In December 2017, while describing the books that I have been reading, I wrote this about Charles Krauthammer:
“I also love the style of fellow physician and far superior writer, Charles Krauthammer, whose decades-long columns, largely for the Washington Post, are compiled in the book “Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics” (2013).
Man, I wish I could write like him.”
My statement about Charles Krauthammer was a significant underestimate of the incredible esteem that I held for this man. I read him religiously, his column in the Washington Post was a must for me to read. Not for the politics and not entirely for the intellectual challenge that he provided. It was his civility, respect, and his ultimate love of life. Re-reading his columns this morning, I could not help to climb aboard his literary roller coaster: laughter, tears, reflection. The kind of columns you read to others. The kind of words you wish you could write yourself.
He was a story that many of us could relate to in part: changing political views (liberal turning conservative, conservative compassionately understanding the importance of the thoughts of others), the understanding of the joy of life, the love of baseball.
For those of you who do not know, as a 22-year-old freshman at Harvard Medical School, he severed his spinal cord in a diving accident, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. He persevered to complete medical school despite the doubts of his professors, reading his medical books on his back with the book opened on a plexiglass shelf above his head. He completed his MD then his residency in in psychiatry, noting this to be a perfect blend of philosophy and science. He became a self-described psychiatrist in remission and turned his enormous intellect to politics and policy. He became one of journalism’s most powerful writers, recognized by winning a Pulitzer Prize, and a television celebrity on Fox News.
Describing the travails of a baseball player facing emotional problems, but as aptly detailing his own life, he described “the vicissitudes of fate — “the catastrophe that awaits everyone from a single false move, wrong turn, fatal encounter” — and wrote, “What distinguishes us is whether — and how — we ever come back.”
Is this not something that all of us in health care have seen in our patients? Is this not something that all of us can understand in ourselves.
He died on the first day of summer from an aggressive cancer. Weeks before his death he wrote his final farewell letter: “I leave this life with no regrets. It was a wonderful life — full and complete with the great loves and great endeavors that make it worth living. I am sad to leave, but I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended.”
A life well lead. God rest Charles. I will miss you. His words live on. Read them.