Dr. Lawrence Medford was forty-nine when his wife of twenty-five years died. It had taken six months from diagnosis to that fateful day when he stood with their daughters silently watching her simple coffin roll behind the undertaker’s doors leading to a cremation chamber. He showed no emotion, but his two college-age daughters didn’t share his stoicism and openly wept. The red-carpeted funeral home room was cold, and all three shivered even as they considered the heat of a furnace behind the unforgiving doors which had closed on their last link to their wife and mother. One of her dying requests was that they should not have an official memorial service, and so her death passed without fanfare and left them bereft of a sense of closure. Lawrence gathered up the solitary bouquet of flowers, a gorgeous arrangement of white roses, and carried it out to his car. His girls followed. If they hadn’t been so unhappy, they might have enjoyed the sweet aroma of roses as they drove home.
A few days later, their Dad stood on the platform at Durham’s train station, escorting his daughters off to London so that they could pick up their lives as apprentice architect and lawyer. He was pleased, but mildly surprised at their professional successes and even momentarily wondered whether he had been right to steer both away from his calling as a pediatrician. His argument was that medicine needs its practitioners to be fully up-to-date, something, he believed, to be impossible if a woman is also a mother.
After they had gone Dr. Lawrence Medford went home to embrace his loneliness by investing his time in medicine and gardening. He kept his large five bed room home and hired a live-in housekeeper to cook his meals and keep the home running. He was a slender, quiet-spoken, good-looking bachelor and several women, including his housekeeper, tried to capture his attention. He hardly noticed and didn’t respond for he was wrapped in his isolation and in his fond memories of his former life raising his family and communing with his late wife. He wasn’t one to engage in self-pity, although there were times when he questioned the way that his daughters had moved so far away in a semblance of abandonment. He wrote of his loneliness in his private journal but was too self-effacing to open up his feelings to anyone including his daughters.
A year later, this lonely man stood in Durham railway station waiting to meet his new resident, pediatrician-in-training, who was to arrive on the three-o-clock London train. When it swept into the station, he eagerly scanned the descending passengers for his contact, but all he saw was an elderly gentleman and three young women. As was his custom, he showed no emotion while inwardly debating that this didn’t make sense. Here he was waiting to pick up his new pediatrics resident, and the young man didn’t appear to have arrived; this was not a good start. The sun shone on the platform, so he held a hand to shield his eyes, thinking that perhaps the brilliant light had interfered with his vision. A whistle sounded, a flag waved, and the train left the station. Now he saw that the smallest of the three young women was approaching him with her hand outstretched.
“Dr. Lawrence Medford, I presume,” she paused, while she momentarily sensed his momentary hesitation.
“I’m Dr. Aytana Gupta, how-do-you-do.”
He held himself together while his mind whirled. A woman, how could this be? He expected, even welcomed, an Indian with a strong work ethic, good grades and sound references; however, a woman, and so young. His world, already miserably upside down seemed to be heading for another upset. He concealed his concern smiled, and said,
“Welcome Dr Gupta, come this way.”
Fortunately, Dr. Lawrence Medford had an open mind for, within a few weeks, he realized the error of his conception about women in medicine. He had misjudged Aytana. She might be small in stature and look young with her long flowing black hair, but she had a mind of a titan equipped with excellent medical knowledge. Her only problem was her shyness and lack of poise. He worked diligently to build up her self-confidence and helped her adjust into the mores and peculiarities of medical practice in a hospital in the north of England. They spent so much time together, two superb professionals with a common goal, that they developed a mutual attraction. Fortunately, their roles as teacher and student, coupled with his high moral and ethical standards melded their personal relationship into one similar to that between father and daughter.
