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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Who Gives Care to the Care Giver?

A few weeks ago, I had my annual check-up (I learned I am in disgustingly good health; nothing to whine about at all). I have been under the care of the same internist for many years. We have aged together; he knows all of my medical history. I don't have to explain my past to my doctor; I don't have to fill out forms. He remembers, and the things he doesn't recall are in my medical record.

As he poked and prodded me, he plied me with polite inquiries - "What's new? Did you have a nice summer? Any special plans for the holidays?" I answered, then turned the questions back on him. He told me that he just returned from Germany (my doctor is a naturalized U.S. citizen; born in Berlin). He also said that this was his first visit to his home country as a single man in 35 years. He told me that his wife died of cancer in June.....

As he shared this sad piece of news, he squared his shoulders and pulled his mouth into a straight line. I asked him how he was doing; he said "Well, I am working a lot - 14-15 hours a day. I get home, eat a sandwich and walk the dog. Walking the dog is the highlight of my day."

Then he caught himself, changed the subject back to my health. I gave him my card and told him to call me, come over for dinner. He was embarrassed, I think. He moved briskly through the rest of the appointment, shook my hand, and hurried out of the exam room.

He seemed to be radiating pain. He is burying himself in his work to avoid his grief. And I wondered - who gives care to this care giver? He didn't want to receive it from his old patient, that's for sure.

That meeting was over two months ago and I haven't heard from my doctor. Maybe today I will give him a call.

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