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Dear Diary:

The letter came about a week earlier. My internist, Dr. Norman Anderson, was stepping down from his medical practice due to failing health. I couldn't get past it, to the attached two-page list of physicians he recommended. I couldn't imagine anyone else as my doctor or believe that he was as ill as all that. Then, the week passed and I read of his death on Aug. 15th from gastric cancer.

I knew he was sick. The last time I saw him he had lost some weight, and I noticed the bounce in his step was gone. Usually, he would walk out to the waiting room to meet you, chart in hand. He'd look at you, call your name, smile, wink sometimes, always shake your hand, immediately turn with a "C'mon, let's go," and lead the way down the hall. I'd have to pick up the pace to keep up, and I always felt we were on a mission, together.

"How's everything?" he'd ask before the door closed. And he meant everything--my family, our twins, my job, my health. For him--he never said it but you felt it--they were interconnected. You were not a patient with an ailment, you were a person.

After palpating and probing, there would be a discussion. He'd say, I have some concerns about this. Let's do this. I'll call you when I get the test results. Then when you met with him, he'd go over each test, explain what the numbers meant, the options to bring them down, bring them up. Sometimes he used analogies that made me think about things a bit more, like my low HDL cholesterol: "Ok, you're the mayor of the city and the sanitation department is on strike. You've got to settle this thing and get these trucks moving to remove this waste."

A discussion about diet, exercise and red wine followed. I'll go to the health club more, I promised. Just try to keep up with your kids, he responded. Finally, the action plan: How's this work for you? C'mon, let's go. Yes sir.

When we finished, he'd walk next to me, slower now, down the hall. He'd ask about my family again, shake my hand, then briskly walk back, chart in hand, to the waiting area.

Since I work as a writer at Hopkins, I usually look for the qualities that distinguish a physician. She's an expert on this. He's a good diagnostician. He can see your disease from the door. I didn't see Dr. Anderson in those terms, though my experience told me he was truly thorough and profoundly professional. I saw virtues that shouldn't be remarkable in a physician. He was totally up-front--there were no misconceptions or pretenses in the air between you. He exuded a sense of constant concern for your well-being. You felt he was in your corner, ready to fight whatever came your way. But more than anything else, I saw him as a physician who engaged the patient as a friend. Only now as I write this do I realize that Norman Anderson, my physician, was my friend. I will miss him immensely.

-Gary Logan
Medical writer, Communications & Public Affairs


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