The ache in my tooth just having returned from the dentist was nothing compared to the pang in my stomach as I walked into my practice Monday morning. There on my desk waiting for me was the death certificate for Santa Claus.
It shouldn't have been a surprise since I knew we would soon be here when he walked into my office one month ago. At that time he still wore his plaid flannel shirt, red suspenders, and black work boots to go with his white beard, balding head, and pot belly. This time, however, his pale skin had turned into painless jaundice.
A few days later I had enough information to confirm my fear he had a tumor obstructing his bile duct and multiple smaller tumors studding his liver. Two weeks later as Santa and his family were still absorbing this diagnosis, he was admitted to the hospital for low blood sugar from his diabetic medications. "Now he decides to actually take the meds I had prescribed," I thought to myself.
This simple admission may have been for the best, however, as it forced everything to come to a head. The family uncertain if this would be the end gathered in the hospital room. They caught a glimpse of what Santa would face if they were to continue on a more "curative" pathway. I was present as was a close colleague/hospice director. I told him this was the first time I had seen him without any red suspenders. He shook my hand, thanked me for being there, and gave me his usual jolly smile. I had a feeling this would be the last I saw of him.
A week and a half later at home with the support of hospice and surrounded by family Santa Claus passed away quietly.
I'll choose to remember the man I met almost four years ago. He presented as an out of control diabetic who perpetually ran out of his medications while working in the woods. As an aside that first visit he asked me to look at a mole on his back which turned out to be a softball sized abscess which I drained for him. He was the classic small town logger.
A few years ago I had a chance to visit with the doctor who I replaced. He had been here for almost twenty years. He missed his old practice, but the one thing he didn't miss was having to watch his close patients pass away. After only five years here, I am understanding more and more what he meant.