A eulogy for a pediatrician

Now hold on just one second–this blog is supposed to be about motherhood and knitting, so why exactly are we busting out funeral words on post two?

As I’ve thought through the stories I want to tell about life with my favorite tiny human, I realized how many of them are either related to, or informed by, the passing away of the wonderful pediatrician that Asher went to for the first 4.5 months of his life. So, before we go any further I’d like to take a moment to tell the world about the man who cared for so many young lives and who honestly, truly, in the marrow of my bones, made me believe I was a good mother, when I was absolutely convinced otherwise.

Dr. Richard Lon lived from 1956 until his sudden passing on May 24th, 2017.  He was only 60 years old when he died. His family has chosen not to disclose his cause of death, so I, along with scores of other parents and patients old enough to understand, can simply hope and pray that he died at peace, knowing how much we adored him.

Because we did. If you look him up online, you’ll immediately find the heartbroken outpouring of love, respect and appreciation for this man. He wasn’t warm and fuzzy, but he was kind, he was patient, he was humble, he was caring, he was open, he was good. Pediatricians are some of the lowest paid physicians out there, and yet Dr. Lon invested himself in his patients and their parents, and he made himself available quite literally 24/7/365.

I once called Dr. Lon at 10 p.m. on a Saturday, and as a nurse who has been fire blasted by a doctor for calling about his patient at the “ungodly” (his word, I’m not making this up) hour of 7:30 a.m. on a weekday, I was bracing myself for a torrent of abuse. I never got it. He gave me advice for the immediate problem, and told me to call him the next morning with an update. In the morning we talked three separate times, sorting out a prescription, dosage and plan of action if that prescription didn’t help the problem. On a Sunday.

I cannot stress this enough: I do NOT trust doctors. Not in the more common “they’re not out for my best interest” way, but in the pernicious “they’re not good people and I’d like to run the other direction” way. I come by this honestly (one can only be called names, hung up on and shouted at by physicians so many times before concluding that they are not a nice sort), but I’m at least self aware enough to try and consciously overcome it. I’m getting there–I like my OB just fine, the hematologist I was sent to at 7 weeks pregnant was very nice, my husband’s psychiatrist seems genuinely invested in his well being; but the moment I met Dr. Lon I knew Asher was safe with him, and by extension I was safe, too.

The real crux of the matter, though, came at Asher’s 1 month appointment. Asher was born “late pre-term”, meaning he was almost done cooking but not quite (that’s another story for another post!). As a result, he was sent to the NICU for about 12 hours, and while he was there he was bottle fed–there was no other choice but a tube down his throat. Three lactation consultants later, my child was deemed too small, too weak and too unmotivated to breastfeed. Now, breastfeeding was the ONE thing about motherhood that I was holding to with an iron grip. The rest could come and go, but my baby would be breastfed, come hell or high water–I didn’t care how much it hurt, how many times I cried, how much sleep I lost, this was non-negotiable for me…because I didn’t know that breastfeeding doesn’t only “fail” because Mama can’t do it, it can “fail” because Baby can’t, too.

So I pumped, and pumped, and pumped. I pumped breastmilk that Asher got from a bottle, and my heart broke a little more every time I pumped, because it meant I wasn’t nursing and was getting that much further away from my vision of what being a “good mother” was.

And then, with a three and a half week old baby, my milk dried up.

I know some women who have been able to fool their bodies for nearly a year, and have given their babies breastmilk almost exclusively in spite of an inability to nurse. My body wasn’t buying it. There was no baby connected to this setup, so why put the effort in to producing sustenance?

So by the time of Asher’s one month appointment, he was drinking Similac full time. When Dr. Lon asked me how breastfeeding was going (he had recommended the third and final lactation consultant at our newborn visit), I had tears in my eyes and I honestly felt like I was confessing a crime when I told him that Asher was on formula. I had failed as a mother, my body had failed, and my baby was going to suffer the life-long consequences of that failure.

And do you know what that good, kind doctor said to me?

“Your baby is thriving. He’s gaining weight, and he’s healthy. You’ve done exactly the right thing. He’s not going to be any less smart, any more allergic, any more obese, any less healthy, because you gave him what you could and now you’re making sure he’s getting everything he can get. You are a good mother.”

If that sounds too good to have really happened, you can ask my Mom–she was there, and we both could have kissed him.

Other people in my life (i.e., my husband, my mother, my father, my sister, dear and trusted friends) had told me the exact same thing that Dr. Lon did that day; but they loved me and were obligated me make me feel better (right?). He was in the unique position, as a relatively unknown but trusted entity, to say the right words at the right moment that released me from my shame, my guilt, and my conviction that I had failed. He believed I was a good mother, and because he believed, I could, too.

