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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Condolences

My siblings, grandparents, mom and I have all appreciated the many sympathy cards that we have received over the past nine days. What we have most appreciated are the handwritten notes that have supplemented the pre-composed remarks printed on the cards--anyone can sign their name to generic thoughts, but it takes genuine effort to pen your own! Some of these individual remarks have been more than just a few lines of compassion, real little stories about Daddy's effect on the writer's life. I'd like to share one example, addressed to my mother by the sister of my father's best friend Sam:

Dear [EK],

I was shocked and saddened to hear of [your husband's] death. Even though I didn't see him often, I cried, realizing how much I will miss his exuberant warmth & sincere concern for people.

I worked with him in the University [Hospital] Recovery Room for almost 4 yrs (~1990-1994). I was shy & insecure then, but my spirit always lifted when I heard his voice (he always chattered as he brought his patients from OR to PACU). He talked to everyone, but he always made a special point to talk to me (since I was Sam's sister!). He sincerely wanted to know how I was doing. My best friend (Heather) also was a nurse there and said that he made everyone feel that way.

[Your husband] was so different from the other doctors there. Often they would make disparaging comments about their wives, but [your husband] glowed when he spoke of you & of his kids. He once said "EK is far more intelligent than I am." Frankly, it was refreshing and a joy to see a man who was happy in his marriage.

[Your husband] was also humble. One evening in PACU, we were bombarded with patients (& only 2 nurses). [Your husband] was on call & as he rolled his patient in, he asked "How can I help?" He then helped me transport a patient up to the floor. I've never had another physician volunteer to help in such a way

I will really miss him. My heart hurts for you and your children to lose him at such a young age. He was a man who practiced his faith every day. I will be praying for you and your family.


I am so grateful that Daddy made comparatively small decisions (talking to people, really listening to them, recognizing needs and reacting to do what he could to meet them) that had such a huge positive effect on others' lives. My grief at missing him is growing, as the adrenalin which marked my first week of reaction to the news of his death is wearing off.

Monday, I was shaking with nervous energy all day, filling my car with items to take to Goodwill, creating an enormous pile of Susan's stuff in the living room, vacuuming and dusting, even behind long-unshifted furniture. I tore down almost all the curtains, threw away papers, watered my erstwhile "garden." Yesterday, I was desperate to get out of the house. Susan's parents invited me to meet them and the newlyweds for brunch, and then I went to Leah's house for an hour, stopping to drop off the Goodwill load and retrieve a rug from the cleaner's on the way. Then I went directly to Maryland to work on an estate sale. I knew I was near the breaking point. I finally really, truly broke down in body-convulsing sobs when I was in the client's closet, tagging clothes, and ran across a show-polishing kit. The sight and scent triggered memories of Daddy polishing his shoes when I was little, and I cried and cried and cried. It was the first time I'd let myself feel the horror of not having him here, knowing that in this lifetime, however long I live, I'll never get to speak to him again, never hug him, never share weird dreams with him, never hear him carping about how I'm selling myself short, accomplishmentswise. It's just awful, the worst thing I've gone through thus far. If I have car trouble, computer trouble, technical questions, medical issues, financial concerns, I'll have to deal with them some other way than by calling him and asking him for advice. He'll never again tell me how beautiful I am, how smart I am, how I have funny-looking feet, or how I ought to bleach my hair blond. It's so weird, surreal, and so forth, to be sitting at the computer where he sat just ten days ago (I drove back down to GA today) and know that he won't come slamming through the door: Crash! thump, thump, thump, to get something off his desk or lie down on the couch behind me to play solitaire on his PDA.

I miss his calling patients (also while lying on the couch, taking notes):

"Hello, this is Dr. P--I'm calling for Jane Doe. Who am I speaking with? Ms. Doe, I'm an anesthesiologist and I'm putting you to sleep for Dr. Smith tomorrow. I understand you're having surgery on your left knee--is that right? Now, why are you having that surgery? Hm. Well, I need to ask you a few questions. Do you have any diabetes? Hypertension? Free-bleeding tendencies? Hepatitis? Have you ever had any heart problems? Uh-huh. What was the name of your cardiologist? Did he give you a stress test? What were the results? Are you a smoker? How many packs a day? Have you had any surgery before? When was that? Did you have any problems with anesthesia? Any chance you might be pregnant? Now, do you take any medications regularly? What's the dosage on that? Now, for your safety, it's important that your stomach's empty tomorrow when I put you to sleep. Have you already had supper? Good. Now, until midnight tonight you can have clear liquids only. After midnight, don't take anything by mouth--that means no ice, no chewing gum, no water. Except, I want you to take that [name of medicine] with just a sip of water when you wake up in the morning. Now, how tall are you and how much do you weigh? Do you have any questions I can answer for you? All right, I'll see you tomorrow at the hospital--remember, take that [medicine] with just a sip of water, but nothing else. Bye-bye."

It was always interesting listening to Daddy's side of these nightly dialogues because people's symptoms and situations varied so much: some people had a whole litany of past surgeries, complaints about pain, lists of medications, and questions. Others had shockingly bad height/weight ratios, which Daddy repeated carefully to himself as he made his notes, and I and my mother would roll our eyes at each other as Daddy kindly repeated: "Five-two, three hundred twenty-five pounds."

What was neat to me was how Daddy almost always remembered his past patients--even ones that he'd sedated for procedures decades earlier--and so many requested his services when they had to go under the knife again. I suppose there's nothing like trusting the guy who's breathing for you when you are out cold on an operating table. I am proud that Daddy always did good work in a compassionate way. I miss him terribly.

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