Around once a month I go to the cemetery to visit my Dad. Although this was difficult 6 years ago when I started, it’s become easier thanks to that great healer, time.
His grave is a short distance from the parking spot, so I have to walk past a number of others to get there. As a result you see these change over time.
A few times in the last several years I’ve noticed a new grave marker that, to my surprise, has the name of one of my (former) patients on it. Granted, a lot of my practice is the above-75 crowd, and they wouldn’t be coming to me if they didn’t have health issues.
But still, it jolts me a bit when it happens. I may not have thought about them for a while, but suddenly I see the marker and realize why that person hadn’t been in recently. I can usually picture them, too, and remember something they may have said that concerned me or just made me laugh.
Obviously, regardless of age we all end up there, and I certainly don’t consider this a personal medical failing on my part. It’s the nature of life on Earth, no matter how good a job we do as physicians.
But it still surprises me. If it was a patient I have fond memories of, I’ll often stop and say a few words to them, too. To date no one has answered, but I suspect there’s something therapeutic for me in doing so. The cemetery is generally peaceful, and certainly not a place where I feel rushed.
Besides getting to talk to my Dad, the occasional patient visit there is a reminder of the limits of being a physician, and of our own lives. If nothing else it helps keep a perspective on those things, such as family and health, that are truly important.
Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.