I greeted the oncologist. "Hey Jim."
"Oh, you're presenting? Where is Brent?"
"He is in NLR, this week. We are tag teaming this conference. We're both really excited about it. He took the pictures, but I reviewed them about an hour ago. I'm all set."
Jim was busy setting up the computers with the radiologist, and I walked over to his nurse and put my jump in the USB port. The conference room was full - around a hundred doctors, nurses, technicians, and administrators settling down with lunch.
I've known Jim for a few years - first met him in the doctor's lounge and have had many cases with him in my short stint at Baptist. He is a handsome man in his early 50's - slim with wavy silver hair and an easy smile. His slow, Southern drawl automatically soothes - especially when we are dealing with a tough patient. A few months back I became alarmed when a diagnosis of mine, made with a senior partner, needed to be changed in light of new information. She said, "Don't worry, it's Jim's patient. He understands - this happens sometimes. I'll talk to him."
I remember when I first met him, I bounced his name off on my Dad. "He is a great guy. Had esophageal cancer a few years back, and treated it with an Ivor-Lewis. He is doing well. Did you know he is a musician? And he loves motorcycles."
Setting up for conference, I asked Jim who he was presenting first, to get my cases in order. "We are doing JM. The melanoma."
"Oh. The one with the recent re-excision and metastasis. The surgeon just did it at the end of last week."
Jim looked at me in surprise. "What? I didn't know about that!"
"You didn't? That is what my pictures are from. I thought that is what you were presenting."
He looked confused and frustrated. This was his show, and it was about to start.
I laughed. "Jim, don't worry. Show me what you are going to talk about, and I will present that path. A melanoma is a melanoma is a melanoma. Who cares? I'll just pretend my pictures are of whatever you are prepared to talk about. Let's just make sure all the other cases match up, so we don't look unprepared in front of everyone."
We quickly went over the rest of the cases, and everything was in order. I giggled with his nurse over our almost tumor board party foul. The conference was well received, and I tried to congratulate Jim afterward, but couldn't get to him - so I slipped out the back door of the conference room to get back to my own work, and vowed to call him later.
The next day, I left him a message mid-morning. I got a call around noon.
"Jim, that was a great conference. I'm getting tons of good feedback. All of the pathologists and the surgeons think you are filling a hole that has long been needed. Chest conference is great, but we see lots more than heart and lungs. This is going to be good for the whole hospital."
He responded humbly. "Yeah, I think it went good. I encouraged the surgeons there to bring cases next month. I think once a month is going to be perfect."
I agreed. "More would be too much. I talked to Brent yesterday afternoon and he was happy to hear it went well. We are definitely on board."
I spent a wonderful holiday weekend with family and close friends at my parent's house. Everyone cleared out around 3:00 today, and the kids and I laid around and gorged on corn salad, boiled shrimp, guacamole, and ice cream. I loaded them up around 7:30 to head home for bedtime - they are on summer break but I've got to get to work tomorrow. We were singing in the car on the way home, when I got a text signal. I expected it to be from my nanny about coming in the morning. I was wrong. It was from my Dad.
"Jim Grissom died in a motorcycle accident this afternoon."
The shock of it hit me so hard I pulled over into the Graffiti's parking lot and shed silent tears uncontrollably.
"Mom, what's wrong?"
Fuck. "I'm OK. Just needed to stop. Lost a friend. A doctor."
Sicily doesn't know many of my doctor friends. "It wasn't Ramona, was it?"
"No, sweetie, Ramona's OK. It was another doctor. A guy."
I pulled back onto Cantrell and called some of my partners. Have you ever read Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking? I'm still hoping I will get to work tomorrow and someone will tell me this is all a big hoax.
Jim Grissom's cool factor was as high as Dennis Hopper's, if not higher. His service to his patients is his legacy. A lot of people are going to miss him - many of my partners have known him a lot longer than I have. May he rest in peace, whatever that entails.