March 4, 2010

the longest mile

I love road trips. They've taken me on great vacations, great hikes, and all around good adventures. Yesterday, though, a short 500 miles on the road left my heart torn in ways I would not wish upon anyone. I went up to Dallas to be with my brother and his wife when they met with the oncologist - definitely malignant cancer. I can't even really begin to figure out how I even feel. All I can I do is think of him sitting there in the chair getting the news. It's forever etched in my memory. The doctor delivered the news in the most compassionate way possible given the circumstances but that doesn't lessen the enormous blow. It's like your breath is not merely knocked out of you. It's like it's stolen. You sit there thinking this can't be real as your world spins and collapses in on you. But it is real. And I had truly wondered which part of me would show up to the appointment. Do I become paralyzed in anguish? Do I try to console my brother? I think... no that's not right because it's not a conscious thought. It's an intuition, really. He needs me hear the medical parts right now. And so the part of me that seems to want to become a doctor stood up and the emotion sits down waiting its turn knowing there will be plenty of time on the car ride home. I did realize one thing. I figure that in a very meaningful and tangible way, I became a doctor in every metaphysical sense of the term yesterday. I could not have conjured a worse set of circumstances. I had to call our parents and tell them their son has cancer. It's hard for me to imagine a harder job a doctor could be called upon to do. And so with a grim sense of determination, I will journey many more of those 500 mile trips as we begin the fight...


Steve Parker, M.D. said...

Yes, it's very difficult as a medical student or intern when you have to tell a patient he has a potentially fatal cancer.

My first tough case in med school was a young man with testicular cancer. He didn't survive.

Even tougher for me was a case early in private practice. 55-year-old comes to ER with chest pain. Acute MI but stable. Cardiac arrest within an hour of admission. He didn't make it. And you have to inform his wife and 14-year-old daughter.


Isaac said...

And I would hazard a guess that it doesn't get any easier with time.