This past weekend, we lost one of our own. A medical school classmate of mine passed away peacefully at her home with her family by her side. Though we hadn’t seen each other in years, not since graduation, it hit me pretty hard.
As physicians, we see sickness and death often. Over time, we may become callous to death, not because we lack empathy, but because we have to. It’s how we cope and move on. We need to give the next patient we see our full attention.
What hit me hard was that she wasn’t one of our patients. She was one of us. For countless hours, we studied in the same stuffy reading room at the basement of our medical school- at 36th and Hamilton- in the trenches. As a small class of 150 medical students, we all survived medical school together.
Her passing was sudden. Six months ago, she was seemingly healthy. Today, she is gone. She developed stage IV lung cancer – yet never smoked a day in her life. She was forty.
It teaches me that life on this earth can be fragile.
There are many things that annoy us and get under our skin. Just two weeks ago, I had a disagreement with another physician about how to manage a patient. It ended with his shouting some unflattering words at the other end of the phone. For days, I stewed- thinking how I could get back at him. Our egos got the best of us. Now it seems silly.
Life is finite. Time is fleeting.
I recall an interview with Bill Clinton, who while he was president had a rock brought back from the moon that he placed at the center of the table in the oval office. When negotiations between two political rivals got heated, he would tell everyone to stop, take a deep breath and look at those moonrocks. “These rocks have been around for billions of years. We are all merely specks of dust in the entire fabric of time.”
Some things are just not worth getting worked up about.
With that, I have vowed to live my life fuller than before. Be present and cherish my time with my family and friends. Try to take care of my patients and make the best decisions for them as I can. Take nothing for granted. Try to be the best human being that I can be as long as I am on this planet.
R.I.P., Jessica. We will truly miss you.
Robert Wong, MD
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