Dr Denton Cooley, the name sounded exotic to my 6 year old self. It was unlike any other name I had heard before. It sounded exotic and important; a name to be uttered in hushed tones, respectfully, almost reverently. The fact that people were willing to travel to the opposite side of the earth, in the middle of a brutal winter to consult him, made him a sort of demigod in my eyes.
To my sister and me, the celebrated cardiologist was nothing short of a hero, who had miraculously healed our beloved grandfather or ‘appachan’, as we fondly called him. I often picture my grandfather travelling with my father to faraway Houston, their maiden voyage to a foreign land; their bodies, used to tropical weather, reacting with shock to the sudden drastic dip in temperature; their minds getting overwhelmed from having to absorb a whole new world around them.
Afterwards, when our grandfather lapsed into tales of his adventures abroad, he would describe the sterile hospital rooms and corridors, so clean that you could almost eat off its floors; the nurses with their kind, sympathetic eyes and accented instructions which made him feel almost guilty, for asking them to repeat it again, slowly. The huge portions of food they served, always with a helping of dessert, jelly which looked like brightly colored glass cubes or a sweet muffin, which he never managed to finish.
His eyes lit up every time he spoke about Dr Cooley; the tall, soft spoken doctor who had given him the best gift a person could give another; the gift of time. Time, to watch his granddaughters grow from pig tailed girls to young women; time, to teach them the ways of the world, to love them, to know them and pass on his legacy to them. His eyes turned moist and threatened to overflow when he spoke about Dr Cooley, who wore his celebrity status so lightly and treated each patient as a person first and not just a number to be ticked off the list, who took out the time to sit with the patient and his family, to answer their ‘silly’ doubts and dispel their fears. As Sir William Osler quoted, “A good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease”.
“Have you seen the hands of God?’ he once asked me. Amused by my bewildered expression, he continued “it was a pair of hands that gently shook me awake, welcomed me into my new life after the surgery. It felt warm and surprisingly soft, as it held my hand and as I looked into Dr Cooley’s blue eyes speckled with a tinge of grey, I said to myself that these are the hands that gave me a new lease of life; these are the hands of God”.
“There is a crack, a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in”.
-Leonard Cohen (Anthem)
You were that ray of light for our family, Dr Cooley. We thank you for that.