“Even when she was gone, she was present in the patient sitting before me and in the way I was newly able to comfort and reassure her.”

Dr. Joseph Stern, a neurosurgeon, wrote a moving piece published in the NY Times, about how his sister’s recent fight with cancer impacted him. The process of sitting by her bedside, sharing moments and comforting her, and his grief over her death made him a better doctor.

The razor had a familiar thrum. Only this time, I wasn’t the one doing the shaving. I was watching as my sister’s remaining hair fell away.

She was putting on a brave face, joking with the hairdresser. Her defiant look said: “Leukemia’s not going to get me.” But in her eyes, I also saw terror. I wanted to rescue her, but there was nothing I could do.

Eighteen months younger than me, Victoria had always been there, someone I took for granted. When we played as children, she tried to keep up, to convince me she was cool and worthy of attention. We had weathered much together: a move to London, our parents’ divorce, a health crisis of my own. She always had my back. But with college, marriages, moves across the country, kids of our own, we grew apart. She became an actress; I became a neurosurgeon. The article continues

When a doctor is ill or his family member is sick, even dying, the doctor is on the other side of the bed. Sometimes helpless; sometimes wanting to make decisions at odds with others. Most doctors emerge from this process changed – different people; and different professionals. I believe most of the time such doctors become more empathic; better listeners; more in tune with their patients. This may be one good outcome that emerges from such difficult times.

What do you think?


Dr. Joseph Stern in a neurosurgeon practicing in Greensboro, NC.