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Farewell to Dr. H

by julie on June 28th, 2017

December 10th 2003

We have encountered countless clinicians and professionals over the past 13 1/2 years. It’s part of the deal when your child is medically fragile. You cannot do this on your own and so, whether you like it or not, there is a whole crowd that follows you around for the rest of your child’s life. Some have been with us briefly while others have been with us right from the start. Meredith’s neurologist, Dr. H., is one of those people. Those first few days after she was born are a blur but I remember the morning of December 10th 2003 as though it happened this morning. We knew Meredith was having an MRI early that morning and when we arrived at the NICU she was there in her bassinet having just returned from the imaging department. Tim snapped this pic of us and I have spent a lot of time studying this photo as it is the last picture taken of me before receiving the hardest news of our lives. I have always been fascinated by how a few words shared by our neurologist in just a moments time, changed our outlook on life, parenting and how we thought everything was going to be. Just like that, his words, so carefully crafted, fell out of his mouth and tumbled onto the NICU floor: “As suspected, your daughter suffered a hypoxic event at birth. On one end of the spectrum she will be a clumsy child and on the other end of the spectrum she will have cerebral palsy. We’re leaning towards that end.” And just like that, life as we knew it dissipated and we found ourselves flailing in the abyss that follows bad news, tragedy and sudden, unexpected outcomes.

I have imagined so many times, what that must have been like for him. How he awoke that morning, went to work as he did every day knowing he would have to break this devastating news to us. We weren’t the first. He was a seasoned neurologist but I suspect this is something that never, ever got easier for him. I recall feeling sad for him. I could see how he had learned over time how to deliver this type of news balancing stoicism with empathy. We saw him again 24 hours later and there he went into more detail about Meredith’s prognosis. When you are receiving news of this magnitude, you tend to hear them as though you have cotton in your ears. You hear them but they are hard to digest. I remember very clearly how he reassured us that no matter how significant the brain damage was, Meredith would love us and would express that in her own way.

After that visit, a pattern developed where I would urgently need to go to the library or the cafeteria whenever Dr. H was coming by to check in on Meredith. Each time, he would politely offer to wait for “mom” but Tim would reply that I would not be present for the visit. I would return when the coast was clear and Tim would update me. Ten weeks after Meredith’s birth, we were discharged from the hospital. It still amazes me how we brought this medically fragile baby home and managed to care for her. If there was ever a time I felt as primal as a wild animal it was then.  

November 2008

I relied on instinct and a fierce sense of love and protection for Meredith. It wasn’t long before we had to have our first visit with  Dr. H. I spent the whole day before packing and preparing for this appointment. It was a big deal to just survive the day; an even bigger deal to leave our home and venture out into the world with her. I had tremendous anxiety and barely made it through the appointment. And the anxiety continued throughout that first year. It lessened as time went on but it wasn’t until we neared her first birthday and met with Dr. H again that I realized that the root of my anxiety was because I connected him with a very difficult moment in time. Recognizing that and sharing it with him, helped me immensely. He said that it was a normal reaction as he was the messenger of such heartbreaking news.

The years passed and he helped us through so many difficult times. The first ten years were shocking at best but he stands out as a constant beacon of light. It’s his words that have stayed with me throughout it all. There was a time we were admitted and Meredith was presenting with puzzling symptoms. A young, whipper-snapper of a doctor wanted to increase one of her medications to control the severe arching pattern she had developed. He assumed it was simply related to the cerebral palsy. I insisted that the arching was due to pain and asked him to consult with Dr. H as I wasn’t trusting of anyone else. He came back and said that Dr. H told him to trust the mother: “She knows this child best of all.” They promptly did some tests and it turned out, Meredith had a severe urinary tract infection.

When Meredith’s brain was misfiring and causing her to go into sudden periods of respiratory distress resulting in frantic 911 calls, Dr. H was the one who sat down with us to have a frank discussion on life expectancy and then referred us to the children’s palliative care home. He knew since her birth that this was likely the outcome but he was wise enough to know that parents can only digest so much heartbreak at one time. Eventually our appointments were an annual occurrence because Meredith was stable and we were no longer as mystified (or terrified) by her behaviours. I remember bringing her in to see him, an appointment that I ironically looked forward to each year, and before leaving the room he said, “You have done a great job, mom (and dad).” Those words had such a positive impact on me.

Last week we showed up for our annual appointment but after hearing rumblings of his upcoming retirement, I knew that this would probably be our last appointment with Dr. H. It was a bittersweet day and yet I was surprised by the depth of emotion that was being stirred as I sat in the waiting room. He came out to get us as usual and we walked together to the examining room. Meredith was sitting in her wheelchair and was tolerating it for a moment. I told him that this was his retirement gift. He knew how we struggled for years with Meredith’s seating and how we held her for 15 hours/ day for 81/2 years. There was a nurse practitioner present at this appointment and Dr. H and I reflected on the past few years and I shared with her how I dreaded seeing him in those first few months. I did everything I could to hold back my tears. I realized that he has been a constant since the beginning of this journey and I have trusted him most of all out of all of the clinicians we have had contact with.

This is just another part of this experience that I wasn’t aware of until now. Our grief takes on many forms. Having to say good-bye to the ones that have walked alongside us in our darkest times, is one loss I hadn’t anticipated or prepared for. Dr. H isn’t the warm and fuzzy type although over the years, I have caught glimpses of his dry sense of humour and we have shared many laughs in the midst of the seriousness of our reality. Having the opportunity to thank him for his service and to hug him was just what this mama needed. I requested a photo of him with Meredith and he bravely asked to hold her. The photo below says it all. We have had quite the journey and I know we are one of many his patients who will miss him deeply. I will be forever grateful that he was on-call on a cold December night 13 1/2 years ago when Meredith decided to be born and stick around.

Dr. H and Meredith
June 2017

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4 Comments
  1. Angie permalink

    I’m going to miss him too 😉 thanks for sharing Julie

  2. Andrea Gumpert permalink

    Love this. Will ask for a final pic too.
    Always – on point Julie. <3

  3. Dr. H. was a very special person in our family too we will never forget his kindness and compassion throughout very difficult years. Happy retirement, Dr. H! We send you very warm wishes. Nicholas Wright and family.

  4. Marilyn MacD0nald permalink

    I loved your story of Dr. H. and how you trusted him. I cried the whole time while I was reading yet. My grandmother use to say ” Her bladder is too close to her eyes” not nice! Lol!

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