Why had he even come?
The adults whispered about his back pain, how terrible it had been the past two weeks, how none of the meds were working.
He was my favorite uncle.
We would jokingly say mean things to each other every time I saw him. “You’re just a silly kid…” He would roll his eyes. I loved it. I loved harassing him back. There was no other adult that I could joke around with like that. You know how it is when an adult treats you like a human being.
But this time my ten year old self knew that I should not say a single word.
Just stay away. Keep your distance.
He had to be helped to the car…
That was the last time I saw him alive.
One week later he was dead. From melanoma. His back pain was from the metastatic lesions in his spine.
My mother went to stay with him at the hospital because his wife could not do it. She could not sit there and watch him die. I hated her for it, my aunt. It was her third husband…
He was my favorite uncle, not a third husband.
“Where did the melanoma come from?” everyone asked.
It was a “benign” mole on his leg that had been removed by his family doctor that had not been sent to pathology. It never healed right. It grew. It spread. It ate away at him until there was nothing left.
For a time I hated all doctors, especially family doctors. Stupid, stupid people. They killed him.
And then I became a family doctor myself. Everything goes to pathology. Everything.
I have patients who like to banter at me like he did and every time I engage with them, I think of my uncle. I wonder if he was angry with his doctor. What would he think of me becoming one? Who would he be now if he had had access to treatment like Jimmy Carter?
Who would I be? Might I have missed a melanoma myself? Been careless?
With each new medical breakthrough there is the joy and miracle of lives saved, but it also deepens the tragedy of those lives already lost.