A Mother and a Friend
Your blank computer dictation templates mock you and the tower of undictated charts pulls at your white coat, and you wonder why you didnít go to business school. You notice a memo on your desk relating to an upset daughter and the condition of one of your patients. And so you trudge back to the hospital to do your late-afternoon rounds, and as you enter the ICU, the nurses ask if you have heard about Kathleen? Sad, you mummy-walk down the wards and see your patients. Then, late one night, a few months later in the OR lounge, one of your colleagues tells you about Harvey. Again, you drag your two-ton heart out of the hospital, and on the drive home you wonder how you can ever make up for lost time.
I have been practicing vascular surgery at Martha Jefferson Hospital for nearly eight years. But some- where between establishing my practice and saving lives while trying to keep my family afloat, I lost a surrogate mother and a great friend. Itís all right. I handled it. Everyone handles it. The way doctors are supposed to. Grieve 10 cents a minute, miss a couple nightsí sleep and move on.
My surrogate mother was Kathleen Frede. She was the unit secretary in the ICU. As a vascular surgeon, this part of the hospital was my home away from home. But she was no ordinary unit secretary; she was the unofficial hospital operator, chef, chaplain, blood bank manager, bookkeeper, baker, nurse and inventory manager. Kathleen was from Nebraska. I lived half my life on my grandparentsí ranch in Nebraska, so we bonded from day one. We traded Cornhusker tales. Every year she went back home to Omaha for the College World Seriesó never once forgetting to bring my boys back T-shirts marking the event. I lost my mother at a young age, so somehow she filled this void every day when I came to work after a weary night on call. When my partner joined the practice, she soon became his surrogate mother; and I found out a long time later she was the surrogate mother for many of the physicians at Martha Jefferson Hospital. She was, like me, Catholic, and we always joked about the differences between local parishes. And like a mother, she often expressed disappointment about not often seeing me at church.
Kathleen died suddenly a few months back from a pulmonary embolus. Always healthy. No warning. Hospital colleagues donít get sick and certainly not Kathleen. I will forever miss her cookies and her vast spontaneous recall of pertinent phone numbers; and the clean utility now never seems to be stocked with the right inventory. We always planned to meet after church one day and go to breakfast. We never did. continued ...