Marking a melancholy anniversary

Theresa Miller is one of the hardest working women I know. She doesn’t come into the office very often. She no longer needs my prescription for her heartburn medication, as it costs less for her to buy it over the counter these days.

Today I saw her for a preoperative clearance. She finally decided to get an operation for her chronically sore shoulder. She had injured it many years ago>. In spite of the heavy physical work she does, she has managed to live and work with her pain and limited range of motion — until now. She never took a pain pill in all the years I’ve known her.

“I figured as things slow down for the winter, it’s time to deal with it. I have ten more years before I’ll want to be done working, so it’s an investment,” she said as I opened up her record in our EMR.

I asked all the usual questions about chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath on exertion and so on. Her answers were quick, to the point and full of her typical down-to-earth determination.

As I listened to her lungs, I remembered the first time I met her and her husband. They had moved to our area from Connecticut earlier the same year. He had become ill with cancer, and I had agreed to do a house call one Saturday after my morning clinic. He died at home a few months later, and I saw Theresa only occasionally after that.

“You know,” she said after I removed my stethoscope from her chest. “Sixteen years ago last weekend was the day you came to see Ron. It was Thanksgiving weekend.”

I hadn’t remembered that it was just this time of year.

“We talked about it this Thanksgiving, among the family, how unique that is, to have a doctor do house calls like that.”

“Around here it isn’t,” I said. “Maybe Maine is a kinder, gentler place than Connecticut.”

“That’s what my sisters just said,” she answered.

Sixteen years ago, I thought to myself, I was a father of teenagers, the millennium was almost new, Y2K never really happened, the World Trade Center still towered over New York City. And life seemed almost innocent that Thanksgiving — except for the newly diagnosed cancer in the man who had so recently brought his wife to Maine for a better, gentler life, away from the hustle and bustle of the big city.

Life in medicine is never without sorrow. Today had a twinge of it, too.

“A Country Doctor” is a family physician who blogs at A Country Doctor Writes:.

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