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The Hardest Thing to Do

A first person account of Daniel Mercy:

I remember when my best friend, Johnny, came home from the hospital. We were both five. But he was half my size. He had been living with leukemia but then, he died. I remember that was when I first decided "when I grow up I'm going to be a doctor".

I soon forgot that dream and before you know it, all I wanted to do was ride my bike and be a racer. As I peddled like a speed demon delivering the newspaper throughout the neighborhood, I always avoided the house of Johnny's parents as much as possible. I got very good at throwing the paper from impossible distances, making sure his parents weren't in sight. If they were, I would go back later to deliver.

As I grew older Mom and Dad encouraged me to be an accountant. They pointed out my thriftiness with the income I made from my paper route as a way to point out that I was a "natural" for such a career. I would be secure with good money and I would always be well off, they said.

It was at that time I took up art and scribbled away on any piece of paper I could get my hands on drawing the microbes I saw in Biology class, drawing the map of the stars in astronomy class. It was then I decided I wanted to be an astronomer

But, the day came when at a neighborhood festival, I ran into Johnny's parents. They had gone on with their lives, and had other kids by this time. I met them one by one, right down to the youngest, the five year old they had named John.

That day is indelible in my mind, it was the day I got serious and began to study. I made up my mind, it would be medical school or nothing. It wasn't easy. I thought it was the hardest thing in the world I would ever do. But, it wasn't.

I thought the hardest thing I ever did was when my first patient died. I went home in a daze, I punched the wall in the garage before I went in the house and cried my eyes out in my wife's arms.

But, that truly was not the hardest thing I ever did. Not the hardest thing I will ever do.

The hardest thing I ever do, is every day... Sometimes it is when I have a new patient come in the door with worried parents.

And later on, after you have tried your best to save that little life, you would think the hardest thing is being honest and telling the kid its over. But they are so understanding and wise beyond their years. They already know. They are relieved. They want it to be over. They know it is time. They knew it before I did.

But that's not the hardest thing. The hardest thing is telling the parents there is nothing else that can be done. That it is all over. Time to go home and wait it out. Get hospice. And knowing the child wants to go, but the parents cling. That's the hardest thing.


Note: This was a fictional writing exercise in character development.


  1. Your story made me think of the day my dad's doctor told us there was nothing more he could do for my dad. It was such a sad day, buy my dad was at peace with everyone and everything and I think somehow he knew that he wouldn't be here much longer. He had us take one last family photograph and the smile on his face is one I will always remember. I am so thankful that I had the extra time I had with him.

  2. Sometimes it's the family that's last to know, or maybe the word would be accept. I like that your Dad had you do that last photo. It would give me a lot of peace.


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