Louisville Medicine Volume 66, Issue 2 - Page 17

SPEAR ESSAY CONTEST Too many times I have felt guilty for giving more of myself to my patients and my work than to my loved ones, but I usually did it out of necessity. My December 2017 tour on inpatient wards was quite gloomy since my census seemed to be full of patients who had awful, incurable diseases that they didn’t seem to deserve. I spent a lot of time, both at the bedside and behind the scenes, attending to the complex medical, emotional and social needs of these patients. After I finished bedside patient care and teaching rounds each day, I spent even more time completing documentation, billing and ad- ministrative tasks that were required of my job at the time. I never was truly able to leave work at work, because even after I got home, I carried a lot of those patients’ cases with me in my mind and heart. During that same two-week tour of inpatient wards, I learned that my grandpa’s health had taken such a steep decline that he was being enrolled in hospice. My immediate emotion was deep sadness in knowing that I would likely lose my grandpa in the next few weeks, and then piercing guilt. I felt tremendous guilt for not consistently being there for him due to the time constraints and physical/emotional fatigue that went hand-in-hand with my career choice. I felt guilty that I was truly present for my patients and their loved ones in the happiest and conversely the most horrible/direst times of their lives, yet I wasn’t consistently there for my grandpa and the ups and downs of his last years. That realization stung tremendously. In the weeks before grandpa’s death, I visited him as much as I could, no matter how exhausted I was or how busy I was with work obligations. Admittedly, I wished I had been better about doing this all along during medical school and residency, but something always seemed to come up that would preclude me from going to see my grandparents on a regular basis. One night in particular, I found grandpa to be quite delirious and exhausted. At the end of the visit however, his mind cleared, he motioned for me to come nearer to him, and he embraced me. He whispered in my ear about how deeply he loved me and told me how proud he was of me. His parting words were that he wanted to see me more often. Having seen so many people make their terminal declines, I got the sense that this would be the last time I would be able to connect with him in a lucid moment, and it turned out that this was an accurate assumption. In the week or so after that, grandpa’s health continued to decline and he transitioned to actively dying. Grandpa was always so proud of me for becoming a doctor (much to my chagrin, he usually introduced me as “his granddaughter, the doctor”) but in some ways, I felt I had failed him because I had so much unspent love to give to him, and yet I couldn’t give him that love when my time with him ran out. tions of boys while he worked in maintenance at Bishop David High School. Grandpa spent his love for his fellow human beings liberally, and there was never any doubt about how dearly he loved his family, especially our grandma Grace. He was a self-taught folk-art painter, and one of my favorite memories with him involved painting lessons in his makeshift paint-speckled basement art studio. I’ll never forget how he used to playfully tease my brother and me to stop painting our trees to look like “lollipops and Christmas trees.” Those simple painting lessons were just one of the ways grandpa showed his love. As I gazed at grandpa’s handsome face during his funeral service, I couldn’t help but think of all the years I missed out on being there for him and showing him how much I loved him due to my choice of career. The regret is something that still bothers me to this day. After grandpa’s funeral and burial, some of my family members and I went to his favorite restaurant. As I was getting ready to leave the restaurant, a vaguely familiar woman struck up a conversation with me. She acted as if she knew me, asked me how I was, and complimented me on my scarf. At first, I couldn’t quite place her, but after she walked away and I watched her from a distance, it dawned on me who she was because I recognized her beautiful hair that her family members would brush while she was admitted to the hospital under my care. This woman was my former patient in the hospital, and I spent a great deal of time caring for and worrying about her because she was so very sick. That particular day, though, she looked wonderful. She looked healthy and was smiling. It truly was a surreal encounter, and it was so cool to see her doing so much better outside the walls of the hospital. When I got home, I texted one of my friends about it, not under- standing the significance of it but knowing that there was a reason that I ran into this lady on that particular day. My friend thought it was my people-loving grandpa’s way of telling me that it was OK that I wasn’t always physically there for him, as I was using my time, love, smarts and talents to help other people as a doctor - something that made grandpa so proud. So, perhaps my love for grandpa wasn’t unspent after all. It was simply spent in different places, in grandpa’s spirit of loving and caring for other human beings. Perhaps that makes so many of the sacrifices I’ve made to become the physician I am today totally worth it. Dr. McGee just completed her chief resident year in the department of internal medicine and will be joining UL faculty as assistant professor in the department of internal medicine. I recently came across a poignant definition of grief, that grief is unspent love. While I do not think this applies to all experiences of grief, I think it at least partly describes the grief I experienced after my grandpa died. Grandpa was a kind and loving man who possessed an unparalleled curiosity about his fellow human beings and as such, he never met a stranger. He grew up in serious poverty in Manton, Ky., and only had an eighth-grade education, but his lack of education or financial resources did not stop him from having a significant impact on many lives. He informally mentored genera- JULY 2018 15