What happened 33 years ago changed this physician forever

It has been a struggle to get out of my own way. I’m sure many of you have the same feeling. My health and well-being have suffered mightily from the stress of taking care of others in my work as a physician. I have not taken care of myself. Period. My career does not make me unique in this situation, as the patients I treat every day suffer from similar emotions of frustration and despair. Many of them are trapped in far more serious situations, with truly life-threatening diseases, and they see no visible way out. They are losing, or have lost, hope.

I went for a walk today to clear my mind and ponder my path forward. I glanced at my watch and realized to my dismay that today it had been 33 years — almost to the minute — since my life was changed forever. The moment the school secretary took 12-year-old me from Mr. Rhodes’ classroom, down seemingly endless hallways to the principal’s office. Sitting there was my father and our dear family friend, Nancy. The only words I remember from that day are, “Your mother has gone to be with God.” After that — void.

When I was younger, I would dread May 7 starting weeks in advance. It represented the wrecking ball that tore down the walls of my childhood. It represented the sudden, inescapable knowledge that mortality is real and my innocence was lost. It tormented me and tortured my mind.

And then the healing measure of time passed over me. Little by little, the gaping wound of loss began to heal, and scar covered the hole in my heart. Twenty years down the road, I would sometimes remember my loss a day late. And then the wound would rupture open and bleed from the guilt of having forgotten. However, I’m certain Mom would have been thrilled I was finally almost whole, and that May 7 was no longer a day filled with emptiness. Sometimes, May 7 could be just another day. She would want me to remember how much she loved me, and that she never wanted to go. But she would want me to move past despair and focus on hope.

And so, 33 years later, I will despair no more. I chose to be a physician because of what happened that warm spring day. My fate was cemented in that moment, and I know she is proud. And so, 33 years later, I dedicate my future work to her and the patients who see no way forward. The patients who measure their life in days and breaths. The patients who are about to give life to another in birth. The patients who grip my hand to calm their fears, and the patients who hug me in joy. The patients who just need to talk, and the patients who would certainly die without my help.

33 years to fully realize what my life’s work is about and to know how I must shape my future.

Brian Yount is a hospitalist who blogs at Meandering Musing.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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