April 9, 2014 6:11pm Betrayal

It’s hard to write when I can’t post and I can’t. I would never ever have one of my patients find out about this from my blog. So ’m slowly getting to each one individually. Each one with a separate and unique need to know the how and why and when of this illness that may eventually separate us.

Some patients see me for grief work. Remember the lovely painting by the wife of the man who died singing Stairway to Heaven? He knows. I was just going to call her when her father died. They were close too. He was a doctor too. How do I reach out through the phone or heaven forbid sit close to her in my office and say that word to her again. With God by your side, I hear echoing through the woods surrounding me as I write. With God all things are possible.



This doesn’t seem that fair though. I know I can’t continue to see her as my hair falls out and I become gaunt. Watch her watching me and wondering how long before I leave her too. They told me that my hair might not fall out. I’m looking to that for a chance. I want to look in the mirror and see someone I recognize. Not somebody else. I want to hold this patient close in my arms and beg forgiveness for being not the second or third but fourth or fifth person that she loves to give way to the cells, undifferentiated growth thirsting for some place to reside. Another body to destroy. To rob her once again of someone she loves and has grown to depend on, work with. I won’t do this to you, I want to call and tell her. I won’t ever get sick or get cancer or God forbid tell you to watch as I wither away during 20 weeks of chemotherapy. Watching you look for signs, fearfully remembering the count down with others but not me. I was going to call but not on the day that they bury her father. And so I continue to keep this secret too. Writing my blog but not posting.

“Dr. Burns, how is Hong Kong?” they write. We want to hear about your trip.” Never believing in a million years that this would be the journey, I am silent. Quiet for now, if not forever.

I also wonder about working. What God wants. Is it time after so many stories to separate myself from others pain and seek my own more clearly. And yet, I know that without my patients, without my healing, my wisdom and discerning, I am as lost as the paper boat bobbing down the creek that slides past my view. Rudderless and so without direction. My every breath is to heal and purify. My in breath is His, my out breath is Hers. And so we breath together. Many times after a difficult session when I feel that motion has slowed and pace has reversed. That little has been accomplished except the cashing of a check at the end of the week, I stop. I remember. “When two or three are together in My name,” humbling myself in my expectations and judgments. And I remember that I have been placed in a brown rocking chair to listen and learn. To remember the stories spoken by the presence of someone holy, my patient. And to also remember that I bring that same holiness, that same breath to them. This is our communion, our healing. And that is sufficient.


Waking and walking in a world of living humans, with a rare and aggressive diagnosis and constant pain, changes your perception. The birds are brighter in color and song, the sweet rounding rhythm of the creek slips by with a shushing shurring that sharpens, the hawks glide over and under, over and under once more in a surreal dance that brings your father home. Even the rain comes louder and more insistently, slamming a large oak down to the banks of the New Hope Creek to rest beside the tree you painted for your Momma’s Solace and Endurance Series. You live and breathe in the assurance that everything happens according to the Creator’s wisdom and planning. “Thy will has been done on earth as it is in Heaven,” I chant. Thanking God I am not in charge as once I had wanted, as once I remember demanding.

Image 1

I watch folks more closely, knowing they are looking at me and not seeing. Glad for the extra week I have where a casual glance does not reveal my secret. My hair beautiful, brown with such little gray my patients tease me often about the hair dye I’ve never used. I wonder at each person’s life, their destiny as they bag my groceries, race past me with a toddler on the way to the bathroom knocking into my port in their haste but never knowing the hurt they’ve given, walking down the road beside our house with their dog as I walk with mine and we banter back and forth, to and fro. I cherish these last freedoms. The private chats we share with one another, moments life brings every day if you stop and take notice. If I cover my port and my venous access line, no one can know. Not yet.

Image 2

Dr Burns saw these birds during the Christmas Bird Count on Portsmouth and Ocracoke Islands, December 2013

One comment

  1. Beautiful, wise, haunting and more than a little heartbreaking for those of us who love you. Such grace, Dr. Burns, such grace. (There’s a reason that word “grace” has dual meanings.) I’m going to make sure Zuzu reads this post. She decided yesterday that she did indeed want to go into pyschology and become a therapist. May she embrace your understanding of and attitude toward your patients. They are lucky to have you.


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