Saying Goodbye

“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” Albert Einstein

Where does one begin to say goodbye? Last week I attended a memorial celebration for Dr. David Hull. I had known him and his family since 1990 when he first saved my life. Dr. Hull was the head of the Transplant at Hartford Hospital but I was not a transplant patient. I had an extreme case of peritonitis poisoning due to intestinal issues. My GP had called ahead to Hartford Hospital to see who was on staff that Thanksgiving weekend and selected Dr. Hull to be my surgeon. He performed emergency surgery on me and that was the start of a long term doctor-patient relationship. 

During that first ten day hospital stay, I shared the Newtown Bee, Antiques & Arts Weekly paper with Dr. Hull who was interested in antiques. I kidded with him that if he came to the auction, I could recoup some of my hospital bill. In the spring of 1991, he did just that, arriving with his wife, Connie, to a Saturday night auction at the Canton Barn in Canton, CT.

David and Connie became very good friends. The first time I had them over for dinner, I had thoroughly impressed David by de-seeding everything in the salad I served. He looked at me in wonder and said he wished he could get his transplant patients to take “just one pill a day” while here I was de-seeding everything so I could continue living. Unfortunately for me, de-seeding everything religiously wouldn’t keep me out of the hospital.

 In 1996 I was hospitalized twice in 5 days while vacationing in Maui. I called David back on the mainland and asked him to check out the physician who had so rudely walked into my hospital room, telling me he would be operating on me by the end of the day without ever asking me how I was feeling. Although his credentials checked out, there was no way I was becoming another tourist notch on his surgery belt. I flew home and at the beginning of 1997, David operated once again on me.  1998 saw me back in trouble again. I spent three days in the hospital but surgery was avoided.

During all this time, David and Connie, and my then husband Richard & I, spent lots of time socializing together. There were dinners, and the annual Red & Black Ball at Hartford Hospital, holidays & birthdays, and all those auctions they attended. Our bond was strong, our friendship deep. David was an incredible surgeon, a caring doctor, a good friend, an honest guy, a great family man and a loving husband. David always inquired after my health and my diet in a way that made it clear how much he cared for my well being.

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 (David and Connie in the mid-1990’s at a holiday party I hosted.)

Richard and I amicably divorced in 2001. That caused a disconnect in our socializing with David and Connie. David treated me again in 2004 and medically counseled me in 2007, referring me to a superb gastroenterologist . Between 1997 and 2008, whenever I was in Hartford to visit a friend in the hospital, or had other business there, I would stop by David’s office to say hello. He always took time from his busy schedule to sit and chat with me for a few minutes…inquiring as to my health and how the auction gallery was doing, of course, and I would ask about Connie and the kids before the conversation would turn to our love of photography. He would share photos with me of the family trips and I would long for the closeness the four of us had shared.

After 2008, I never saw David again. My life was full as I had entered a new relationship a year earlier. In 2010, I had a severe intestinal flare up on Halloween night. I called David that night and spoke with him. He sounded very tired. David said he was currently out of the state and I should get myself to the hospital soon if my systems didn’t start to ease up. I apologized for calling him so late and hung up. That was my very last conversation with him. I was back in the hospital again within an hour of that phone call.

When I saw the Hartford Courant “Surgeon Survives Own Transplant” article by M.A.C. Lynch  in July of 2012, it felt like I had been kicked in the gut. I immediately sat down and wrote out a long note to David which I included in the card I sent. I hoped and prayed he would make it through his battle with lymphoma. This gifted doctor with his transplant surgery expertise, who had given so much of himself to a medical career by helping so many people be able to continue living, was now facing a cruel twist of fate. 

I replayed that phone conversation in my head over and over. I knew something wasn’t quite right but David was never one to complain or focus on himself. He was always more concerned about how the other person was doing/feeling. Maybe if I hadn’t been so sick myself that night I would have known it was something greater than his being tired and possibly being woken up.

David lost his battle in February to graft-versus host disease related to the treatment of his lymphoma. The memorial service took place at Hartford Hospital’s Education Resource Center last week. The room was decked in blue and orange, David’s favorite colors. The space was filled to capacity with family, friends, colleagues. Photos of his life slid across a projection screen in the beat  to David’s favorite music, some of which he like to listen to while performing his transplant surgeries. I saw Connie for the first time in many years and I could have held her and cried for days.

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 (The striking blue and orange flowers that decorated the tables at the memorial celebration of Dr. David Hull on April 26, 2013.)

The world has lost a brilliant surgeon, a caring doctor, an amazing man. His family has lost an incredible father and a loving husband way too soon. And I have lost an amazing doctor, surgeon, friend. It is difficult for me to think about what the Hulls have had to bear in the past 5 years, and especially in the last 6 months of David’s life. I would have been there in a heartbeat to support them. I am sorry beyond words that I wasn’t.  David and Connie have three beautiful, smart, articulate children – young adults now: Jason, Stephanie and Aaron. Jason spoke with incredible candor about his dad and how all three of them had been shaped by their parents. He gave me a solid glimpse into the years I had missed being a part of their family circle and for that I am grateful. Several people spoke at the Memorial Celebration. I had wanted to so very badly but, in my grief, was at a loss of where to begin and where to end. What would I say? How could I tell my story in a few short sentences?  How could I ever hope to convey what Dr. David Hull, surgeon and friend, did for me…what he meant to me? How do you thank someone for saving your life more than once when he is gone? How do you say goodbye?  And in the end, surprising me, my new husband, Steve, stood up with tears in his eyes and shred the following: “Unlike many of you here tonight, I didn’t know Dr. Hull. He saved my wife’s life more than once. If it hadn’t been for Dr, Hull, my wife would not be here now and I never would have met and married her.”  Thank you, Steve. You said something when I could not. I will be eternally grateful. David, you are missed and will continued to be loved by those of us who cared so much for you. RIP

“You can’t direct the wind, but you can adjust your sails.”   A German Proverb

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