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."