Dr. Sullivan was the kind of man who’d appreciate an aged Scotch. He had this wry sense of humor and old-school way of being, as if he might refer to women as “broads.” Handsome in an educated way, he carried himself with a refinement that spoke to his East Coast credentials. When he laughed, it was in the moment, making it easy to believe he was behind you.

From the start, he was behind me. Among doctors, Dad was first, Dr. Sullivan a close second. Kind, soft-spoken, thorough, that was Dr. Sullivan. He had this great bedside manner that made him feel like family. Our closeness was rooted in a respect for doctors on my end — and a respect for Dad on his.

Growing up a doctor’s daughter, you’re part of the club. And even more so when you’re chronically ill. Neurology appointments equated to a backstage pass without the star power. He’d been my neurologist since I was 18, had ushered me through the lowest lows. On the days I dug deep, he was there.

It was a sunny day, late in the spring of 2005, when the phone rang. I saw the name on the caller ID and wasn’t the least bit surprised. I knew he’d be calling — and why. Dad had told me. I answered the phone with a sheepish grin, almost a laugh. This’ll be good.

“Hello?”

“Marybeth, Dr. Sullivan.”

He was the only person on the planet who called me Marybeth. I got a kick out of it.

“I understand you ran into my dad.”

“Yes, I did.”

“And he told you I tapered down.”

“I want you to know, what you did was reckless. It really was.”

“Responsibly reckless.”

I said it with a smile and hoped he’d hear it in my voice.

He must have, because he laughed.

“I would have told you at our next appointment,” I said.

“Well, you proved your point, didn’t you? You’ve been at 200 milligrams for a while. I wouldn’t go back up now.”

 

The conversation was rooted in concern. If I had to pick a dynamic for our relationship, that would be it. I viewed him as an uncle, he treated me like a niece. It was as if he might say, “Now, Marybeth, before you do that…”

Oh sure, he reined me in. Who wouldn’t? It was the sign of a good doc and a good man. His efforts came off as droll, not demeaning. He couched his statements in humor. Who doesn’t love a doc like that? I’m sure there were times he wanted to lecture me. He cracked a joke instead.

He was invested. So was I.

“Do me a favor and don’t drop down anymore, OK?” he said. “Two hundred milligrams isn’t a therapeutic dose for you.”

“It’s not?”

“Not really. At that dose, you may as well not be on medicine at all. Don’t mess with it.”

I promised I wouldn’t, and we said goodbye. After hanging up, I sat on the floor, pondering his words.

“You may as well not be on medicine at all.”

“Interesting,” I said.

But no one was around to hear it.

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