However This Song May End
Oregon · USA
Dappled sunlight tracks idly across the mossy face of Nick Eaton Falls. Before it, a fallen timber stripped bare by the elements lies in oddly graceful repose. I shot this 4-image focus-stacked composition on the second go-round for me in less than a week along the woodsy Herman Creek Trail, but this outing was a decidedly more peaceful and relaxing affair than my earlier trip that produced "Medicine," at which time reminders about the next day's looming job obligations dogged me mercilessly on my phone via text messages.
In truth, though, my work (as distinguished from my job) is never really too far from my thoughts, even when I'm out in nature and miles away from the hospital. Indeed, there's a symbiosis between my career and my passion for photography that's inseparable, with lessons and principles gained in one field bolstering my proficiency in the other. The sum total effect is the constant cultivation of a keen awareness not of the ever-looming nearness of death, but of the rich miracles that are life and good health. In this context, the early and explicit acknowledgement of irredeemable loss and suffering can open doors to a perspective of appreciation and perhaps even celebration, not of moments or abilities lost but of opportunities and new perspectives gained.
And so it was, on the day after my niece celebrated her 10th birthday, that I learned that a former resident I'd worked with at a previous institution had lost her battle with ALL, or acute lymphoblastic leukemia. But as soon as I formulated the words in my mind—"lost her battle"—I knew that I'd misstepped with the perspective I'd adopted—not relatively, but absolutely. You see, she must have had a growing sense that the ever-mounting tide would continue unabated regardless of what medical interventions she might have chosen to undergo—including being intubated and supported by a mechanical ventilator at the time—and having fought the surge for the better part of six months since her diagnosis, she made a conscious decision to give in to the waters and let them take her where they may. With her loved ones and hospital care team around her, she set pen to paper and wrote out a directive to have her life support systems withdrawn. Even at this relatively early stage of my career, I've faced similar scenarios in the care of my own patients far more often than the vast majority of people ever will in their lifetime, and yet still...still I’m at a complete and total loss to comprehend the sheer magnitude of her courageousness and self-determination in communicating a decision of such magnitude and finality. I just simply cannot imagine...
Now I won't disrespect this young lady nor those closest to her by pretending that I knew her very well, nor by the same token will I divulge her name. Those who are familiar with this story will know exactly who she is, and they probably knew her far better than I did. My lasting impression of her was one of a very nice, unassuming, perhaps even demure medical resident whose extreme humility and deference I suspect belied her competency as a clinician. And so in hindsight (naturally, as it always seems to be), I'd wished I'd had more opportunities to work with her, because it's often the quietest ones who possess a keenness and insight that go far beyond what the infancy of their clinical and life experiences would predict. Certainly, her final act of bravery in the face of insurmountable odds spoke to a fortitude of character I’m not sure I’d ever be capable of myself. Perhaps I may never find myself in a situation that puts that theory to the test, but whether that's to be construed as a blessing or a missed opportunity, I remain decidedly undecided. But the point, really, is this: When her time came, regardless of whether she had much choice in the matter or not, she did not cower. She faced it head-on.
Stuart Scott, the famed ESPN reporter who revolutionized television sports reporting by injecting his own unique hip-hop vibe into his always-memorable broadcasts, died on the morning of January 4th, 2015, after finally giving in to a years-long battle with cancer. The previous summer, in accepting the Jimmy V Award at the 2014 ESPYs, he imparted some of the most elegant words ever spoken regarding living life with cancer, at least in my opinion. What he said was this:
When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.
And by all accounts, this resident, this young woman, beat cancer into complete and utter submission. A few days before her death, in the course of texting a friend, she wrote two simple lines of wisdom and elegance to equal Mr. Scott’s:
Just be happy
That’s my motto
Life is short. Good health is precious. Just be happy.
May they both rest in sweet and graceful peace.