Glowing and beaming.
Applying these terms to people has become somewhat dated, but to students of human nature, and especially doctors who meet people under all sorts of unusual circumstances, they still apply.
A former colleague of mine, who worked in general practice in Kansas in his early medical years, went on to an OB/GYN residency and practiced obstetrics until his retirement. He swore that he could tell when a woman was pregnant just by looking at her. This would be before any signs or symptoms, and usually before the woman knew it herself. Despite my incessant inquiries, he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) tell me how he did it. I think it had something to do with subtle edema around the eyes, and a blush to the cheeks, but the closest he could come was to say that they had “a glow” about them.
“Beaming” in an age of laser beams, tractor beams, and “Beam me up, Scotty!” has definitely fallen into misuse in relation to a person’s demeanor. I can recall at least three instances when I observed this.
I was stationed in Newfoundland on a small U.S. naval base and was, among other things, in charge of all the obstetrics cases at the hospital. One of my colleagues, also a next-door neighbor and an internist, was over six feet tall and married to a very diminutive wife. She became pregnant, and when she went into labor, it was obvious the child was quite large and it was going to be a long night. Despite the constant threat of a Cesarean section, she persevered and delivered a bouncing eight-pound baby boy. There were lots of hugs and happiness tears, and I left the little family and went home.
Later that evening, I went out to empty the trash in the dumpster when an apparition appeared around the corner of the building, walking a small Scottish terrier. Dressed in LL Bean boots, totally unlaced, and with pants half stuffed into the boot, covered by a torn and stained overcoat with a scarf tied in a big knot around the collar of the coat outside the neck and topped with a black watch cap covering the whole head except the face. I knew it was the proud father, both from the size and the outfit, but the dead giveaway was the face. He was beaming! With eyes crinkled and a closed mouth smile from ear to ear, his face lit up the entire street. Obviously, he felt it was a good day!
Another instance was a beaming teenager. Sarah was a child I delivered who was diagnosed with microcephaly. Most of her developmental milestones were delayed, but with the help of special schools, she finally got there. Her parents adored her and cared for her in every respect, but except when she was with Thomas, her enormous black cat, she never seemed happy or joyous. She attended St. Coletta’s school, founded by Cardinal Cushing for his “exceptional” children. (No other term was to be used for these students, no matter what the diagnosis. ) I have a picture of Sarah at her senior prom in my office bookcase. Her date, a classmate, is in a tuxedo, and she is in a gown with upswept hair, and she is positively beaming! Looking at the picture brings tears to my eyes.
Celebrities are not immune to beaming. Dr. Joseph Murray was a staunch supporter of the Guild of St. Luke, and of me when I was president. Joe was a plastic surgeon post-WWII and worked hard with skin grafts and trying to prevent their rejection. In 1954 he and Dr. Francis Moore performed the world’s first successful kidney transplant and were awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine. When we would have a guild lecture for medical students, I would prevail upon Joe to show the video of him being given the award by King Gustav V of Sweden. It was always a big hit.
I had a patient, Gail, whose three children I had delivered, who, at age 41, suddenly went into kidney failure. No one could figure out why and she had to go on dialysis. Because of her age and excellent health, she was a candidate for a transplant. Surprisingly, her husband was a donor match and gave her one of his kidneys. She has been fine ever since. In 2011 we were having the centennial celebration of the Guild of St. Luke, and I knew Joe would be there. When I mentioned it to Gail, she became very excited and made me promise to give him a message. It was a simple message, but she had me repeat it twice and even called me on the afternoon before the event.
I made sure my wife and I sat next to Joe and Bobbi for the dinner. Bobbi was curtailing some of his activities because of age, but she knew she couldn’t keep him from the Centennial. During dessert, I told him about my patient, now a grandmother of four with all her girls married, and told him how excited she was that I would be seeing him. The message was simple; “Thank you for saving my life!” He sat back in his chair, got a little tear in one eye, then beamed. It was wonderful to see and well deserved by a great man.
We should be on the alert for these moments of glowing and sharing, as they represent physical evidence of joy in life. We all need more joy, and if we can facilitate it for another person, it is a great deed, a mitzvah!
Gerald P. Corcoran is a family physician.
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