Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Here we go again. We come to the close of another year. Astronomically speaking, it's all relative. Tomorrow is really no different than any other. But it's nice to have points of demarcation. It's reassuring to know that at some point, you can say that the old concludes and that something new begins. Tomorrow represents that yearning for fresh beginnings.

But those are all cliches about the new year, sentiments pleasurably considered during the New Year's festivities. Those resolutions we all promise ourselves. Things are going to be different. Just you wait. Believe me, plenty of times I've written up New Year's manifestoes on a "better way to live" that were unceremoniously discarded by the Super Bowl. But for that brief period of time every early January, we are enchanted by the possibilities of starting over, rekindling lost loves, working harder, reaffirming lapsed disciplines, learning more, discarding old hindrances, eating less, exercising rather more frequently, reading those dusty medical journals, being a better doctor, a better husband, father, a better man, et cetera, etc. We can temporarily apply the brakes to the rushing onwardness of life, halting it miraculously with the chime of the midnight bell tonight. It all stops and then resets. Let me try again. Give me another chance. I'll do better this time. I promise. Two weeks later, old habits crop up. The alarm goes off at 5AM for your new exercise regimen and you roll over, hit the snooze. The most recent JAMA once again functions as a placemat for your morning Cheerios while you surf the web. We fail ourselves in so many small ways. But it's no biggie. There's always next year.

For some of us, however, the chance at redemption is elusive, even with the casual flip of the calendar. There are those unfortunate souls who have experienced real loss, the kind for which there are no magic elixirs. For those who have had to prematurely say good bye to a loved one, the coming of the new year is merely a bitter reminder of precious days lost and the ineluctable forward march of unforgiving time. Those moments in 2008 when you watched a woman hold her dying father's hand in the ICU. Or the gunshot victims crashing in the trauma resus bay and the wails of wives suddenly alone. The mother who collapses on the floor in the OR waiting area because you've just told her that her 30 year old son has metastatic colon cancer. This is a terrible business sometimes, this thing called human existence and as a physician I sit ringside at the carnage. But we all end up with front row seats at some point. It isn't an exclusive club. In the coming year there will inevitably be new travails and unexpected sorrows and you may very well find that it is you who sits forlornly next to a loved one in the last moments of life, watching the ravages of illness or old age irrevocably take from you everything that that person was. That day is coming for all of us. Maybe not this year but soon enough. I'm not sure what I'm trying to say. I just started typing. It's New Year's Eve. A new beginnning. Make the most of it. Don't neglect the nuances. Savor the absurdity of simple times. Memories, no matter how piquantly vivid, are like ethereal sidelong glances compared with even fifteen minutes of actual, living, tangible time. A cup of coffee on a Saturday morning. An unannounced visit. A phone call randomly in the middle of the week. An unexpected apology. A dropped grudge. Those moments are there for the taking every single day, whenever you want; not just on January 1st....

Happy New Year



rlbates said...

Happy New Year to you and yours!

webhill said...

Last night as I was putting my makeup on preparing to go out, my kids were running around and my youngest, who will be 4 in a couple of weeks, said "mommy, will we die one day?" and I said "yes, everyone dies one day, but we won't die for a long time, and you don't need to worry about it." She replied "but mommy, I don't want to be dead." "Neither do I," I said, "but honey, it won't happen for a long time, and we might change our minds about it." "OK mommy," she said.

Bongi said...

brilliantly written. the relevant importance of the intense and the trivial is constantly difficult for me to understand. this post touches on how i feel to a degree.

Anonymous said...

I came here from another blog, and just wanted to say:

very well said,

from a woman who, within the space of less than a year (Dec. 20, 2007-Dec. 9, 2008), learned she had Inflammatory Breast Cancer, learned it had metastasized to the liver, went through all the treatments for that (intense weekly chemo, mastectomy of left breast, intense radiation, ongoing maintenance chemotherapy (for a year), Tamoxifen for 5 years) and as of Dec. 9, 2008 learned that my last scan showed No Cancer.

I SOOO agree with what you said. Life can change in the blink of an eye, and in spite of its trials and aggravations, life is beautiful. I try to tell people not to take it for granted and to try to let the little things go. I try to do the same myself now.

Life is a gift. Growing old is a gift. Cherish it and the loved ones that you share life with.

Thank you for this beautiful post.

~ Judy

HudsonMD said...

Dada I agree. Happy New Year to you and your wife. Can i vent: God forbid you ever order a CT scan with contrast on anyone with a creating greater that 0.2!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

this is a beautiful post, as another comment suggested. i would only add, that i see being in the hospital and especially in the or, as giving one an opportunity to see these moments more often and more starkly. life and death; health and disease; the joy of a better than expected outcome vs the mourning that begins with the news of metastasis. in the hospital, in the or, we see over and over, many times a day, the agony of life coming and life going; with it's attendant joy and grief. and if you're a sensitive person, and a reader, you hear the echoes of proust, joyce, camus, and virgil. happy new year, doc