I had met him before, many years
ago when I first arrived as an undergraduate.
This town is funny in that way; you feel connected to everyone if you
stick around long enough and he had been here for quite some time. The physician coming off night shift told me
he would be a great patient to spend some time with, so I completed the rest of
my morning rounds and saved his visit for last.
He had just arrived back to his
room from a stress echocardiogram.
Despite the recent dobutamine infusion he still seemed groggy and out of
sorts, but ever the gregarious host he greeted me with a firm handshake and a
warm smile. His wife, equally as warm
and inviting as if I had just stepped into their living room, did the majority
of the talking but was clearly putting on a good face. Though he had been slowing down over the past
few years there weren’t any huge health issues that they knew of. He just woke up in the parking lot next to
his car, and was assumed to be down for at least an hour. Syncopal episode; it could be anything, could
be everything, or nothing to really worry about at all. Thus far all of the tests and scans and
physical exams had been inconclusive.
They hoped this was a good thing.
We talked sports because that’s
what you do. More precisely that’s what
he did. That weekend would mark the
first time he missed a game in over 25 years.
I heard about their lives and how they met, but mainly we talked about
the season. The boys had been playing
well and the program was looking strong.
They invited me to come to the next tailgate if I had a chance and
promised to take care of me and anyone else I brought along. We carried along in that manner like old
friends for quite some time. The
conversation eventually worked back to the matter at hand, the reason we were
all joined in that small hospital room together, and the tone changed. I summarized what had happened thus far and
what they could expect moving forward.
Though they knew I couldn’t provide any answers they hung on my every
word. I did my best to reassure them and
promised to take care of them while they were in the hospital. I thanked them for their time and said I’d
check back to check in on them once their next round of tests were completed.
After lunch I reviewed the
results. The MRI had been read and
showed several abnormal growths throughout the cerebrum and brain stem
compressing the ventricles with no mass effect that was indicative but could
not rule out primary versus metastatic neoplasms, or some other radiologic
jargon indicating badness. Even though I
wasn’t going to be the provider breaking the news to them I dreaded my return
trip to that small hospital room.
When I reentered the room I
found them in much the same place with the same warmth I had experienced
before. This time we got straight to
business and discussed the results. They
seemed to have a firm grasp on the situation and would be following up with specialists
in Florida. Again, they hung on my every
word. I wanted to provide comfort and
reassurance, and maybe I did, but all I could really do was reconfirm the
unknown. We didn’t talk outcomes or
percentages but it was understood that what lay ahead would not be easy. The game that weekend wouldn’t be easy
either, but we liked our odds. The team
was well prepared and things had gone well thus far, so why wouldn’t the
success continue? We carried on in this
way like old friends for quite some time.
When I left I thanked them for their time and promised to take good care
of them. Over the next couple days I
spent more time in their room and talked about any and everything, including
medicine and life. I heard later that he
passed at home with his wife by his side.
Year in school: PA-2
Hometown: Asheville, NC
Undergrad attended: Appalachian State
Favorite quote: "I did it because I am free." – Bree Newsome