I have on my desk a photo of the daughters (7, 12) of the 29 year old woman who I ordered the fatal dose of morphine for when the pain of her colon cancer rode up on her like the wild horses in Eastern Oregon and never left. The kids are smiling, their arms draped over my the shoulders of my white coat, it is years after and they came by to say thank you. I am smiling in the photo also. Time and the process of re-knitting their lives is slowly putting them back together.

I have on my desk the photograph of the woman who is now an EMT. When I met her she had been shot in the chest by her husband. I was a chief resident and my professor was Dr. Davis, a crusty, cynical trauma surgeon who I loved for his compassion. We took her entire right lung out. Doing this in a young person is usually fatal because all the blood that returns to the heart has to go to the lungs for oxygen and then back out to the body. If one lung disappears, the other lung has to immediately compensate. It usually fails. But Dr. Davis had some tricks up his sleeve. We ran her fluids light, kept her “dry” used diuretics and she survived. Fifteen years later I got a beautiful portrait and the letter that said she was alive, that her ex was in prison, that she had returned to school to become and EMT like the ones who had saved her, her daughter all good, and me, all those years later, tearing down my cheeks, loving the miracle of it all. She is a woman without doubt, without hesitation, with all her single lung power, with her voice.

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8 Responses to V.

  1. Sue Kay says:

    My story about you is a caring man whose caring sometimes comes at a cost. My story about me is that caring always carries a cost – but the cost is worth it. Caring, to me, is worth it. Put a picture of you looking at your son on your desk – now that expression of love on your face is what I see…

  2. Stephanie says:

    Medicine can be a two headed dragon…in one minute you are saving a life and in the next you are watching a patient take their last breath with no regard to how hard you tried to save them. You have always been an empathetic surgeon and you have connected with your patients in many ways…lifelong ways. I agree 100% with Sue that a photo of you and your son should be placed on your desk because now you are so full of compassion to go alongside that empathy. You are a great surgeon and you are a wonderful person…always my friend, forever my mentor!

  3. Barbara says:

    It all feels like a mystery in one sense of who survives, and if they do survive how they will use that survival……….. inspiring to read the stories about your patients and how they affect you, and how it affects all of us who read about them.

  4. Stephen L. parkhurst says:

    This post has touched my heart. Stephen, thanks for sharing this.

  5. Merissa says:

    No doubt, there are angels among us! God Bless You, Steven

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