Long before I worked in a hospital, I thought about the links between chronic illness and suicide risk. But, spending each day surrounded by people struggling to move forward with life as illness takes away many aspects of the lives they once knew has made me much more aware of the delicate balance they are holding.
This week, a colleague sent me a piece written by Dr. Thomas B. Graboys. Graboys used to work at one of the hospitals down the street from mine. He worked there as a cardiologist until Parkinson’s Disease and dementia made it impossible for him to practice medicine.
Several years ago, Graboys wrote about this intersection of his life as a physician and his life as a patient in “Life in the Balance: A Physician’s Memoir of Life, Love, and Loss with Parkinson’s Disease and Dementia.”
His more recent words, published in a piece titled “Finding Hope in the Midst of Despair: My Decade With Parkinson’s Disease and Lewy Body Dementia” in the journal Movement Disorders, struck me with particular resonance:
”Now in the tenth year of a battle that will continue for as long as I live, I have watched as huge swaths of my abilities have calved like chunks of ice falling from a glacier into the sea. My circle of friends has shrunk, the role I used to play in family life has diminished dramatically, and my medical career is over. The physical word I am capable of navigating has become a fraction of what it once was. My mental processes have slowed to a veritable crawl. My ability to express myself is profoundly compromised... Control over my body is a formidable, ongoing struggle of mind over matter. As the disease progresses, my sense of myself erodes in parallel and I mourn those bits and pieces as I would the loss of a loved one.”