It Begins and Ends with Children
Yesterday was the last day I saw patients in our offices on Peabody Avenue. My first patient at Peabody on September 1, 1987 was a child, and my last patient was a child. She was eight years old. Her family has just moved here from Mississippi, and she had a fairly minor problem but her parents were concerned. I hope I gave them reassurance, and most importantly invited them into becoming patients of ours. The father works as a mechanic and the mom has a clerical job.
I saw them in what we have for years called the Barney Room. It is named in honor of Scott Wallace who died when he was three. He was the son of Febe Wallace who was once one of my partners. Febe is a brilliant doctor. Her three year old son, Scott, got sick while Febe and her husband Tom were on a skiing trip in Colorado. When she took him to the doctor near the ski resort, she asked if she could look under the microscope at his blood. What she saw was leukemia.
The next day, Scott was admitted to St. Jude.
He did well for a few days. His room was decorated with multicolored balloons, and when I went to see him, his mother would point to a balloon and he would say the color. Six days after his admission, on a Saturday morning while Febe was holding him, he went limp in her arms. She knew what had happened. Because of the chemotherapy, he had a massive hemorrhage in his brain from which he would never recover. Febe called me to tell me. It was my birthday, so I will always remember the day.
When I entered the ICU of the hospital, I could see the CT scan of his brain from across the room. It was that bad. Together we decided we should take him off of the ventilator. Within a few minutes he died in his mother’s arms.
Febe asked me to do the funeral. I agreed, but what do you say about a three-year-old? He knew his colors.
We buried him holding his stuffed toy of Barney, the PBS character. From that day on, I knew we would always have a Barney exam room at Church Health to honor Scott. It was in this room, surrounded by Barney images, that I saw the last child.
We will have a new Barney room at our Crosstown clinic soon.
Yesterday, even more powerful was my next to last patient: a Latino boy whose parents brought him to America soon after he was born because they wanted him to have a better life. America is all he has ever known. He has a southern accent.
Ten days ago, he fell and broke his arm while he was playing soccer. He has seen the doctor three times, and each visit has cost his parents $400. Earlier this week, his mother was told he needed surgery and she would need to pay $52,000 up front. With insurance, that fee would probably be reduced to only $10,000. The power of Church Health is that we will be able to get the surgery done through a volunteer. This is what we do.
When I told the mother, she began crying tears of joy. I felt the same way.
It was a powerful way to remember my last day in the clinic on Peabody.
Thirty years is a long time to do anything. For many years, I deflected any praise for our work by saying that until we have done it for thirty years, all we have is a good start.
I have a new saying now: it took us thirty years to have a good start, now the real work begins as we start again at Crosstown.
It will be Wednesday before I see my first patient at Crosstown. I love my new space that I’ll work from. It is beautiful.
The work we do has always been beautiful. Just ask the little boy’s mother.