Thursday, June 7, 2012

The post obituary blues

An obituary is a news article that reports the recent death of a person, typically along with an account of his/her life and information about the upcoming funeral or memorial service.

Mr J.'s obituary was in today's newspaper.

I was his primary care provider for a few years, many years ago.

I knew him as a very stoic and quiet male who had severe pulmonary fibrosis.

The obituary, as usual, revealed so much more.

He was a first generation American; his father immigrated from China to Maine.

He was one of 6 children.

He grew up working in the family restaurant.

He joined the Marines in 1945 during WWII and transitioned to the Reserves in 1949.

He was re-activated in 1950 and sent to Korea to join up with the 1st Marine Division and was wounded in battle (and was awarded the Purple Heart).

He moved to Florida in 1952, opened one of the first Chinese restaurants (the China House) in Orlando, and raised three children with his wife.

He remained in the restaurant business for 45 years.

After reading his obituary I felt down.

I have experienced this feeling in the past with obituaries on former patients of mine, from earlier in my medical career, when I was less confident in my abilities and did not spend as much time getting to know them on a personal level.

I haven't made this mistake for many years.

I take every opportunity to encourage young physicians to not make the same mistake...the post obituary blues can be avoided by getting to know how unique and interesting your patient is prior to their death; not after.

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