Good Friday

“It’s Friday. Jesus is hanging on the cross, bloody and dying. But Sunday’s coming.”  –Tony Campolo

Good Friday is a full day in my clinic.  We’re open, and schools are closed.  That generally means a busy day because parents prefer that their children don’t miss school.  On my schedule, I had a flurry of well checks and seasonal allergies.  I noticed that one of my favorite little patients was coming in, just before closing time.  I’d gotten to know him well when he had an unexplained fever last fall.  Every day his mother brought him to me, and a rare but famous textbook pediatric condition evolved before me, day by day.  When I was certain of his diagnosis, I admitted him to the local hospital.  He responded well to his treatment, and four days later, he was toddling around at home as if he’d never been ill.  This was early in my career, and it was my first important diagnosis and my first victory.  A diagnosis was made, serious complications were avoided, and my patient was well, all in a day’s work.  So, I was a little surprised he was on my schedule because his scheduled follow up appointment was still a few weeks away.

As soon as my 22-month-old patient arrived, I was worried.  He looked as if he’d been dipped in white candle wax except for his bright blue eyes.  His skin was paler than his curly blond hair, and the whites of his eyes were unnaturally white.  All those little blood vessels in his eyes had been erased.  I only noticed because they weren’t there.  His mother brought him to me because he had seemed to tire easily, and she’d noticed some bruises on his legs.  As I bent to examine him, I found swellings everywhere.  My fingers felt a firm liver edge under his ribs, a spleen tip below his belly button, round nodes in his neck.  I heard a harsh heart murmur that he’d never had before.  I explained to his mother we’d need some blood work, told her not to worry, I’d call her with results later in the evening.  I didn’t tell her what I feared.

Within the hour, my partner called me.  Since he was on call for the weekend, he’d been paged by the lab tech.  All of my patient’s cell lines were failing.  His red blood cells and platelets were dangerously low, and his white blood cells were skyrocketing, a mass of renegade soldiers staging a coup against his body.  This confirmed what I already knew.  My patient has leukemia.

My partner helped me make arrangements to have him admitted to the children’s hospital while I called his parents.  This is the worst news to give over the phone.  I was an earthquake, shaking the foundations of this family with all this information.  I felt I should have prepared them better in the office, but can a mother ever be prepared to learn that her child has leukemia?

This all occurred as my husband and I were driving home to spend Easter weekend with our families.  Ordinarily, I love to celebrate Easter.  It is the foundation of my faith and the reason for my hope, but it is hard to celebrate hope when you have made a devastating diagnosis.  Heartsick, I grieved over this child and his family.  I felt a little silly because none of this was happening to me directly.  It wasn’t my child or my family, but I could not separate myself from him.  I wanted to be with this family.  I wanted to help this small-town family navigate the streets of the city, sit with his mother in that exam room as she learned about his prognosis, and translate for her when she’d heard too much doctor-speak.  Sitting in my mother’s kitchen later that evening, I couldn’t think of anything else but this child and the lengthy treatment before him.

Is there really anything good about Good Friday?  Good Friday is the culmination of sin and the murder of a savior.  It is a dark day.  Sunday gives us hope.  On Sunday, we learn the truth, the final outcome of all Christ’s suffering.  For my patient and his family, every day is still Friday.  They’re still waiting for Easter morning.

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