Friday, December 31, 2004

New Year's Eve with Friends

The halls are quiet today. I can hear my footsteps tapping on the tile as I make my way around the wards. All but two of my patients have managed to rally enough to escape, thus avoiding one of the most stale and depressing celebrations ever offered in a hospital - New Year's Eve.

Nurses and doctors look upon this holiday as an unlucky turn of the wheel which assigns them to duty on the one night when song and laughter waltz together under the cold winter sky, and families gather around bright fires, keeping an eager eye on the ticking clock. Those who must work tonight will huddle briefly around a radio for the countdown, then return to the harsh lights of the emergency room, or wander down a darkened corridor to answer a patient's call. Perhaps they pause and reflect on what they are missing - thinking of their children, up late tonight spilling popcorn on the sofa, or of parties of long ago when a midnight kiss between friends left a hint of romance on the lips. New Year's Eve is a time for new friends to meet and old friends to remember, and most people trapped in a hospital shift are denied both pleasures.

For the oncologist, however, the last day of the year is full of friends. They greet me in the waiting room of my office or as they step up onto the examining table. They wait for me in the halls of the hospital, or call my name as I enter the cafeteria. We all like to talk about ourselves and on this night my friends press closer, anxious to share their story. Each one relates a unique history, and their first words are always the same:

"This was the last year I was alive."

These friends, you see, were my patients - now gone.

When an oncologist reaches out to one living with cancer he does not know whether his hand will be grasped vigorously or dropped. If the clasp occurs it usually forms a lasting bond, for as a friendship develops the voices of his patients find a place to rest within him and speak out, even after life has ended. Cancer leaves behind indelible impressions on all it touches. It makes patients immortal in the mind of the doctor, whether he acknowledges it or not.

I therefore can see my friends all around me on this wondrous night. As the new year dawns let me recall their struggle with respect and admiration; let me entreat for solace for their families; let me pray for courage to face the challenges that lie ahead.

Let an oncologist honor his friends, present and past, with a simple motto: "You are worth it."

31 Comments:

At 6:30 PM, Blogger Texas Libertarian said...

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?
And here's a hand, my trusty friend
And gie's a hand o' thine
We'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne

May God bless and make whole and prosperous you new year.

 
At 8:26 PM, Blogger letti said...

i was a doctor in malaysia for 2 years - 1 year internship and a year in a rural hospital setting - before i came here a year ago. I am now trying to sit for the USMLE to try to get licensed here. It is scary when you are a young doctor and expected to know a lot, and you secretly harbour inadequacies and insecurities but after reading your blog, i started feeling really good again. thank you and i shall return to read more.

 
At 11:55 PM, Blogger jsdaughter said...

May God bless you and yours. Thank you for doing what you do...........

 
At 12:12 AM, Blogger Dot Bar said...

Happy New Year.

 
At 12:55 AM, Blogger Dr. Craig Hildreth said...

To All Above:

Happy New Year to you, too. Here's to you, for all your hard work.

 
At 8:09 PM, Blogger Alicia said...

Happy New year! As a cancer survivor, (10 years) a DAY doesn't pass that I don't think of my oncologist. His difficult decisions saved my life, even at the cost of more pain and suffering at the time. He took all of my anger and confusion and accepted it as if my pain and suffering was his fault. As a teenager I just knew he was responsible, but now I know differently and this makes me admire him so much more. Even though he and his family moved shortly after my treatment ended, I still think of him and thank God for his knowledge, concern for me and my family, his tenderness, and his love. I am sure that many of your patients feel the same about you.

 
At 11:58 PM, Blogger Bigandmean said...

Carry on Doc. God bless.

 
At 8:15 PM, Blogger Jay Solo said...

You write brilliantly.

You also just made me burst into tears. This post conveys the weightiest of compassion, and of appreciation for lives, both here and gone, that have touched yours.

 
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