Building A Mystery: Daily Life-Affirming Story, Courtesy of NYT!


Yes, today’s “Science Times” will make you cry.

The author, a medical student doing rotations, becomes aware of a situation in the hospital: a young woman dying in the ICU, with no family but an unusually devoted boyfriend named Josh.

They had been together since middle school and had stayed together even as the rest of her life fell apart. When her strained relationship with her parents became impossible and they were no longer in her life, Josh remained her confidant and closest friend. When she learned she was seriously ill, she and Josh filled out the paperwork required to give him her durable power of attorney…So it was that he sat by her bed day after day, occasionally rising from his post there to perform the rudimentary maintenance that she no longer could: wiping the tears from her eyes and clearing the caked secretions around her mouth.

The young woman dies; life goes on. A few months later a young man in the ICU is giving staff a lot of problems, refusing to cooperate and disrupting hospital activity. Then a mysterious “sitter” starts visiting with him and everything changes; he becomes happy and and a model patient. When the author enters his room to witness the transformation, she realizes that the sitter is Josh.

It turned out he had taken a job with the hospital after his girlfriend’s death. His story, I realized, was a kind of love story, and in some way it evoked all of our stories, whether we are doctor or patient, comforter or comforted, healer or healed. Josh reaffirmed for me what we medical professionals know but all too easily forget: the human story is not a series of illnesses and treatments that we manage, but is an unfolding mystery – a process with which we ourselves are in ongoing communion, as both witnesses and full as participants.

It’s a lovely, sad story with an almost Tolstoyan air to it, and more touching than most of the “Modern Love” columns. This is probably because it’s not a first-person account of someone elucidating his own struggles. That has its place, but quiet heroism has become such a rarity in our lives that we are quick to embrace it and claim it if we can (see: Sully Sullenberger.) We don’t even know this guy’s real name, and maybe that’s the point. At this point, mystery is the rarest commodity we’ve got, and more powerful for it.

Comforter and Comforted in an Unfolding Mystery [NY Times]

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