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Letting Go

What If ...

... You were thirty years old, and your mother was also my patient? What if she said you wouldn’t speak to her? What if she said you told her your grandfather sexually abused you? What if she said, “My father was a lot of things, but he was not a sexual predator”? What if she called you “a liar”? What if she didn’t believe you because your sister denied it happened to her? What if you knew that she knew? What if I couldn’t convince her to validate you? What if you cut off all family ties and turned to drugs? What if you killed yourself?


The jolt of pain shot up my back. Oh shit! I immediately stopped rowing. But then I recommenced my “high intensity” work out, with some modifications, not saying a peep to the instructor. Within a day, I had searing pain down my right thigh, like someone was tearing apart my quad with hot tongs. Every time I tried to stand, I turned ashen white and collapsed down. Me, the marathon runner; me, the active ob/gyn; me, the one who doesn’t know how to say no. Me, brought to my knees by overwhelming pain.

Immediately, I’m texting my partner. Prescribe me some steroids please. I’m thinking it has to be a herniated disc. My daughter drives me to the pharmacy, and I can’t make the walk to the back of CVS. I stop part way then, when I’m close, collapse into a chair. My daughter looks scared. “Just ask them for my prescription,” I tell her, trying to sound calm. I don’t know how I’m going to get back to the car.

Death and Forgiveness

"We need to leave. Joan's father just died."

My husband, Richard, our newborn baby, Andy, and I were in Binghamton, New York, where Richard was interviewing for a postdoctoral fellowship.

I had been in our host's guest room nursing Andy when someone called Richard to the phone. As I overheard Richard's words, my consciousness split in half. One part registered the information with dismay. The other continued cooing to Andy, enchanted that he had just awarded me his first smile.  

Mrs. B.

At our last office visit, I told Mrs. B., my 88 year-old patient of 18 years, that she was doing very well. Her blood pressure was controlled, her vaccines were up to date, and her mild COPD was well adjusted. She was still an active volunteer for the local VFW, tirelessly preparing food and hellping with events. I encouraged her to keep up the good work and said that I looked forward to seeing her in a few months. She died the following week.


My dog was lean and strong from swimming, running and walking long distanes. Her fur--thick, soft and golden--glistened in the sun. She slept half on and half off her bed near mine. At 6:30 each morning, her wet nose nuzzled me awake. Keeva loved snow and cold weather. She pounced on disappearing snowballs. She chased after balls on the icy beach or plunged after them into the frigid sea. The ocean, a lake or swimming pool all beckoned to her.
Keeva died at age eleven from a hemangioma-sarcoma. My husband had died five years before, and now my dog. Keeva's cancer appeared on her left hind paw. She had surgery twice, followed by antibiotics, a bandage and a bootie. For a while the tumors seemed quiet, but tthey returned with increasing frequency. When no medical inervention seemed to work, I let Keeva care for her paw herself. She licked it continuouslty. To my amazement, and to that of her veterinarians, the lesion in her paw dried and scabbed. But eventually the tumor returned.

Blessed Theresa of Monroe

My sister Theresa came into the world smiling. My parents told the story of how when she was born, instead of crying like most babies do, she just smiled. She was a gift from God and devoted her life to God when she became a Catholic nun. She joined the order of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, based in Monroe, Michigan.

Consumed by Anger

For almost forty-five years, I have been angry. While this anger never leaves me, it becomes more profound on December 11, my son’s birthday. It was on that day in 1973 that the seeds of anger were planted.