by Academy of Clinical Excellence on January 25, 2010

Somehow, I always find my non-medical reading connecting to my daily life as a physician. I recently finished the latest book by one of my favorite authors, John Irving, entitled, “Last Night in Twisted River.” In the book, one of the characters is a writer who must endure after the death of his son and father- “We don’t always have a choice how we get to know one another. Sometimes people fall into our lives cleanly- as if out of the sky, or as if there was a direct flight from heaven to earth- the same sudden way we lose people, who once seemed they would always be part of our lives.”

On the morning of the day I read the chapter with this quote, I had spent thirty minutes with an older gentleman, Mr. B, whose wife (she was also a patient of mine) had died a few weeks previous. On the day of her death, he had come upstairs to bring her coffee when he realized she had died in her sleep during the night. Now weeks later, that image of her in bed was haunting him. He was having trouble sleeping, had lost weight from not eating and was frighteningly lonely. He used almost the identical words from the book, expressing the thought of how he thought she would always be part of his life.

Mr. B had never been one to express any emotion in the years I had known him. I had seen him and his wife together on several occasions and they had definitely not been warm with each other. Yet here today in front of me, he bared his soul in expressing words of love for his wife that I realized he had probably not expressed to her in many years. He was tearful and extremely appreciative of me just sitting and listening. I was glad to be his doctor, glad to have known his wife and glad they had been part of my life. This is the part of medicine you don’t generally read about and don’t get tested on when working on board recertification, but is the prime reason I am still thankful I chose a career as a general internist.
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