Monday, February 20, 2012

Losing Leo: When A Resident Decides to Check Out

I don't know why, but this morning I woke up thinking of Leo.

Doc H has the pleasure (or stress - depending on which day you talk to him) of teaching residents.  They are in the OR with him, they are paging him, they call his cell, and every now and then, when they cannot track him down, they call home.

Here and there, over the years, he'll bring his residents up in conversation. Sometimes it's a funny story, sometimes it's frustration, sometimes it's just shear concern of whether or not a resident has the skills to be a surgeon and the pressure Doc H feels to mold him or her into just that.

Leo was the only resident Doc H has ever invited to our house. The two of them shared a common bond over a certain hobby.  So, he came over, ate with us, drank with us, played around on the computer with us, and worked with Doc H on the hobby they both loved so much.

Leo was much more skilled at their hobby than Doc H. I think Leo found pleasure at the turned tables. I remember him laughing and smiling as he was teaching Doc H new tips and tricks. Likewise, Doc H is always eager to learn new things. God blessed him with a big brain and he certainly works at filling it to capacity.

We don't always attend resident graduations. If Doc H is not working, with four kids, we always have some family event going on. But when Leo graduated, Doc H made sure we cleared the calendar. We were there along with the residents' spouses, SOs,  and family. I shook Leo's hand, hugged and congratulated him on a job well done. He told me he would be working as a fellow near his hometown even though he would have preferred to stay in our neck of the woods. His family needed him close. So, he would leave, even though he didn't want or have to.

Doc H was sorry to see him go, but thanks to modern day technology, they kept in touch via text messaging as Leo began life as a fellow.

More than a few months had passed by and I was riding in a car with a colleague one bright sunny morning when my cell phone began ringing to the tune "Bad to the Bone". (That's how I know it's Doc H calling.) And that's when I had that moment. You's a moment in your life you will never forget. Life almost comes to a screeching halt, but continues moving forward in slow motion. I can tell you exactly what I was wearing and where we were on the road.

Through my cell, I hear a rattled Doc H breaking the news. Leo had died....
What!? What happened!?? Was he sick? An accident? What in the hell happened!?
No, he took his own life.

That's when I got sick to my stomach. My friend and colleague, Gary, asked if he should pull the car over. I had an ache in my heart and shortness of breath. Gary told me I looked pale. It was a feeling I hope I never have to experience again.

Later that day, when Doc H came home we spoke of the different scenarios of what could've happened to drive Leo to such a lonely and helpless place. Was is the stress of a fellowship? The move from behind an attending's guidance and protection to more responsibility?  A hard-nosed superior? A fatal patient mistake? An accusation of malpractice? We didn't know; we could just speculate.

Doc H went back in his phone to read his last communication with Leo. Leo had sent a text indicating he had been working hard and sounded stressed. In Doc H's last text to Leo, he reminded him to balance his life; to take time for himself and make time for their shared hobby.

He never heard back. That was it. No more messages.

So, here's to Leo. A young man full of promise, who decided to leave us all too soon.

And here's to all the young resident's out there who are working themselves to the nub, in order to treat all us "regular" folks.

And here's to all the spouses, SOs, friends and family, who offer support when needed, cut them some slack when they can't be there for every dinner, birthday celebration, holiday, etc..., and most of all.. love them for who they are trying to be.


  1. I am sorry to hear of your loss, and the medical community's loss. It sounds like he was a promising surgeon and a wonderful person.

  2. Thank you. He left us over a year ago, but on this particular morning I just woke up thinking of him for whatever reason. I really don't know why, just did. He was a nice guy.

  3. Sad, what a great loss. It really is an art to see a man's heart through his face, almost impossible. I wonder if he was married.

    1. No, Leo was not married. It was a very sad and shocking moment in our lives when we heard the news.

  4. This is heart-breaking. I am so sorry for your and his family's loss. :(


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