Mark vs Cancer

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Circle of Five

I sat semi-dejected at my desk late last week, trying to clear my head after a difficult day at work. In addition to typical patient issues--chronic pain, terrible social problems or unsolvable health issues--I was also dealing with a more personal matter: having to tell my patients that we are leaving Worland this summer.

This is harder than it may seem. I feel a strong loyalty towards my patients, which they largely reciprocate. (Of course, some of them don't care a bit, and I'm sure a few are glad we're leaving.) But I give my patients my best everyday--empathizing, listening, suffering, educating and hopefully healing. Doctor-patient relationships, by nature, are complicated things: formal and professional, yet deeply private and sensitive. A day at clinic can sometimes seem like a day at war, usually fighting disease alongside my patients in a Band of Brothers way, yet sometimes fighting against them, or at least against their habits, their preconceptions, their stubbornness.

But I've assumed an important role in my patients' lives, and so announcing my imminent departure has triggered strong feelings. Most of my patients have expressed unqualified support, happy for me and my family and the opportunities that await us. But some, usually the sickest and neediest, have been upset, even distraught. Tears have been shed, harsh words spoken. I am someone who prizes loyalty in relationships, and so knowing that I have given cause for such strong feelings of betrayal in those who have trusted in me creates some internal tension.

Thus, there have been some tough days as of late, and last week I sat at my desk late in the afternoon with a headache, a stack of unfinished paperwork, and an unsettling feeling that leaving Worland was possibly the wrong thing to do. This resonated deeply within me, my mind wrestling with the question of whether my life was my own to live, or whether I owed my time and energy to others.

Sighing, I glanced towards the far side of my desk, where my three beautiful children's faces beamed at me from their photo frames: Grant Guy, with his boyish exuberance; Joy Bear, with her serene intelligence; and Justin (a.k.a. Soggy Muff) with his blithe cuteness.

I felt an unexpected two-directional rush of familial love, first from me towards them as fatherly affection. But then I felt their love flow back towards me as a fountain of strength. These kids love their imperfect Daddy, and no matter what happened at work today or what mistakes I had made, in a few minutes I would walk through our front door and they would dash to greet me.

There was strength in their goodness, in their innocence, in their trust . . . even in their sheer numbers. They trust Elizabeth and me to make the right decisions for our family, whether that's about what's for dinner or about where and how they will be raised. It's a blind trust that is all the more remarkable considering the strong, independent, and consequential people they are bound to become. As I gazed at their photos, I felt strength, perspective, and resolve flowing into me. This is it, I thought, this small, intimate circle of five human beings that forms our family. The biggest questions suddenly seemed easy: my perspective and purpose must shaped and focused here, with my wife and these children. As all parents do, I know what it's like to need to be strong for my children, but I don't know that I had ever felt such strength reflected back to me.

Paradoxically, this was a twist of that same feeling of my life not being entirely my own. But this was different, as the lives of my wife and children are so inextricably intertwined with mine that there is little discernible separation.

I left the unfinished work on my desk, threw my jacket on, and raced home. I entered the front door in my typically triumphant and silly way. Grant sprinted across the room and leaped into my arms; Joy looked up from her book on the couch and beamed demurely; Justin shrieked in excitement from his playpen. Elizabeth greeted me cheerily from the kitchen; something smelled delicious.

It was all very vivid, very soft and warm, maybe too perfect for some, but utterly real for me. I picked up Justin, who squealed with delight. Elizabeth gave me a hug and asked, "How was work?"

"Tough day," I said. "But it's good." I glanced around the room, which seemed to be glowing with love. I gave her a kiss and said, "I'm just glad to be home."


Goose said...

What about the unfinished paper work. Did it ever become..finished? Thanks for the post Mark.

Lisa said...

You're moving? Back to the small, rural, and quaint city of Phoenix perhaps? I keep checking Liz's blog but she doesn't update these days. I'll have to give you guys a call and catch up and get details of where and when. Take care!

Dad said...

You do have a way with words, Son. I have to admit, as I read your post it struck me how totally dependent on parents our children are, especially when they are the age of yours, and how important it is that we make correct decisions for the family. Where we live, what I do in my spare time, what moral principals they need to have, how to discover and develop their talents, how to treat other humans, what to eat, what to watch, what to read, etc. etc. The list is endless. All these decisions that we must make for them and help them learn in some way, will have a profound effect on their entire future life. What an awesome responsiblity that is and every parent, whether they know it or not, is making daily decisions for their family that has far reaching, even eternal implications.

No matter what the decision, at least in my life, there is always some "buyer's remorse" afterward. Is this correct? Is it what I should do or what I need to do or just what I want to do? Have I taken everything and everyone into consideration?

You guys are great, great parents who put family first in all your decisions. When you do that, I don't think you will make many errors to those whose really care.
Your patients will find the next Doc to be just as good as you. (beleive it or not) If not, they will go to someone else. No way should you let their not wanting upheaval in their lives, change etc, have anything to do with what is best for your family. I'm not saying that Denver or this opportunity is what is best just because we are excited to have you guys here. You have thought it out, considered all relevant factors, talked it over with the kids and especially with Lis, prayed about it and come to the conclusion that indeed it is the right decision. While I know it is hard to do.....don't look back. I'm reminded of the line in a song from Paint Your Wagon that says "I never been anywhere that didn't look better looking back"

Remember all the good things that Worland presented you and your family, forget the bad things and look for the opportunities that face you in your new challenges.

You have your priorities straight and that is what I admire most about you and Liz.

Love ya Bud.

Suzy Farar said...

Hey, thanks for the e-mail. So where in Colorado are you going? Was it back to the Denver area? Are you going to start your own practice there? Whatever it is, you will be great and your family will too. I love what you said about how Liz greeted you with cheerful words when you got home. She is always a great example to me, and so positive. I can use a lesson in that sometimes! Tell her I said "Hi" and keep us updated!!

Kristen said...

That was a great post. I love your family, and I am so glad you guys will be in Colorado. Whatever happens you guys will be just fine wherever you are.