The following is a post by Annekathryn Goodman, MD who is an Assistant Director, Vincent Gynecologic Oncology Division, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston; Associate Professor, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, Harvard Medical School and a resident of Boston.
By Annekathryn Goodman, MD. The loss of one loved soul punches a hole in the fabric of our universe. We experienced sadness and tragedy this past week when journalist Anthony Shadid died while reporting on the horrors of Syria’s war against its people.
Shadid was known to those of us who work at Massachusetts General Hospital in a small way – through his daughter, Laila. We know her through MGH’s own Marcela, ex-partner of Anthony’s first wife, Julie. Marcela is one of my work partners in the gynecological oncology department here. She and Julie broke up last year but Marcela has been an important part of Laila’s life since she was a baby, and remains so.
I am struck with how I can grieve for a man I have never met because I grieve for the people who love him. His death will now be a part of Laila’s identity. Growing up fatherless starting at the age of 10 will be part of the lens through which she views the world. We cannot protect her from that reality. But we can support her and the others who are impacted by this new hole in the universe. There is a circle of grief and meaning that radiates out from each death. In my imagination, I see this whole cloud of connection and meaning, sympathy and love that vibrates with each loss.
Of course as oncologists, we are all too familiar with that cloud. Now, one could imagine that these clouds of loss, familiar and sometimes daily, could bring us down. Maybe we should all be on anti-depressants. But, paradoxically, most of us are empowered by the work we do. The losses are unavoidable when dealing with cancer, but our reactions to it are completely in our control.
Reacting with love and support empowers us all. When Marcela called to tell us of Anthony’s death, John — the division chief of our department — immediately signed out her beeper so he could answer all of her calls. Whit, another doctor in our division, took on all her surgeries so she could be with Laila. Dr. Schiff, the chief of obstetrics and gynecology who no longer performs surgeries, donned scrubs and came down to the OR to ensure we were all okay. Texts and emails with words of support flew. We are a big village. Acknowledging this terrible pain honors the meaning of the life lost and how that life affected everyone else.
There was another, more personal, loss on Friday – my dog, SammyBear. I put him to sleep that evening after a two month illness with renal failure. Again, John helped me finish my last surgery so I could have time with SammyBear. I felt surrounded by love. (more…)