A beloved mentor falls

I walk by the closed double doors and frosty windows of the ICU. You’re lying in there, intubated. It feels weird to go to work now. I can’t see you or talk to you, don’t know the drips, don’t know the plan … and it’s killing me. I, along with many others, desperately want to express my love. So many feelings are swirling inside:

Guilt. For having a chill workday that day, leaving early to sneak in a pedicure before the evening’s family duties. All the while, you collapsed in the OR. Our colleagues rushed to your side. Emergent intubation. Hours in surgery. A trivial moment for me that was horror for you. It hurts my head and heart to contemplate that this is the case for any two people on Earth at any given moment.

Bitterness. For the memories that have surfaced of my own health crisis. My own rush to the OR and surgery and stay in the ICU. The immediate change to everything in my life, the upset of all routines. The label of a disability, the worries about the future. A dark time that I try to forget but never can. For having the knowledge that you will experience this same bitterness later on. If you’re “lucky.”

Gratitude. For my health now. For the part you played in it. You were the one I went to when I knew something was wrong with me all those years ago. My tears didn’t phase you for a second, and you helped arrange my much-needed absence from training. Others thought I was just performing poorly; they judged and moved on, but you knew what mattered. When I was finally diagnosed, you facilitated my prompt surgery with our most skilled surgeon. The same one who is now taking care of you.

Admiration. For your completely nonjudgmental approach to everything and everyone. I have experienced it myself but never realized it was your M.O. with all people. We all exchange stories quietly in the lounge, then fall silent with sadness and worry. For your goofy sense of humor. For our days in the OR and call nights together during my training; you were the one I felt most comfortable failing or struggling in front of; only now do I realize why.

Anger. For why this had to happen. What higher being would take down such a beloved leader, such a good doctor? At you for not knowing something was wrong inside sooner, so as to maybe prevent this catastrophe. At your family for keeping us from seeing you now. They don’t understand how much we love you, how much doctors bond together in a practice, working in parallel to preserve life and limb. Damn you for not sitting up in your bed right now, pulling that tube out and cracking a joke with a mischievous smile.

I have to write all this here to get it out of my head. Work is not the same without you there. I miss you.

Dawn L. Baker is an anesthesiologist who blogs at PracticeBalance and Mothers in Medicine, where this post was originally published. 

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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