Medical meetings have a structure, usually unique to the group. SENTAC’s is a long first day of scientific presentations, lectures and panels, followed by the annual banquet. Most of the time the banquet food is boring and tasteless, the company can be boring but usually not tasteless, and the speeches are definitely boring and predictable. But I go anyway to catch up with colleagues and friends.
Day 2 ends early so that people can take part in a planned activity or go out on their own. In Salt Lake City (SLC), skiing for most trumped a bus tour as everyone dispersed just before 1 pm. I did neither. After a brief, restorative nap (catching up on the sleep I lost preparing for my talk and the sleep I lost reliving the disappointment from its reception), I visited with an old, dear friend and his family.
I have blogged about Steve in the past. He is my man of quality. For 10 years he came to Buffalo every month. His unique approach to change using integrated outcomes was the driving force in our development of the first Center for Pediatric Quality in the US. While it is no longer in existence, I am happy to report that our friendship is very much intact.
Steve drove me from SLC to Drapter, Utah, some 25,000 plus feet from the Temple. I know this to be true, because as we reached the main strip of this Disney-esque, ultra-clean bedroom community of SLC, I commented on how odd it was that each street was named by a rather large number. It was explained to me that the number was a marker so that the predominantly Mormon community would have a compass as to where it stood in relationship to its religious center.
We arrived at his home where I had stayed before. The night was chilly, but the reception was warm. Two of his 3 kids were home—same ages as my Jeremy and Becca. Lieutenant Jake was grown. Father of two, the newest arrival just two weeks old. Freshly replanted from Tennessee back home. He will be separated from his family (again) when re-deployed to Afghanistan just after the holidays. At least he was home for the birth of his second son.
Abbey, age 21, was almost unrecognizable. All grown up, strong, and focused like her father and poised and self-assured like her mother. Where was the kid in the overalls? She was graduating from BYU and had landed a reporter’s job in the Deseret News.
After we hugged I quickly scooped up the new baby and for the next few hours planted myself in the rocker and we talked and laughed as I enjoyed the newness of a new life so loved. I was admittedly jealous for the grandchildren Steve and wife Stacey were so clearly enjoying. Jake expounded that early marriage and early family were organized around the Mormon custom: “We ship off the men right after their first year in college. We live for 2 years on a mission with another guy. No wonder we all come home ready to get married!” We all laughed at his characterization. But I couldn’t help thinking how mature these young people were. And I shivered at the thought he had 4 weeks before he left for Asia.
We reminisced about their visits to our home in Buffalo, for a Shabbat dinner, for Becca becoming a bat mitzvah. We talked shop about Stacey’s cardiac nursing job and her experiences with “disruptive” physicians. Being seasoned she just gave it back and gained respect of, and from, her cardiologist colleagues.
The conversation flowed over veggie pizza (after a heartfelt before-meal prayer). When everyone started yawning, particularly me, it was time to drive back downtown. Another round of hugs and an admonition to Jake to be careful overseas.
In the shadows of the car, we talked about losses we had suffered and how we coped. The intimacy came easily. We left each other with promises to get together in NYC (were Steve spends one week a month) or on MV this summer. I didn’t need my jacket to feel warm. I had the comfort of a friendship that transcended space time and our very different cultures. I was really glad I had come to Utah.