The edges of Cameron’s lips rise undeniably toward the clear blue sky. His legs move methodically. One motionless on the scooter and the other periodically kicking to propel himself forward. He weaves in and out dodging my shadow as I jog beside him.
I struggle to keep pace. My breathing unsteady and labored. My joints aching. And my brain foggy from lack of sleep and replaying the events of the day.
The hospital was uncharacteristically quiet. Even for 5am. My eyes fluttered with fatigue as I willed my mind to focus after two nights of countless interruptions. I felt no joy in this early morning excursion.
The room was lit by a small lamp. A woman in her forties sat with a young child curled on her lap. A boy, Cameron’s age. My eyes adjusted to the absence of light.
The middle aged man lying on the bed looked far older then reality. He took deep irregular breaths. Each pause a question. His wife held his hand gingerly. I inhaled the seen cautiously. I couldn’t help but think of my dad. Were his last moments like this?
The woman dabbed her eyes with a tissue. She tried to move slowly to avoid waking up the child perched on her waist. I placed my hand on her shoulder. It won’t be long now. She replied softly. I know.
I sat for a few moments and waited. The breaths became less and less frequent. Then suddenly they stopped. The woman shuddered. Mutely shaking she sobbed. Visceral, uncontrollable movements made more powerful by there silence.
From the distance I could here a kitschy lullaby on the PA system. Somewhere in the obstetrics ward a baby had just been born. I remembered a poem by John Donne:
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
Cameron has fallen behind. He stops to tie his shoes. My thoughts sprint forward without the distraction of companionship.
Father and son. Doctor and grieving family member. Above the fray and yet bruised and broken below the surface.
I am all of these.
Cameron clanks ahead and the sun catches the tail of his scooter and blinds me momentarily. I stop and bend forward my arms resting on my knees. My calfs exploding. My heart flubbing. And my brain longing for the sweet reconciliation and abandon of sleep.
He pauses a few feet ahead and cranes his neck backward. Dad, you can’t stop now!
His words are like daggers filleting open my torso and exposing a deep, primal need to be told what to do.
My legs respond despite the minds abrasive litany of curses.
Despite all that has happened today.
I will continue running.
Jordan Grumet is an internal medicine physician who blogs at In My Humble Opinion.
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