Archive for June, 2009

Remarkable People

June 14, 2009

I’ve been doing the outpatient portion of my pediatrics rotation for about two weeks now, and in the course of my time there I have had a chance to meet quite a cast of characters.

One particular family has stuck in my mind the last few days, and I felt it couldn’t hurt to spend a few minutes trying to do justice to (for want of a better word) their humanity.

The grandfather of the two kids was with them in the examining room.  Father was loooong out of the picture, mother was a deadbeat whose calls home would only serve to agitate her children, and grandmother had died several years ago from cancer.  The grandfather himself was a more elderly guy, looking almost like he had just walked out of Lonesome Dove with his ruddy, weather beaten features and bulbous nose.  He reminded me of gnarled tree roots; stubborn, old, strong and earthy.  He had on a sweat-stained American car company cap (the brand escapes me at the moment) with work boots and spoke sparsely with a low, gravelly voice.

The purpose of the visit was just a well-child check; regularly scheduled health maintenance for his grandchildren.  There were a lot of errands to take care of that morning he said, and he was sorry that they were late.  They had probably done over 2 hours of driving before they made it in to see us at 9am.  These well-child visits are important, but there are a lot of parents out there who skip them because circumstances, or their own dysfunctionalities prevent them from making it to the appointments.  Bringing his kids in to see the doctor that day, I got the sense of a man who was doing his best to provide for these kids who rightfully should have two normal parents, but instead only had him without even his wife to help.

The emotions I got from this meeting were a mix of admiration and respect for what I could feel was his dogged commitment to the kids that were now his, together with a melancholy for just how hard it must be for him to support and care for two growing children, having already done this task at least once before, but this time without his wife and the energy of youth.

But you could tell that he loved and cared for his grandkids.  You could see it in the way he’d gently tap his grandson on the head with papers in his hand, referring to him gruffly as ‘this one’ while underneath you could feel his pride that he was healthy and doing ok.  You could see it too in how he looked at his grand daughter and described her meeting her milestones, while she played with the toys on the exam room floor.  I could just imagine him waking up to make them eggs in the morning, before sending them off to school.

Not everyone is dealt a good hand in this life, and there are a lot of people who I think are more than happy to just fold and walk away when they don’t like the cards.  I have not experienced much adversity or want in my life, but I don’t think that prevents me from paying respect to those who choose to pick up a burden that many a lesser person would pass by.  I guess what makes this man so remarkable and striking, is how unassumingly he seems to have taken up the task of raising these children, how he has taken on the responsibility that by rights should have been his daughter’s.

I guess the moral of the story (if all stories do indeed have to have morals) is that there are a lot of astonishing people out there, and their stories are not always those that make it into newspapers or books or movies.  And to some degree, I wonder if that doesn’t make them all the more remarkable.