Hitting a Nerve

Treating those who taught us


I was surprised when the name came up on my hospital census as a new consult.

An elderly man in a hospital bed andresr/Getty Images

Many years ago he’d been one of my attendings in residency. Someone I’d trained under. He’d been patient, almost grandfatherly, in the way he taught residents on his service. Never angry or impatient. I’d genuinely liked him as a person and respected him as a teacher.

And here he was now, a new consult on my daily hospital patient list.

A quick look at his chart brought the irony that I’m the same age now that he was when I worked under him. Time flies.

He didn’t remember me, nor did I expect him to. In my training from 1993 to 1997, I’d only dealt with him directly for a few months here and there. He’d seen a lot of residents come and go over his career.

He was, like me, older now. I wouldn’t have recognized him if I didn’t know the name in advance. He was frail now, seemingly smaller than I remembered, his mind and health damaged by his own neurologic issues.

Like all of us, I’ve taken care of other physicians, but this was the first time I’d encountered one of my former teachers in that role, and felt bad that he was in a situation I really couldn’t do much about.

I wrote some orders and moved on to the next consult, but haven’t stopped thinking about him.

Time comes for all of us sooner or later, though it’s never easy to reflect on. I’d certainly do what I could to help him, but was well aware (as I’m sure he was) that there was only so much I could.

Dr. Allan M. Block, a neurologist is Scottsdale, Ariz.

Dr. Allan M. Block

When I came back the next day he’d left. At his own insistence, he wanted us to stop what we were doing and opted to be kept comfortable. It was certainly not an easy choice to make for any of us, but in character with the person and physician I still liked and respected.

Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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