© 2020 Pulse - Voices from the Heart of Medicine, Inc. All rights reserved.
Mary barely introduces herself before describing her struggles. Married for thirteen years, the mother of two little boys, she complains about her husband’s alcoholism. Her in-laws’ get-togethers revolve around heavy drinking, dancing, and singing, often extending into the next morning. Last weekend, after her husband got fired, she took her boys and slept at her mother’s place.
Six years ago, I retired early because of serious health problems. I’d worked for decades as a doctor.
Early on, it was difficult for me to ask for and accept help. I was always the one who stepped in, not the one who needed assistance. Well-meaning friends would say, “Let me know if I can do anything.” I was floundering.
My parents spent their lives as givers, not receivers. Buying them a gift that they would graciously accept and use always proved challenging; they, however, never stopped gifting my older brother and me, their grandchildren, and even my paternal grandmother. Whenever I had a problem, my parents always responded with an encouraging “How can we help?” response.
When your heart stopped, I was surrounded by people who did not know you. People who would not recognize your tired eyes, your weakened smile, the sheepish facial expressions that always accompanied your soft-spoken words. I had already started a new rotation at another hospital and was no longer a part of your care team, though I checked in periodically to see how you were doing.
When I received the news, there was no space to process you. I was standing in a crowd of white coats, and I was utterly alone. These were not the white coats who had spent morning after morning
Yet three months pass there across a table.
“The recipe, please!” I ask, eyes widen.
Behind the kitchen stove, a soft response
In foreign tones, “Lo siento, querida.”
“But do not pity me,” says the smile.
It was one of those mornings when the light penetrated a window with a fierceness that could drown even a hospital room in a 10-foot blanket of warmth. In room 5307, this brightness shed light on frailty. He felt warm, alone. Bony ends obviated their presence beneath crisp white linen.
I sat beside him, agonal respirations as last words. I shuffled between bedside and nursing station telemetry monitor, focused on the upper right screen. 70. 54. 45. 30. Lifeless waveforms. A pause and end in pulsation. His hand in mine with no flinch, no change, and yet so much had
I did not know to ask for a bereavement day to mourn a baby I hadn’t told anyone existed. Since they did not know, how could I ask for comfort, acknowledgement of loss, special handling in the weeks following the miscarriage? Everyone at work felt mean and cruel and quick.
My husband hadn’t been particularly happy about the baby; we were just digging out from the first two, so I was pretending to be put out. How do you grieve what you said you didn’t want when every ounce of you was thrilled, and no one knew of your rock-skipping, wing-flapping