He spent his entire life helping others, mainly strangers. Those who he had never met, those who needed him most … more than I needed him in the audience of a school play, sitting in the bleachers of a basketball game or home on Christmas morning as we sat around his empty chair opening presents that he would never know he had bought for us. His sacrifice for his patients became my sacrifice for my father. His home was a hospital, his family a constant shift change of nurses. His passion to take care of others became his life. He was not just a doctor, not just a surgeon … he had been given a gift that only few men are chosen to have. He had a true love for medicine and deep in that love there was a man that walked the hallways of a hospital with one purpose; to heal.
My bedroom was next to his. Nights of phone calls could be heard and I can remember trying to make out what he was saying to the nurse calling about a patient, his patient. I could see him in the shadows as he made his way down the long flight of stairs and I would watch as the lights of his truck faded into the darkness. This scene would be played out for years and as I got older there would be times he would be there in my doorway, somehow knowing that I was listening and watching just waiting for him to ask me to go in with him. I loved going to the hospital with him. I would watch him, carefully and with such admiration for his compassion and knowledge. I remember thinking …
I have the smartest dad there is.
He would always sit next to his patients or their family members, never standing over them. He would hold their hand when they cried and put his arms around them when news they did not want to hear had to be told. I just don’t ever remember a time that he didn’t care about these people.
My relationship with my parents wasn’t always good. I had so much resentment for being adopted and at times didn’t understand why I had to give up my dad so someone else could have him. I learned hard lessons at an early age about the importance of respecting your parents and how very important family is. It wasn’t easy and there were times that I wanted out of this family. I wanted to know who my “real” parents were and come hell or high water I was going to find them. It would take me years, a lot of heartache and even more tears to realize that this was my father, my dad … my best friend.
It was the night of the accident. And I would never look at my dad the same. I heard the phone ring, my dads voice telling me to come to the hospital. I don’t even remember seeing him when I arrived. But what has haunted me for years about that day was walking up that long flight of stairs, my shadows on the walls that were cluttered with pictures of my brother and then there I stood in his doorway watching him with his head in his hands saying …
My son, my son, my son.
I knew that this was my dad, this was my family and there was no one that would ever love me as much as this man.
For years he had saved people by the hundreds, maybe even the thousands but this night he could not save him. This was his life’s work and he knew too much. And just like that this hospital was no longer his home. Where once he stood out amongst the best of the best he now blended into the white sterile walls and became harshly judged for doing so. Outsiders could never know his pain, the pain of becoming the one who needed his hand held, an arm wrapped around his shoulder, a doctor sitting next to him saying there was nothing more that could be done. I remember him looking at me as I wept, not just for the loss of my only brother but for my dad who would never be the same and the fear of what that would mean. He took my hand and told me it was time to come home and take care of his family. I was 25 years old and for the first time was meeting my dad.
It would take about 6 months, but it happened. He came home. I had no idea what he was going to do. I worried about him, something I learned from him first hand. He would disappear into an office stacked from floor to ceiling with medical journals and books I am sure had never been opened. There was a desk, as big as the office itself and amongst the disheveled papers there he would sit for hours and hours. I was reluctant to go in, always found a way to make some kind of noise to announce myself before actually finding myself standing in that doorway fearful of reliving that night. I would ask my mom
What in the world does he do all day in there?
and she would reply he is working. I had no idea what that meant, until last Friday.
There is so much about Elizabeth’s birth and the days following that I just don’t remember. I remember the sunlight and my dad, that’s really all I can recall without seeing a picture or asking for someone to share with me their memories of that time. We were surrounded by the walls of a hospital and back where we were almost 10 years ago. Only this time it was his daughter and granddaughter. How much more could this man take? He had lost his only son and now was losing his only daughter and her child. I could see the worry in his eyes and he knew once again too much and there was nothing he could do but pray that God would spare him the loss of us. I can remember his words, he was no longer my dad or Elizabeth’s grandfather … he was a doctor again. I could hear the determination in his voice not to lose us and he was going to do whatever it took. His passion to heal had returned.
I think he knew from the beginning, long before I did that Elizabeth was going to be Elizabeth. He never seemed surprised when I would make my way to a chair in that crowded office with a new diagnosis. He would ask questions that he already knew the answers to and engage me in conversation that would encourage me with his compassion and knowledge that I had come to admire so many years ago. The man that had spent so many years, so much time helping others was once again making great sacrifices, only this time it was for me and Elizabeth. I began to see his purpose again. It has been a very different kind of healing, it’s not a surgery, not a physical healing. It is the love of a grandfather, the love of a father that says they come first, I come second. Hours upon hours in an office, behind a desk, in a chair, sipping on coffee and oh so quietly taking care of his family; I have been richly blessed by his passion bestowed in him so many years ago to take care of others for you see all that time he was preparing to take care of me. I have become a patient, his patient and the love for medicine and his need to heal has shifted to his family.
There is no greater man than this man; my dad, my hero, my best friend who sacrificed for me, who sacrificed for his granddaughter so that our lives could be better.