Yesterday I had one of those déja vu all over again moments. That’s a joke, of course. But there’s a good bit of truth to it when you’re over sixty-five and have a lot of memories AND you’ve specifically recalled certain of the most special memories over and over. Let me illustrate:
1973: Sam and I get married; he starts medical school. I can smell the formaldehyde on his clothes when he comes home to our apartment in Madison, WI after dissecting in the Gross Anatomy lab.
1977: We move to Atlanta where, in this order, Eliza is born 10 days early and Sam starts his internship and residency at Grady Memorial Hospital. I realize that having a baby is not like getting a dog. Oops.
1980: Timothy is born. Sam is there for the birth and wears a pink button-down shirt. He comes out as a boy anyway. Sam immediately fetches me an ice cold chocolate shake from the Steak ‘n Shake next to Atlanta’s Piedmont Hospital.
1982: We move to Washington D.C, Sam starts practicing medicine as a gastroenterologist, and Amanda is born. We love our bungalow on Norton Place in northwest D.C. It snows A LOT in Feb. 1983. The Washington Post calls it The Megalopolitan Blizzard. Eliza and Timothy go sledding on the hill in Rosedale park across the street. I drink sherry several times a day while breastfeeding Amanda.
1984: Amanda starts talking. Every morning when Sam kisses her before going off to the hospital she says abalor. We later figure out the three syllables signify hospital.
Eliza is now seven. She announces she will be a veterinarian and will have five children. She tells me that when she goes out to the barn to tend to the animals, her “wife” will take care of the children back at the house. Oops. Oh well. This is the good kind of gender stereotyping: she sees herself as a veterinarian; the wife does something else.
1986: The Space Shuttle Challenger explodes. Timothy is in kindergarten and the class is watching the lift-off live on TV. He draws the flames pluming out of the spaceship over and over. Changes his mind about becoming an astronaut.
1988: Amanda is now in kindergarten. Sam visits her class to talk about the digestive system. He takes a large and disgusting lump of tripe (aka cow stomachs) to illustrate the intestines. Amanda loves it! Somewhere, in one of our 37 boxes of unsorted photos, is one of Sam and Amanda standing proudly together in her Beauvoir classroom. Sam has on a bowtie, his signature as a physician in D.C. [See photo at top of this post.]
circa 1987: We have a succession of rabbits. They are large and smelly and they live outside in a makeshift cage, even in winter. Edwin surprises us by having a litter of very cute babies. After eight weeks, I tell Eliza, Timothy and Amanda that we are taking them to D.C.’s Eastern Market on Capitol Hill to sell them. The children pile into the car with the baby rabbits in a box in the back. Before I can unload the box from the car, an Asian woman appears and asks if she can buy ALL of them. We settle quickly on a low price. She bears the box away, beaming. I don’t tell the children where those rabbits are headed. Edwin becomes Emma.
1989: Emma gets an abscess. We bring her in from the yard and put her and her oozing wound in the basement. Eliza happily descends the stairs to give her a daily shot of antibiotics. Emma recovers. First patient success story.
1992: Eliza is 15 and gets a summer job working at the veterinary clinic up the street. After swabbing down dog and cat cages she announces she will switch to people and become a physician.
2001: Amanda has graduated from high school and takes a year off before starting college. Among other adventures, she goes to India and follows a doctor around at a leprosy clinic. She is inspired. I want to travel with her in India on her gap year. She declines; doesn’t think I can hack student-style travel. She’s right.
2003: Timothy is graduating from Wesleyan in three months. Comes to Sam and asks if he should consider medical school. Sam responds, “Only if you feel driven to become a doctor.” Timothy is surprisingly clear-headed. He does not, he says. Lucky decision for Google’s legal department.
2013: Amanda graduates from medical school in May 2013. Sam, after 31 years of medical practice, puts down his colonoscope and we drop out of our long-established and comfortable life in D.C. to embark on a Gap Year After Sixty. The plan: reinvent the remainder of our lives. The timing? Perfect. We have no more dependent children.
2014: Sam starts writing an end-of-life book after getting his feet wet as a writer on this blog. Read the behind-the-scenes story of how he wrote his book.
2018: At Peace: Choosing a Good Death After a Long Life by Samuel Harrington, MD, is published on Feb. 6th by Hachette / Grand Central Life & Style. The book is wonderful. Sam is now a physician author.
Sam starts on a mini book tour, with a first stop in Seattle in late February to speak at the Seattle Public Library in the spacious Microsoft Auditorium. No question; it’s a thrill.
Stops in San Francisco and Key West follow. Read Sam’s dispatch from his book tour.
April 5, 2018: Which brings us up to date. To yesterday, when Sam and I get up at 6 AM to catch an early train to New Haven from Brooklyn. (We take the subway to Grand Central; then take advantage of the over-65 fare on Metro North: $11.75.)
Courtesy of Amanda, who is now a Chief Resident in Surgery at Yale (completing her fifth year of training), Sam has gotten an invitation to be the speaker at the weekly noon lecture to the Surgical ICU Fellows at Yale New Haven Hospital / Yale School of Medicine. He spends the previous week completely re-tooling his author talk so he can speak to a room of professional colleagues rather than old-age pensioners and family members.
Our older daughter Eliza, who trained at Yale as a Fellow in Neonatology and now works for the Yale hospitals as a Neonatologist, rearranges her work schedule so she can attend Sam’s lecture.
Amanda’s introduction of Sam before his talk at Yale
Amanda introduces him, saying:
“We rarely, if ever, directly discussed how much he enjoyed his career. But we didn’t need to. Occasionally going to the hospital with him, if he was called in on a weekend, I saw it myself. Because of this, I never considered any career other than medicine…”
Sam concludes his lecture to a roomful of solemn young surgeons (exhausted, no doubt, from overnight duty) by saying that:
- “It’s better to do something for a patient, than to a patient.”
- “Sometimes doing nothing is better than doing something.”
- “Discuss realistic prognosis with your patient.”
- “Consider medical futility before going down that road.”
- “And finally, treat every patient as if he/she were your own mother, not by lip-service to that concept but by working to understand what the patient really wants and knowing what you would allow your mother to endure.”
Déja vu all over again
And there you have it: the ingredients for déja vu all over again.
Is it 1988 and is Sam showing Amanda‘s kindergarten classmates a pile of tripe to illustrate the digestive system? No, it’s thirty years later. But he’s got his bowtie on. It’s 2018 and Amanda has successfully completed 984 (!) surgical cases, meaning she has officially met the requirements for her Surgical residency at Yale. And Eliza is there too, equally accomplished as a physician and now the mother of four children, almost as many as she pictured at age seven. And Timothy, Corporate Counsel at Google, is making plans to fly from San Francisco to attend Amanda’s Yale graduation in a few weeks. I am bursting with pride over my three children. And my physician author husband, too.
Stay tuned. Reinvention continues.