Tuesday, September 06, 2005


I wasn't always cynical

I am feeling particularly cynical today, so I thought I would post a story I wrote years ago, of a boy I knew in 1977.....

Ronnie's Miracle

It was just before Easter when Ronnie was admitted to the major medical center. His family doctor in the North Carolina hills could not figure out what was causing this eight-year-old's belly pain. And the swelling in Ronnie's belly was severe. On the second day of Ronnie's hospital stay I began my intern rotation on pediatrics: Ronnie became my patient.

I reviewed his admission notes and went to talk to him and his mom, and to examine him. His abdominal exam shocked me: it felt like a huge tumor was filling his belly! Indeed, previous examiners had thought his belly swollen but my less educated hands thought it was a mass: it proved on testing over the next two days to indeed be a massive tumor. Surgery was performed and confirmed the malignant nature of the tumor.

Ronnie's mom and stepfather were paralyzed with the horror of the situation. Ron's dad had died two years before of testicular cancer at age 26. Ron's mom was in the first trimester of pregnancy. Ron was diagnosed with cancer....

At the family meeting, the oncologists explained the treatment options. Survival chances were slim to none. New chemotherapy and radiation therapy protocols could be attempted for this rare cancer. Ronnie's parents had no clue as to how to proceed. Ronnie asked, "Will the medicines hurt?" He was honestly answered that they would make him feel very sick and weak. "Will it help?" We did not know, but we thought he might live longer with the treatment. "Will it help anyone else?" We might learn from treating him how to treat others.

He said: "Let's do it!"

And so Ronnie made the decision. Every night for the the next two months, for the rest of my time on that service I sat with Ronnie, not out of compassion, but out of the need to start and restart IV's in his tiny fragile veins. I learned how to do pediatric cut-down's and central lines on his little body. He continuously coached me and encouraged my efforts. When it hurt, he cried and told me it hurt, but then said, "You're doing fine...keep going!"

His family moved from the hills to Chapel Hill to be near him. They, too, became my patients. After my rotation I continued to see Ronnie in the hospital nearly every day. I spoke to his mom frequently and took care of her during her pregnancy.

Ron kept getting his treatments. He kept getting weaker. His resolve stayed strong.

A religious little boy, he asked why God wanted him to go through all this, what had he done to deserve it? He answered his own question: "I've been good, so God must need me to do this to help somebody else." He went through all the complications of cancer therapy that a body can endure, but he died shortly before Christmas that same year of the metastases of the cancer.

I sat with his parents immediately after he died and they asked: "WHY?"

I said, "I don't know God's mind. I don't know why Ronnie had cancer, why he suffered, why he died. I don't know if God has a plan, and I'm sure I don't understand it. But Ronnie chose to live and to fight for his life. He did so with courage. He was a kid who felt kid things and did kid things. At the same time he touched me with his courage and his humanity. He touched every orderly, aide, clerk, nurse, intern, resident, and attending physician who had the opportunity to care for him. I do know that I will take what Ronnie taught me with me throughout my life. What Ronnie taught me about caring and humility and courage will touch me very day. And, I suspect, that his touch will be present with all who cared for him. Ronnie changed the shape of who I am and who I will be, and through me will go on to touch others. Ronnie changed the shape of the world."

It is almost twenty years since Ronnie lived and died. The words I intended as comfort for his parents are still clear to me today: they have proven true. Ronnie is a miracle.

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