30 May 2012

In memoriam

I recently learned the sorry news that my childhood pediatrician has died. Not only was he my pediatrician, but he was also my father's pediatrician. Our family became rather close to him over the years.

He came from a different generation of doctors, one that made house calls, that served in wars abroad, and that learned how to diagnose patients in the days before MRIs and CT scans. Even though I was little while I was his patient, I clearly remember how much he relied upon the physical examination and upon instruments like the reflex hammer and the tuning fork that few doctors carry today.

Most striking was his unwavering dedication to his patients. Although today's aspiring physicians (myself included) seek "work/life balance," his work pretty much was his life. Even on weekends and nights, he was working tirelessly for his patients, visiting his charges at home and in the hospital. To him, medicine was not a job, but truly a calling. Although old age forced him to give up his practice, it did not seem like he ever retired. I saw him frequently at the medical school's weekly pediatrics grand rounds, always sitting in the front row.

He was one of my main inspirations for wanting to become a physician. I grew up feeling indebted to him for having looked after me with such care, and it saddens me considerably for him to be gone. I hope to live up to his example, although I doubt I will come close to emulating his commitment to this profession. As my father remarked, "they don't make doctors like him anymore."

Although this past year of medical school, my first, has better acquainted me with illness and death, it hasn't taken any of the sting out of the loss of a loved one. Entering medicine has eased, though, the inevitable soul-searching that accompanies such sad news. In mourning, I ask myself, what is my purpose here on earth? How will I leave my mark? How can I best honor the memory of the deceased? It was my pediatrician who had first offered me some of the answers. Medicine can be a noble line of work, and by taking it seriously I hope to repay my debt to him and my obligation to humanity.

May he rest in peace.