Birdlike and in his 80s, the patient had come to the hospital complaining of a new cough. But it was not he whom my colleagues and I found most disquieting.
It was his middle-aged daughter.
With a practiced dexterity, she had managed to wheel her father in the clinic, hoist him on to the examining table, smooth his hair, wipe his brow and tuck blankets around his legs to keep him warm without pause as she simultaneously fielded nearly a dozen calls and texts on her cellphone.
Still, every time her cellphone rang, buzzed, gurgled or popped, she jumped and sometimes even clutched her chest. After examining her father, I asked if she was O.K.
The woman’s eyes widened; she looked as if she was going to cry.
Her father, she began to recount, had moved in with her and her husband a few years earlier to help with their young children. But over the last few months, his health had begun to fail, and she found herself spending more and more time taking care of him. An occasional doctor’s appointment escalated into frequent emergency room visits and missed workdays so she could watch over him at home. Now, with her own sick days used up, her vacation day stockpile dwindling and the goodwill of her colleagues and boss dissipating, she tried to do as much work as she could by phone.