Sunday, March 25, 2012

Grief Lives in the Marrow

I feel it in my bones; we're coming to the anniversary of Steve's death on April 13, 2011. I've had grief experiences before. I know how it feels impossibly difficult at the beginning, then it softens, then it comes in waves as innocent stimuli from the world open wounds that were only tenuously knit together.

Anniversary Phenomenon in medicine refers to that under-the-surface sense that something isn't quite right: a visceral understanding of heightened vulnerability born out of a prior loss. 

In my medical practice, when people are feeling sad/lonely/depressed/scattered/hopeless/"off," I'll ask, "Did something of any particular significance happen to you at this time of year?"

The answer is often, "Oh, was at this time of year when my brother died," or something of similar importance. That's when we talk about the power of grief, and the power of Anniversary Phenomenon.

So, now as we near the end of March, I remember the wound on Steve's big toe: the impossibly large blood blister that appeared the day the elevator door closed on his foot - or maybe, his feet - in the candy-apple red electric wheelchair. It happened on a date: one of our deliciously normal movie dates to a movie and a meal, courtesy of the sometimes uneven courtesy extended by the Access Bus.

I remember the horror as the healing foot suddenly changed: dusky black spreading through the forefoot, lines of dessication along the sole of the devitalized foot.

This photo shows Steve and me preparing for an after-Christmas party in 2009. It was in March 2010 that he had his enormous heart surgery to replace a strangling aortic valve and bypass narrowed coronary vessels. He was terribly sick even in this photo - on dialysis, his heart failing - but he was ambulatory. I love this photo of us working together, to prepare for one of Steve's favorite activities: food with friends on Bainbridge Island.

Brita and I have worked to establish a new normal, and for the most part, I think we've been very successful. But Steve's presence was big in every way. We all miss him.
I know in my heart that he would likely have gotten much sicker, in spite of his valiant struggle and in spite of our cooperative efforts to win him more time. I am comforted by the fact that it is I - not he - who is grieving. At least, we think death exempts us from that piece.

Steve's story: Let Me Go When the Banter Stops: A Doctor's Fight for the Love of Her Life comes out in May. I'm half-joking with friends that I'll promote it with a free box of Kleenex. But then, that would have been a Steve Williams marketing tool!

Take the best of care,
Linda Gromko, MD
Author of Complications: A Doctor's Love Story

Thursday, March 1, 2012

"Let Me Go When the Banter Stops" is Coming in May!

We're getting closer to the first anniversary of Steve's death. I do not miss dialysis, but I sure miss him.

I wrote throughout Steve's illness - his fall into acute-on-chronic renal failure, his heart events and heart surgery, his critical illness myopathy, his leg amputation, and finally, his death on April 13, 2011. Through chapters written in real time, through correspondence, through this blog and medical records, Steve's story is carefully chronicled.

"Let Me Go When the Banter Stops: A Doctor's Fight for the Love of her Life" will be released in May 2012.

As I gathered consent signatures from over one-hundred individuals, i.e. consent to be named in the story, it became apparent to me that Let Me Go When the Banter Stops represents a true community effort. And a tribute to Steve and the people who worked so hard to try to get him to the point of having a second kidney transplant.

I worked for hours to prepare the manuscript and photos for submission. I got them all in...and within two hours, my computer simply crashed. It was as though the little laptop limped along just far enough to get this project off the ground! And then, time for a break.

This unusual photo captures Steve all velcro'd into the standing table: a device used
to help him learn to adjust to standing after months of being bed-ridden. He
managed to stand for a total of two minutes, but the dream of walking was out of reach.

There's a lot of medicine in the book. I sincerely wanted to educate people about metabolic syndrome, diabetes, renal failure - and the prevention of these maladies. But at its core, the book is always a true love story.

Let Me Go When the Banter Stops will be available through my website ( and through A Kindle edition will also be available.

Take care,
Linda Gromko, MD