(Dr. Richard Lon’s Facebook profile photo)

I wept for a full week when I found out about Dr. Lon’s passing. I still get teary when I think about it (like in writing this post). We are now with another pediatrician, and she is fun and spunky and lovely and informative and everything I could ask for; but she’s not Dr. Lon. No one ever will be, of course, but as much as I’ve grieved his loss, I am so thankful that we had those few short months with him to know what it feels like to immediately trust a doctor, to learn from him, and to be the recipient of a truth only he could give–I am a good mother, even when life looks different than I’d planned.

I just wish I could thank him one more time.

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11 Responses to A eulogy for a pediatrician

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  4. Jessica says:

    this is beautiful! dr lon was my pediatrician from the day i was born until he passed (i’m 25). i was so lucky to have him in my life not only as my doctor but also as my mentor as i began my life as a pediatric nurse

  5. Alex Lon says:

    I’m Dr Lon’s son, Alex.

    Thank you so much for the awesome tribute to the wonderful person that is my Father. He truly cared deeply about every single one of his patients and their parents as though they were family. I know he’s at peace because of all the (literally) countless different lives he’s made better for having been even a tiny part of. He went into medicine not because of money, but because he wanted to be a difference maker. He succeeded tremendously in this effort. His legacy of not just being an amazing doctor and diagnostician, but also as a tremendously caring part of people’s live will never be lost or forgotten. And this tribute by you Sheila is just another piece of proof of that.

    We will all miss him dearly, but he will never ever be forgotten. The positive mark he left on everyone and everything will remain immortal.

    Thank you,

    Alex

  6. Carolyn says:

    Love this story. He was truly one of a kind. I still grieve. I am so beyond words to know that someone else feels so strongly about him as I do and have had such a short existence with him while I have had years of it. My oldest now 27 started with him as a new born, my youngest 24 also. Neither would leave him. As young adults I couldn’t get them to go to a adult physician. I truly understand why. Dr. Lon was my saviour when my son was born. My son was sick and I was petrified. One day, on a Sunday, Dr. Lon said I’m coming over. I was shocked! He truly cared. My sister used him and had similar experiences. We adored the man and still are so saddened by his loss. He truly made such an impact in so many people’s lives. Seems so unfair that he is gone. Thanks for sharing your story.

  7. Gina says:

    How beautiful. I think we all have our own special stories about how Dr Lon came to our rescue as new, scared, nervous parents… I myself saw him for the very first time on a Sunday morning when my ped at the time didn’t believe 1 year old baby had a problem. After that very first time, I knew we were going to go to him from then on and over the next 7 years with my first son and through the birth of my daughter 2 years ago, he was ALWAYS there for us no matter what. While our new practice is great, it will never compare to the attention, love, and care we got from him.

    He may not have been warm and fuzzy on the surface, but I remember on the 3rd day postpartum in the hospital after my daughter was born, he was there checking her for dismissal (he came to see us every single day we were in the hospital), he seemed pleased with her condition and said she was ready to go home. He looked at me with such grace and said “you have such a beautiful family, go home and enjoy being together”. Tears of happiness and relief fell and I was so touched, I could just say thank you. I will remember this moment all my life as his simple words has such impact in my frazzled state and put me at ease.

    We all say regularly how much we miss him, as I am sure we will do for a very long time, but we are definitely better for having him in our lives for the time we did. They don’t make them like him anymore, he was truly one of a kind human. ❤️

  8. Gina Abrams says:

    Oh dear Sheila, with this beautiful eulogy you have indeed said thank you one more time and it’s a beautiful one. I’ve just now come across your writing months later. So many of us were deeply touched by Dr. Lon. There seems to be a community of parents who don’t know each other at all but they are united by their love and gratitude for this man and the loss we all share. I’ll add to your tribute what I wrote shortly after he died. I was responding to a similar post from another mom named Annemarie. There are so many of us.
    Annemarie, you had me at “HELLO, it’s Dr. Lon.” Thank you for saying what so many of us are feeling. For 23 years, I never had the slightest doubt he’d be there for us. My kids are older now. With my youngest being 13, the need to call him had become fewer and far between but there were phases over a decade ago when illnesses would circulate through my 4 young kids and pitching a tent in his office seemed like a good idea.

    I first came to Dr. Lon when my now almost 25 yo was 18 months old. He had been diagnosed with pneumonia by another pediatrician. After 3 days on antibiotics he still had high fever and wasn’t any better. It was a Friday morning when I called her office and got a recording that she wasn’t available until Monday. I had heard of this remarkable Dr. Lon. I had even referred friends to him. That Friday I called him myself. And without being his patient, he saw my son 3x over that weekend. We never turned back.

