Dr K

Dr K has been my parents’ GP since they started living in Ottawa fifteen years ago.  I had never met him but had heard my mom and my dad mention his name often.  Listening to their stories I was always envious since this doctor appeared to be the stuff of legends and I was deprived of any contact with him; in the United States I am certain that meeting such a doctor is a near impossibility.
Over the years I had heard of his role as a guide.  My father had come to rely on his judgment and his expertise.  The one instance I remember very clearly is the one where my dad was going through some strange vertiginous and balance related issues.  It was frightening because we couldn’t tell what this was.  Was it another frightening symptom of the illnesses he already had, was it something new? So they went to see Dr K.  He asked several questions, lay my dad on the stretcher and essentially just tilted him this way and that.  It was apparently a matter of realigning something in the inner ear in order to fix its balance function.  When my dad was off the stretcher his problem was gone.  There was no guessing, no running of a million tests, each yielding no relevant information toward a recommended diagnosis.
I had heard from my mom that when Dr K first met my dad and learnt his name he told them that his dad’s name was Aaron which is really close to my dad’s name – Arun.  Over the years I heard stories of just how many times he had said that my dad reminded him of his own dad who he had lost several years ago.  Their office visits to his clinic included long conversations and a mutual delving into each other’s backgrounds and history.  
Dr K is well-traveled and has been to India several times.  He has been to Bihar, he knows about Laloo Yadav.  He is very involved with the Doctors Without Borders organization and spends many months of the year out of the country treating people who are much removed from care of any sort.  He spends a lot of time in the northern polar regions of Canada as well, treating the native population.
As we mourn the passing of my dad I didn’t want my mom’s health to start suffering from neglect, if nothing else.  She had recently cancelled her annual check up appointment with him because she was spending most of her time in the hospital with my dad.   Yesterday mom agreed to go and see Dr K.  I drove her there and even accompanied her to the examination room.  When he came in he greeted me with a hug, no introductions were necessary and then he focused his whole attention on my mom.  He hugged her and then he pulled his chair really close to hers and held both her hands as he looked straight into her eyes, not saying a word.  The tears started rolling down her eyes and mine and when she spoke she told him how much his care and his affection had meant to my dad, my mom, over the last fifteen years.  She told him how my dad always wanted to consult with Dr K even when he knew that his ailment required more specific care than that which a GP could provide.
They held hands and kept reminiscing for a long time, he remembered every conversation and every session they had ever had.  He occasionally turned to me to tell me how my dad had such presence, such an impact on all the people whose lives he touched.  He told me my dad inspired instant admiration and reminded him so much of his own dad and that he had felt a lot of affection for mine.
We had assumed he would have known of the cause of death since hospitals in Canada keep the GP informed of all developments.  But word hadn’t reached him yet.  The last information he had was that my dad was in critical care due to renal failure.  He learnt of his passing when my mom checked in at the reception and told the receptionist.  So we told him that renal failure wasn’t the cause.   It was PJP bacteria/fungus that goes after people whose immune systems either don’t function because of an autoimmune disorder or are suppressed by anti-rejection drugs given to people who have had an organ transplant.  My dad had had two organs transplanted and his immune system was severely compromised.
The PJP destroys the lungs with a severe pneumonia.  My dad’s lungs were full of fluids.   He couldn’t breathe.  When doctor’s asked him how he felt he would tell them he felt like a fish removed from water.  
I told Dr K that my brother had overheard a conversation that his medical team were having in the ICU and they weren’t aware that my brother was listening.  One of the doctors had compared the chest X-Ray to the whiteness of a pillow case. Dr K uttered the words “white out” when he heard this.  I could hear the tears in his voice as he said these words and then turned around to grab a Kleenex.
He explained to me that a normal chest X-Ray would look black on the film.  Like an idiot I said you would also see ribs.  He said, “I don’t see ribs…ah I see…that’s interesting…if you are a doctor you don’t see the ribs…you see the black or the obliteration of the black (air) with the white that represents the absence of air and the presence of fluids or anything else…”  With this exchange it hit him that this was the worst case scenario.  He told my mom that she should have called him, that he didn’t have the magic that would have fixed him this time but he would have known what was going on and we wouldn’t have spent so many days wondering and clueless.
He finally got around to completing my mom’s check up.  He recommended diabetic counseling for her.  I urged him to recommend this counseling as soon as possible but he said that this was not the right time because she couldn’t learn or retain new information at the moment, through grief.  He recommended it for three months from now and I saw him type in a note full of compassion on his computer screen as he emailed the staff responsible for setting this up.
He hugged us warmly as we left his office.  I left feeling more comforted than I had felt in the preceding 48 hours.

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