the first

On morning rounds, my attending asked me a question. “How long do you think he has?” It wasn’t the usual test-your-knowledge pimping that we’ve gotten used to as doctors in training.  She genuinely wanted to know what I thought.

* * *

I’ve been privileged to stand witness only twice.

Six years ago, I drove down to McHenry from Wisconsin to be with my aunt. With her family—her sister, my mom and dad, my brother and his wife–we stood at her bedside as the ventilator was switched off. It was anticipated and planned, for as much as such a thing could be planned given that it was only two weeks earlier that she had successfully had a heart valve replacement and her room was decorated with the well wishes of “get well soon” balloons that were still there.

I really hate those balloons.

Four years ago, we—Scott’s friends—were in the middle of working out a schedule so that one of us would always be around to provide support for his mom, who had been with him every minute of his hospital stay. It was nighttime and I was getting ready to go back home to Wisconsin to show my face at work before coming back for my scheduled support shift, but our plans were soon to become moot. I don’t know what his prognosis had been—did he have hours? days? weeks? months?—maybe I was being purposefully ignorant—but we had been preparing for the long haul.

Scott had a group of close friends that had been with him since high school, but he and I only became friends many years later. They were present for his passing, with the exception of Joe. I asked Michael why I should have been there and not Joe.

“You needed to be there to get the story,” just as he so often is, to be the keeper of the story.

* * *

I wasn’t present when he passed away. I arrived at the hospital in the morning and asked my intern if he had seen him yet. “He passed away about an hour ago.”

When my attending asked me how long I thought he had, I sighed and shook my head. I thought of my aunt. I thought of Scott. “I don’t know. Maybe a day.”

Sometimes, there is no reward in being right.


Some things you don’t forget.

“Did you have classes on September 11?”


“When were you supposed to be in at school?”

“I wanted to be there at 12:00.”

“What day was September 11?”


“Did they cancel classes?”



Some things you can’t remember.

I can’t remember if I tried to call any of my friends to see if they were okay.

I can’t remember if I tried to call anyone, for that matter.

I can’t remember who called me or tried to call me.

I can’t remember whether anyone who tried to call would have been able to reach me, anyway.

I can’t remember when I finally turned off the TV.

I can’t remember when they let us back below 14th Street.

I can’t remember when I finally let myself go below Houston Street.


Some things you wish were not even a dream.

what kind of fortnight has it been

(with apologies to Aaron Sorkin)

Even as I charged ahead towards a new future in my trips to Boston and DC, in my visits with old high school and college friends I was reminded of an altogether different past—a past in which I envisioned something completely different than the path I now find myself following, a future characterized by Fourier transforms and Smith charts. Delighted as regions of my brain probably last exercised in college sprang back into action talking shop with Amanda and John the electrical engineers and Angela the computer engineer, I nonetheless felt wistful at leaving all of that behind. At the same time, in Donna the teacher, and in other classmates and friends who went onto separate careers, I found some reassurance.

Technology never stopped exciting me. Math and physics still excite me. But are they enough to make me want to wake up in the morning?

Only if I can directly help someone by doing it.

I’ll just have to find some way to be an EE-doc, I guess.

travel safe, mr. shady.

I wasn’t expecting to make those calls again so soon–those calls that no one ever really knows how to make, those calls that, if you’re on the other end, you don’t know what to say in response. If not for that always-on connection that is my iPhone, I might have been relieved of that responsibility. But because I did get the message when I did… it’s one small thing I could do for a friend I hadn’t seen for years. Fred, I will try to make it out to see you, one last time.

Fred and Donna at graduation
This is always how I picture Fred.

By the way, I’m way past done with tragedy for this year.

“I want to be a comfort to my friends in tragedy. And I want to be able to celebrate with them in triumph. And for all the times in between, I just want to be able to look them in the eye.” -Josh Lyman, The West Wing

it wasn’t always love.

[As I troll through my digital archives, piecing together memories of Scott for a brain that often fails to remember the more mundane details of life (it’s those details that I think not only help provide context to what actually does matter, but also trigger memories that might be otherwise buried unreachable in my subconscious), I find things that I think are worth remembering. I hope no one minds me sharing them.]

If you asked me nowadays, I would tell you that, despite the tragedy of a certain day, I wouldn’t trade my college years in New York for anything. If nothing else, they clarified my love of the city (a term which, by the way, can only refer to one place) and left me with many fond memories–of people, places, and things, and a siren-like call to return.

Continue reading “it wasn’t always love.”

on the eve of a new year

2009 is almost over, and I can’t help but wonder where it all went. Not only that, but a new decade (as measured by the tens digit) will soon begin. This new year bring a new calendar decade; but the year after it brings a new life decade (!!!!!!!!!!). Two different decades are almost over, and I can’t help but freak out.

I can’t help but wonder, after having made a few trips to the hospital to visit a dear friend, now that I’ve set a course for a new career, whether these last six+ years couldn’t have been better spent. I can’t help but wish I were already in school. At the same time, there are moments when I can’t help but question whether this new path is the right one. A homeless man, barely dressed enough to survive the cold, passed on the sidewalk without batting an eyelash (I’ve seen so many); ten minutes later, a true Good Samaritan comes to his aid, sending for help. Is that kind of indifference incompatible with the profession I hope to join?

For my friend, I can’t help but be thankful for the miracle of his existence; but, reminded of its fragility and of ours as well, I can’t help but remember the close friends I once had, the friendships I’ve since let fall by the wayside (sadly, his among them)–the friendships I now resolve to rekindle and to never take for granted.

And I can’t help but wonder if I’ve accomplished everything I should have by the time I turn 30. Well–as I’ve heard said, 30 is the new 20…maybe there’s some truth to that.