There was an eerie pall to the office after the New Year Day break – I noticed my cardiologist was missing.
Not that I need a cardiologist. But if I did, this man would be the one I'd see.
He’s the same man who took care of my father when he was gravely ill and needed pre-operative clearance before urologic surgery. The same man who took the time to go the extra mile, review the studies personally, listened and treated. Professionally. Quietly. Firmly. Thoroughly. All without another unnecessary echo, or stress test, or Holter. He knew he’d get through just fine, (and he did) but followed up with him afterward anyway, just to be sure. Early in the morning. Before most of us ever thought about arriving to the hospital.
A man we’d all like to call our doctor.
That’s the way this man is: the penultimate clinician who loves his work. He is a man who has seen the sickest of the sick, the eldest of the old, the poorest of the poor and the always adds another "patient-who-really-needs-to-be-seen" to his already-overcrowded clinic: as if he has all the time in the world. He sees things that others never saw, knew things that most of us had forgotten, and helped those that many could not help. His exams are actually performed, not copied. His notes are succinct and to the point, wonderfully devoid of the meaningless verbiage or electronic medical record spam created by the New Generation’s dot-phrases. His professionalism is constant, his kindness infectious. He loves his patients and they, in turn, love him. Many have been with them as long as they can remember.
At his core, he is a family man, but he also enjoys his quiet walks on the beach in more contemplative moments. He never shied from a good joke or a very occasional Glen Levitt. His blood runs orange and blue: a wild fan of his alma mater, the University of Illinois. He still misses the now-banned Chief Illiniwek, so much so that he is, and will forever be, our “Chief.”
More recently I found him huddled in his office, his head upon the desk between patients. Nauseated and in pain he saw his patients anyway, even though he was probably the sicker patient in the room. This, after all, is what he loves, his therapy, his mission. He never revealed the discomfort and illness beneath to avoid the difficult psychological counter-transference that could occur if the patient became more concerned about him. He never wanted this. It was always about the patient, you know. I have no idea how he’s done it for so long, with so much grace and compassion. But now at last, the doctor must become the patient, and I wish him the best as he undergoes his necessary treatments.
It’s strange to see the office now. Oh sure, the patients keep coming and the folks keep hustling and bustling about. Time, after all, does not sit still. But it’s still not quite the same. Perhaps this once, time should take a pause, however briefly, to acknowledge this wonderful man’s work on behalf of his fellow man and the many lessons of compassion and grace he has taught us all.
Best of luck, Al, and hurry back. We miss you.