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My Patient’s Smile – The New York Times

My Patient’s Smile – The New York Times


The resident and I stood around his bed in our cerulean scrubs and white coats and watched him smiling. His daughter looked toward me, the only other male in the room, and paused, razor in hand.

“Would you like me to help?” I offered.

“Oh, would you,” she said, looking relieved.

She quickly handed me a foamcup filled with hot water and Barbasol, along with the razor. I chuckled to myself as I got to work, shaving his face. It was makeshift, but familiar. The defiant angles, going against the grain here, giving in there, and that upper lip, the hardest part. The first European surgeons were barbers; what an homage. Still, giving a shave on the neurosurgery ward was a first for me.

I dried his face with a towel. His daughter thanked me. Even with a brain tumor, and the obligatory exams, tests, and treatments that ensue in a hospital, everyday life goes on. He needed a shave because he always has.

In the hallway I caught up with the resident.

“He’s always smiling,” I said.

“Why do you think that is?” she asked knowingly.

I had had an inkling before, but it was obvious now. He was smiling because he had no choice. The tumor, or maybe the surgery he had undergone to remove it, had robbed him of his expression. He might feel despair, elation, anger or fright, but now he could only ever smile. It seemed somehow cruel.



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