alive, until one day she got very sick. My parents took me to see “Aunt Ca” in a nursing care facility sometime later, and I was confused by her prolonged illness. My mother told us it was cancer, which was something my young mind couldn’t quite grasp. Much of that time is a blur to me now, contrasting with the many happy days before the cancer that I can recall with clarity. What did make an impression on me in those last few months of her life, besides the resolute strength and faith of this strong woman, was the care provided by the doctors and nurses attending her. Their kind words and the patience with which they held my mother’s hand were real; the hugs for my uncle while speaking in hushed, soothing tones were genuine.

Now I am a doctor, and at times have to sit in a room with a patient I have gotten to know well over the years, and tell them they have cancer, or meet a son or daughter of a patient in the emergency room for the first time, and after a brief introduction, explain the nature and severity of their mother’s stroke or heart attack in the intensive care unit. These moments are always intense and full of emotion, and for a time, clocks stop and all the noise and chatter of charts, schedules, liability and tort reform, insurance companies, and reimbursement struggles comes screeching to a halt. Time holds its breath as I do my best to provide comfort, information, and closure to a distressed patient or family member. There are times I walk away mentally and physically drained after such conversations, but then I remember Aunt Ca, and I know it is important and worthwhile. As in any profession, there are many good, easy days where things go along smoothly, but it is at these times of crisis that I realize what an honor and privilege it is to be a physician.

Sometimes, on a Sunday night, I will be eating dinner with my wife and three kids, when my pager goes off. I wince a little at first, but then notice my kids looking at me expectantly. It is usually my five year-old who will inquire,

“Why do you have to go to the hospital, daddy?”

My answer is simple. “Because somebody’s sick, sweetie. I’m a doctor, it’s what I do.”