Friday, April 1, 2011

Beyond belief.

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"One day I'll fly away
Leave your love to yesterday
What more can your love do for me?
When will love be through with me?

Why live life from dream to dream. . .
. . and dread the day that dreaming ends?"

~ "One Day I'll Fly Away"
lyrics by Will Jennings, music by Joe Sample

(now hearing this version on my mental iPod)


My rounds were quiet and peaceful that day. The interns had the day off, and the resident was putting out fires on other floors. This time for you would not be divided by medical student queries or carefully guided tours of your physical findings (with your permission of course.) I was all yours that day.

It was a weekend day, so there weren't even any meetings to race over to be late to or conference calls to dial into or students shuffling their feet in front of my office door or urgent emails to return. The kids were somewhere climbing jungle gyms or splashing in puddles or licking syrup off of their hands with their dad who had kindly sent a text that simply said, "We're fine." So that meant that, on this day, I was all yours.

This day, I saw you in morning light so bright that it made me take pause. Despite the overcast sky and its imminent plans to deliver a torrential downpour, somehow the rays that were stubborn enough to come out any way managed to find you. Your hands were idle, folded over your abdomen; your eyes tired and fearful. It had been a rough night; the pain had been at almost a 'ten' until finally you told someone and ultimately received a higher dose of pain medication.

"I hate to be a bother," you tell me.

"But you aren't a bother," I quickly reply. "If you are in pain, I have failed you."

"Okay." Your face washes over with a blanket of childlike comfort, but not your eyes. I can still see fear. Cancer is something to be afraid of. Especially this one.

I glance over at the window sill. Not a single card or flower. No photos of you posing with loved ones during the honeymoon that preceded this diagnosis and no worried significant other abruptly rising from the bedside chair upon my approach to examine you. It was just you. And today, just me.

"Are you? In pain, I mean?"

"No. I am okay."


I carefully pull back your cover and examine your cachectic body. My stethoscope rocking over your ribs; their perfect outlines like some kind of skeletal relief sculpture. Your lungs sound surprisingly clear on this day, and outside of the mild tenderness around your feeding tube, your sunken abdomen is equally unremarkable. I inspect your legs for any asymmetry; your backside for redness from the pressure of lying in bed more than standing up and making it.

No, your exam is not normal. But for this day, it looks pretty close. With the exception of your fearful eyes, it is normal enough to plan your discharge.

"There is so much to coordinate," I say softly. "Our plan will be to get all of this done for you and discharge you first thing in the morning. How does that sound?"

"That sounds good."

"What questions do you have for me?"

Your smile is warm and genuine. Your bony cheeks and wasted temples perfectly framing your every expression. "I think you answered them all."

I reach down and put my hand on your soft cheek. "Are you sure? Is there anything you need?"

You smile again and shake your head. "I'm okay."


I step back from the bed and delicately arrange the covers over your tiny shoulders. I fluff the pillow and tuck another blanket around your neck; enveloping you in as much safety as I can.

"I'll see you later, okay?" I say after finishing my fuss over the bed.

You nod and smile once more.

I walk away from your bed and that morning light. . . . around the thick pink curtain dividing it from the other side of the room where the neighboring bed was empty. Suddenly, I abruptly stop in my tracks. The next thought I continue to replay because it was so memorable. It was simple and clear--like the single chime of a tiny bell--and enough to halt me in place:

Maybe I should go and just sit with you. And hold your hand and maybe even. . . . pray with you. Or better yet just be with you a little longer.

The Grady elders might call this "The Lord puttin' something on your heart." And they call listening to such a thing "being obedient." Others might call it something else or even be uncomfortable thinking about it. Regardless of what you call it, it was something. Something strong yet fleeting that I somehow allowed to come and then go in the blink of an eye.

I lean back around the curtain and into your light again.


You raise eyebrows and turn in my direction.

"Umm. . . you. . . make sure you remember what I said about the pain medicine, okay?"

"I will," you murmur quietly. "I will."

And with that. . . . I leave. Thinking I can do it tomorrow. Letting go of that moment in time on my solitary rounds.

Early the next morning, the intern covering the team on call left a message on my voicemail. You were found pulseless. They worked on you as hard as they could to bring you back. But unfortunately, they could not.

No! I must be hearing wrong!

I remembered your pleading eyes and those words put on my heart. I replayed the message and immediately felt my pulse quickening and my eyes welling.

No! It wasn't time yet!

But actually, it was. That morning, I stood listless in a hot shower crying and crying. Not because I could have saved you. And not because I could have cured you, either. But because I didn't listen. And regardless of what you believe or who you pray or don't pray to, sometimes you get a little nudge that tries to give you a message. This time, your eyes tried to tell me. And even after your eyes tried, something else tried, too. But I missed my cue.

Now I know. That day, I was supposed to be the cards on your window sill and the flowers on your tray. And even though you weren't in pain, in a way I did fail you. I should have yielded to that tug, that magnetic force that was pulling me back to you. And I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry I didn't.


Today, I will dry my eyes and honor you. And for you, I will never ignore that whisper laid upon my heart again. Because that time was your time. And on that day it was just you and just me. So next time, for you, I will be obedient.



  1. Your stories always bring tears to my eyes. Beautiful! I am a "stalker" from Rachael C's blog. I look forward to your daily stories. God Bless you and your touch within Grady.

  2. I am not a religious person in any way, shape, or form, but I do believe that messages are given to us, perhaps somehow from some type of heart-communication we do not understand.
    You have reminded me to act upon them.
    I am so glad I have found your writing.

  3. Dr. M- I have linked you today in my blog which is something I don't do a lot. this case...I had to.
    I hope you don't mind. Oh- I just saw the thing on your sidebar. Well, I publicly admitted to reading and admiring your blog.

  4. Oh Kimberly I know that feeling of.... I didn't try hard enough to let them know they were loved, cared for. But they DID know, by your gentleness, tenderness and caring heart. They knew. I just know

  5. i so know that feeling- we all need to respond to it- so wise- so wise

  6. Call it what you want, but I call it the Holy Spirit that puts the right words in our mouths at the right time or prompts us to be "obedient" as you say. Maybe the purpose was for you to reflect on that urge and resolve not to ignore it next time. I know for sure that the patient felt your caring and concern.

  7. Oh I've been there. The holy spirit moving. My preceptor in nursing school and now a dear mentor and co-worker of mine once told me "I never let my patients die alone and the Lord always tells me when it's time" She had a way of reading them so so well and would always make a point of staying with them. She learned to follow that nudge God gives us because of a story exactly like this one. I have been so thankful for her wisdom in that way... it has guided me many times.

  8. I do my best to follow that voice within. Not surprisingly, it brought me to both my parents before they suddenly died. There is an energy that connects us. I have come to believe that even though I am a scientist who deals with facts. Your post brought tears to my eyes.

  9. I'm here through Ms. Moon and am so happy to have "found" you. This was quite a post -- moving and powerful and full of soul. I call what happened to you a sort of "psychic hit" -- and while I know how devastated you must have felt to have ignored it, you HAVE planted this memory, this person, in the minds of many of us. And that must be good and filled with grace.

    I look forward to reading more of your blog --

  10. Listening to that voice - a beautiful way to honor her memory, indeed.

  11. Hi Kim. Thanks for sharing...Your story was moving, powerful, and self reflecting. As always, I walk away a better person after reading your blog and for that I thank and appreciate u.... u r the best... on <3


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