Natasha and Joe

January 22, 2010

Yesterday I found out about the deaths of two people who I didn’t know very well. Hearing that kind of news always feels awkward – not quite grief, but a strange sense of loss nonetheless.

Joe Byer was 95 years old. He belonged to my parents’ synogogue, and was considered somewhat of a badass for our congregation. He was a polish immigrant who escaped the Nazis, fought in wars, spoke a million languages, and was possibly the meanest shofar blower ever to grace Beth Shalom’s hebrew school. Plus he sold real estate. I hadn’t spoken to him since I left Delaware for college in 2001. My outdated memories are of a sprightly man in his 70’s.

Natasha and I met on the phone a few months ago when I started a project with the LES Harm reduction coalition. She helped run the transgender support group. We spoke once every few weeks. We hit it off pretty quickly, in spite of the fact that I only met her once in person. (I remember expecting her to be a blond, and was surprised to meet a young brunette). Yesterday  I called to follow up with the project, and found out she passed away on New Years Eve.

The more I study for our cardio midterm, the more vignettes I read about heart attacks, cocaine overdoses, congenital abnormalities that may or may not be fatal. Patients on paper are good enough to train my mind to diagnose diseases. That said, I’m not sure how well they are preparing me to face mortality once I start rotations.

I know this post is a little bleeker than usual…  Here’s something I read for Buddhism class recently that seems fitting (paraphrased, obviously). It said, We tend to celebrate births, and mourn deaths; maybe we’ve got it backwards.


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