The last time I saw him was December 17th. I'd drop by the office to pick up a referral slip and waved to him as he sat behind his cluttered desk.
The last time I spoke to him was a week earlier when he called my house at 7:45 am and in a cheerful voice, asked me to call him back as soon as I got the message.
"That was fast.", he said, when I finally got through. It wasn't likely to be good news. I'd had a Pap smear in July, choosing to have it processed through the public system. He'd warned me it would take about five months. I wrote everything down: suspicion of precancerous cells, biopsy, colposcopy booked for January 14th, follow-up three months later. "You can even go back to work afterwards." As if.
During my medical this past July, he'd asked about my son. I told him he was the best son I could ever ask for, and how grateful I was for him. When I was thirty-nine, he'd referred me to Dr. Biljan, a fertility expert. After complications following the first attempt at pregnancy, I'd decided to try one last time. My miracle boy, Sean, was born on February 9th, 2004 by emergency Caesarian. I can't tell you how relieved I was that Dr. Bray was the attending surgeon that night.
In August 2007, Dr. Biljan died of ALS at the age of 49. Another shock. Calculating back, I realized he must have already been diagnosed when I consulted him a year or so after Sean's birth, with the hope of having a second child.
These two doctors brought so much new life into the world, it's hard to imagine they've left it.
I've thought about Dr. Bray a lot over the past couple of days, ever since I heard the news. There has been a public outpouring of grief from his patients; there are so many of us. He was that rare kind of doctor, a specialist who knew the little details of your life and remembered to ask about them. He took the time to explain, to follow-up, to call you personally at 7:45 am to give you results you probably didn't want to hear, but if you had to hear them, better it come from his calm and reassuring voice.
I am so very sad for his family at this time, and for Julie, his longtime secretary. I'm also sad for what we have lost as a community: he was a fierce advocate for women's health and more recently, campaigned for our boys to have free access to the HPV vaccine.
Dr. Bray took care of me for much of my adult life. He brought my son safely into the world. And now he's gone. With that loss, a little more of my faith in the medical system erodes. It is my medical system too, one that I work in and from time to time rely on. I have seen it fail from the inside out on too many occasions to trust that all the dots will be connected after my colposcopy.
As my friend LC put it, "A woman's relationship with her gynecologist is a long term and intimate relationship." As far as I'm concerned, Dr. Bray is irreplaceable. And that's the heaviness of death, isn't it? The inconsolable part that stays with us forever.
Sean and Gerry, post C-section.