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September 22, 1989

Last Rounds

Author Affiliations

New York, NY

New York, NY

JAMA. 1989;262(12):1688. doi:10.1001/jama.1989.03430120142038

I cradle my father carefully in my arms. His chin rests against my right shoulder as the physician slips the long thoracentesis needle into his back, searching for the cause of his inability to swallow food.

The physician's eyes evade mine. We are both 50 years old and between us have practiced medicine for a collective half-century. My father is a 78-year-old general practitioner. Half a century earlier he caught his father's leg during an amputation for diabetes. Together the three of us complete a century of medicine.

Finally the bitter answer comes. Ironically, my father, who has spent a lifetime railing against cigarette smoking, is to die of a rare lung cancer. We settle down. Even as we tell him the brutal diagnosis, I learn that a doctor dies differently.

My father's initial response is muted anguish, but quickly his professional pride takes over. "I knew I was right."