At the conclusion of her residency, to Aytana’s delight, Dr. Lawrence Medford managed to persuade the Hospital Board to retain her as a full-time associated pediatrician. Before engaging in her new position, she took a long vacation in India. She returned with a husband in tow and laden with gifts, including an antique Indian painting of a tiger hunt as a special gift for her mentor. The gift overwhelmed him. In his entire life no-one including his parents, late wife, and daughters, ever gave him such a treasured gift. His eyes teared and his hands shook as he accepted it with a rare glimpse of his inner feelings..
He had influence with the Hospital Board and found a residency position for Aytana’s husband, Raj, whose medical training was two years behind that of his wife, He observed the young couple as they got to know each-other and to adjust to married life. He stepped in to gently counsel Aytana not to be overly critical or interfering with her husband’s residency. He urged her to let him form his own relationships.
Aytana’s content saw her gradually growing in stature both professionally and physically while she wore her hair shorter and shorter. When she was hospitalized with a bad case of German Measles her most frequent visitor was Al. He came with snowdrops, books, candy, love, and news from the wards. A year later, she was hospitalized again after a difficult delivery which ended with a cesarean. Al quickly realized that Aytana was heading into post-partum depression, he spoke to Raj and suggested that he take his wife out to dinner. This was accomplished with great secrecy. Raj arrived in Aytana’s room with red roses and a coat. She slipped into the coat. He escorted her to the best restaurant in the city where they dined in luxury. Although urged by the restaurant staff to take off her coat Aytana wisely kept it on. The episode with its element of subterfuge and love served to snap Aytana into herself again.
Doctors should never attempt to treat their own families because familiarity clouds perception, and so it was with Aytana and Raj. By the time that their daughter was seven months old they began to suspect that something was wrong. Aytana who shared everything with her mentor mentioned this to Al. A short time later, he invited the young family to afternoon tea. He served it English style in his drawing room. During the course of the occasion he periodically got up to play with the baby offering her various toys, and generally treating her with the empathy with which he served all his patients. When Aytana arrived at work the following morning, she found a carefully written diagnosis accompanied with letters of introduction to the country’s two top specialists who treated children with right-sided hemiplegia. (Hemiplegia is an irreversible one-sided, stroke-like brain injury, generally occurring in the womb or associated with a very difficult delivery. It is manifested by paralysis to one side of the body and can be partially mitigated by therapy, especially if administered at an early age). Aytana then realized that his attention to her daughter had been so that he could evaluate her and make a diagnosis.
When Aytana and Raj bought their first house, they invited Al to dinner. He came laden with the best wine. He admired their new accommodations but himself an avid gardener, looked woefully at their small garden, which was no garden merely a daunting plot rampant with weeds. The following Saturday he arrived with a mechanical digger in the trunk of his car and proceeded to spend the entire day digging up the weeds and preparing the ground. His investment stimulated Aytana and Raj to make another giant step into their assimilation into English culture, thereafter enjoying their garden as much as any English couple.
When Al retired, he urged the Hospital Board to appoint Aytana as his successor. Regrettably, they still espoused to his former belief that medicine is not a good profession for a woman and couldn’t see their pediatrics’ department led by one. She stayed on in her old role as second in command and she and Raj kept in close contact with Al.
A decade later, Al had a massive stroke and died. Dr Aytana Gupta wrote a long four letter of condolence to his daughters citing the many manifestations of his person which she treasured. She concluded with the words:
“Your father was a loving and giving person who asked for nothing. I wish more than anything that we had given him more than nothing.
“We are consumed with grief at this loss and will remember him as mentor, guide, father, grandfather, brother and loving friend – all that we had nothing of once – in this lovely and handsome person.
“We are proud to have known him and to have gained, so undeservedly, the affection of a beautiful and unique person.
“You must know that we shall not forget him.”
When Dr Lawrence Medford’s coffin rolled into the cremation chamber, his daughters stood weeping and watching. They thought about him and their self-imposed distance, and let Aytana’s words flow over their sadness and regrets. Her words described a closeness and love surpassing their relationship with their father, for she was, indeed his third daughter.