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So many lawyers, so little time...

"The prospect of hanging focuses the mind wonderfully"--Samuel Johnson

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Location: Louisville, KY, United States

Gastroenterologist, cyclist, cellist, Christian, husband, father, grandfather.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

If you don't go to other people's funerals, they won't come to yours.

Hundreds of years from now, after our race has extinguished itself in some cataclysmic paroxysm of violence and/or pure foolishness, a future race will unearth our remains and artifacts and attempt to make sense out of a hopelessly muddled and deranged civilization. (Don't you just hate tax time? It always brings out the worst in us.) When they do, I have no doubt that if they discover the sayings of Yogi Berra they will worship him and hold all that he said as sacred. His comments will have a koan-like quality, containing the paradoxes and mysteries of the universe in pithy sentences which, at least on initial inspection, seem to defy the rational process.

As Yogi said, if you want other people to come to your funeral, then you had best start going to theirs. I'd like to see a lot of people at mine, so I've been going to a lot of funerals and visitations as of late. This has included the visitation of several of my patients, a doctorly form of going down with the ship, if you will (obscure reference to the Cantatrice Chauve)

I'm no great shakes as a physician, but you'd never know it from the reception I get when I pay a visit to the grieving family. It provides me a sense of closure if I was closely involved with the patient, and the family is always touched that I would take the time to visit the funeral home.

I see aspects of the patient that I had never seen, pictures of their childhood, their confirmation, their wedding, and what they held as dear. I see them long before they started drinking too heavily, before the pancreatic cancer blossomed forth, before they experimented with drugs and contracted hepatitis C.

I become ashamed of my nominalism, my tendency to put patients and family into fore-ordained roles: "The Codependant and Somewhat Clueless Wife", "The Deeply Conflicted Son", "The Sister with Her Act Together", and "The Out-of-town Relative Whose Good Friend is A Doctor and Suggests That You're Doing It All Wrong". The roles disappear at the funeral home. They're just glad you dropped by.

If I had to do it again I would have gone to a lot more funerals in my career. I wouldn't have shied away because I didn't want to have to think about anything other than organ systems and responses to medications and coding the patient's illness correctly to insure maximum reimbursement for my efforts. Perhaps I would have seen to it that plenty of people would be on hand for my own, to see "The Doctor Who Squandered His Talents On Nonsense Instead of Involving Himself With Others". Perhaps.


Blogger jon said...

I was looking at your posts about cancer cervical and found a good article about the same cancer cervical info too...

God luck with it : )

2:35 PM  

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