Wednesday, May 3, 2017
The space that once gave me comfort has become a source of constant pain. I am a breast surgeon and just months ago my mother died of breast cancer. At my hospital.
Before she died, I felt blessed to be here, and to be available for her. My clinic adjacent to the medical oncology clinic, I checked our shared board and could track her through her day. I would pop in between patients to go to her appointments. If I missed one I walked 3 feet from my own workroom to the medical oncology workroom to chat with her doctor, my colleague. When clinic was over or I had a cancelation, I could walk down the hall to infusion and sit with her. I would stop at the coffee shop on my walk over to grab a cookie or snack for us to share. We would watch the Today show or some Lifetime movie while gossiping about any and everything. These were my sacred spaces. The places where I could be a part of healing, not just for my own patients but for my mom. A chance to be there for her. She has always been there for me, more than I could ever express. Even during that final admission, I could run to the cafeteria going the back way, I could tell all my family where to park, I helped navigate this monstrosity of a hospital, escorting everyone where they needed to be. Her team was my team and it gave me a feeling of purpose, and brought her a sense of comfort. For that I will always be grateful. But now I sit on the other side of this comfort. I walk on coals on the stone path from the parking lot to my office. Each of her last 4 days began with this walk. Every place is a trigger, every person I work with is both mine and hers.
The list is endless. Faculty meeting takes me up the elevator to her hospice room. I’ve now just stopped going, clinic always runs a “little late” and regrettably I’m unable to attend. The long walk down the main corridor to the OR or the wards or the ER, represent a piece of her final journey. I peek through the open door of the ER as I walk by, as if one time Ill see her there, in her pink pajamas on the night she arrived for that final admission. Each walk through the ICU I feel my walk to her room, sometimes I feel the weight of my daughters hand as we head to visit Grandma. I follow my chief on rounds and pray that today, I won’t have to see a patient in the very same space – one day I do, and I am undone. Each day I operate I lay before her, in the same operative room where she once lay, in a moment of hope. The hope I have for my own patients. Praying that their post operative story will be different than hers, longer and less filled with pain and fear.
Soon I will walk down the same corridor for a biopsy of my own, in the same room, the same hall, the same side, the same spot.