Physician, heal thyself

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My mother is describing her day at the office to me and my three brothers while we are eating dinner. “This poor woman’s Dura matter, that’s the leathery lining in the skull, was torn during a car accident that crushed her cranium and the spinal fluid was leaking from her ears….What? Now boys, this tuna casserole is delicious. Jake you eat every bite of that! You will not get up from this table until it is gone!” Our forks have all hit the plates in disgust and my younger brother Jake, is gagging as he attempts to get a bite down. I know from experience that he will end up hiding most of his tuna casserole in a glass of milk as he distracts my mother by telling her the cat is throwing up on the living room sofa. “Oh, that damn cat!” My mother yells while running into the living room. And we all laugh.


This was a typical scenario during our dinnertime as teenagers. After our parents divorced, my mother went back to work initially as a psychiatric nurse and eventually an intensive care unit nurse. I’m not sure which one was worse. The constant phone calls from her psychiatric patients were just plain annoying. “Mom! It’s Suzanne! I think she’s on the downers again and I’m pretty sure she’s got a razor blade to her wrist. You might want to hurry.” I would shout, while covering the receiver. Secretly, I wished that Suzanne would finally just go ahead and do it, so that the phone line would be free. But the clinical discussions of blunt head trauma, gun-shot wounds, and various skin diseases during dinner were just plain disgusting. I’m pretty sure that’s how we all stayed so thin.

My mother, God bless her, used up all of her compassion at the hospital and there was precious little left for us when we were sick. “Well Bill, if you’re THAT sick, you need to go to the hospital. Now I want that lawn mowed by the time I get home.” is what she would say if I asked her if she could bring me a Coke while I was lying in bed with a 104 degree fever. I have to admit, some of this rubbed off on me.

Thank goodness for Paul. His compassion and caring is unlimited. Even when I have been “over-served” he will cater to my every whim and need. “What number are we?” He will lovingly say to me while covering me with a blanket as I lay prostrate on the sofa, head propped up with pillows. “A six” I say feebly. “Oh you poor baby, you’re so compromised! It was none of your fault; it was that evil bartender pouring those gin and tonics down your throat. Let’s see if an episode of Housewives is on, while I get you some coffee.”

I have learned a lot from Paul and he has restored my sense of compassion. This week my daughter Katherine had some elective surgery and Paul twisted his ankle crossing the T tracks. I had two incapacitated individuals to care for. My mother called me up and asked how Katherine was doing. “She’s doing great! Her wounds are healing and the doctor has provided some excellent pain medication” I say. “Oh, you are such a good father, but she is not going to be in much pain, you need to wean her off of those pain killers” My mother says. Now, I’m not a professional, but anytime you are cut open and things are pulled out of your body, I think there is going to be pain. “OK, thanks Mom. Love you.” I say and hang up the phone. I walk over to Katherine pull up her Snuggie, fluff her pillows, and while kissing her forehead I say “Time for your pain medication, sweetie.”

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