I take care of a 6-year-old.
She has the most beautiful smile you have ever seen, although that is not so hard to find on a 6-year-old, this one is different.
You see I took care of her father Robert 1 year ago. He was under my care when we found out that he had cancer.
It was too late, he was 35.
From the time I saw him in the clinic until the time he died in a hospital bed attached to an IV drip of morphine sulfate, it was exactly 29 days.
I didn't find out that he had died until 7 days after his funeral. I felt stone cold.
His wife had told me when she brought her daughter for a follow-up visit, as she broke down in tears.
I felt this intense guilt. When I saw his daughter, a patient of mine since I held her for the first time at her first physical at the age of 2 months, I almost cried.
I thought that would be the last time I would see this family. I felt responsible for his death, had we only caught it sooner, had we been on the lookout, had we heeded the early warning signs, anything... Anything to avoid this image of his family. This was a hard time for me in my career.
Two days later I saw Robert's mother in our clinic. She looked deep into my eyes and we held hands. She cried and I listened.
I felt guilty for her son's death; I couldn't tell her this.
She came back 4 more times seeking treatment while she was away from her hometown in Colorado. She entrusted me during this time with her care. I felt incapable, I doubted my ability, and I recommended she see our Internist.
She visited me 3 more times and each time she would tell me stories about her son. I grew to care for Robert more and more.
She left, returning to Colorado 6 months later. I have yet to see her since.
Today, Roberts six-year-old daughter ran through the clinic doors and gave me the biggest hug. It is as if Robert were reaching out from the dead. In his daughters embrace my wounds began to heal. There is some resolution, some peace.
Today, she has a small rash on her shoulder; it just needs some antifungal cream. Her mom tells me that Sarah will make up any excuse she can to visit me here in the clinic. I am overwhelmed with emotion, the guy who let her father die. I have no right to steal these hugs.
There is a brother, he is 8 and an aunt, she is the mother of 2 and part of Roberts extended family. I see them all now, each and every one, they treat me like family,
Deep down I am afraid. I am afraid that I will fail them again. Fail them like I failed Robert. Like a guard asked to keep watch over the base who fell asleep on his Job.
Yet in me, they place their trust.