    We were blessed with his brilliance and dedication – the unheard-of house calls when my kids had the chicken pox, the times he noticed I myself was sick and spontaneously swabbed me without my asking, the way he resumed the conversation right after he had given his full attention to what he was hearing through the stethoscope, often following up on something I had offhandedly mentioned 3 visits prior, and most importantly the felt sense that he loved my kids.

    I’m so grateful for having to get camp forms filled out earlier this month and having the chance to see him for a before-hours yearly check-up (of course). My wish now is that he knows just how loved and appreciated he was and that his soul is experiencing the rest and fun and abundance he so deserved. Dr. Richard G Lon was THE best and so were Sandra and Stephanie and Chris and Roseanne, those beautiful nurses who worked by his side over the years. And Alex, it was such a blessing to finally meet you Monday night. He talked about you all the time. ❣️ Hoping love and time and beautiful memories soothe the rough moments that are inevitably ahead for all of those that Richard G Lon touched.

  9. Fay says:

    It took a while to get through these beautiful and accurate words… Tears keep flowing. We loved him. He is so missed by our family.❤️

  10. Annmarie says:

    I am a Mom of2. RN and a person whom was w/him from 1996. U nailed it
    For those who had the gift of hearing this sound on the other end of the phone, “HELLO it’s Dr.Lon”
    Right from the start, his voice CALMING, CONFIDENT, and naturally NURTURING IN TONE… NO matter the day of the week, NO matter the hour, NO matter the HOLIDAY.. Dr.Richard G. Lon was present in ALL of HIS CAPACITY…FOR EVERYONE OF HIS KIDS… THEIR MOMS and THEIR DADS…For almost 21 years our family spent countless days making the drive, whether from Bayonne or Middletown. It was without question, NO ONE except Dr.Lon was going to take care of our children. Many years, we made the trip several times a month… Sharing our lives, his medical drawings on the bedside paper, LOVE of RUTGERS, SPORTS, ALEX & hockey, his secret lollipop cabinet…and his never ending complements he gave our children, letting them know how lucky they were that their Daddy came to every appt… And what a BEAUTIFUL gift that was for him to see. He remembered everything our children had ever told him, and was ALWAYS certain to revisit it by memory, upon our next visit.
    You see, our Dr.Lon was “ALL THAT IS RIGHT & GOOD IN THIS WORLD”.
    It never failed, we were notorious for spending HOLIDAYS in his office. I will ALWAYS remember his old world charm, as he had extended long stem flowers to every Mommy that spent Mother’s Day in his office with an ill child. That was the SPIRIT
    Dr. Lon embodied. He marched to the beat of CLASS & RESPECT. He NEVER EVER RUSHED AN APPOINTMENT…IN 20yrs, HE NEVER SAID I CAN’T SEE YOU TODAY… Rather, HE ALWAYS SAID
    “I WILL WAIT FOR YOU”…. KNOWING AT THE END OF HIS DAY, WE HAD TO TRAVEL AN HOUR TO GET THERE..NOT TO MENTION THE TIME SPENT TO SEE OUR CHILD.. Or SOMETIMES, OUR CHILDREN.
    Every Halloween, we searched for bags of PAYDAY candy bars to bring him, his favorite… He NEVER asked for anything in return for his tireless hours of dedication to our children…He treasured cards from his patients…
    HE LOVED THEM AS HIS OWN.
    We had many visits that enveloped serious moments..HE was my pillar of STRENGTH
    We respected each other’s medical knowledge, and loved a GREAT DEBATE….IF ever the chance, he could be less than a hundred percent certain,(which was a rarity) he referred you to someone who you could trust. You never had to second guess a referral from Dr.Lon. Any parent of an ill child knows that alone is priceless.
    He was a genuine EARTH ANGEL, and now he resides with the children whom opened the Heavenly gates so He could join them Eternally.
    I am in disbelief… I am weeping and the endless tears fall for those of Us(as Moms) who are left here on Earth without the ability to hear his soothing voice EVER AGAIN..We cry for ourselves, and for our children, NOT for our DEAR
    Dr.Richard G.Lon, for he is seated with the Almighty… CRADLING THOSE HE LOVED, ONLY NOW ETERNALLY
    May God BLESS You…
    PRAY FOR US,
    Our Doctor, my Colleague, Our FOREVER FRIENDUNTIL WE MEET AGAIN❤️
    FOREVER ENGRAVED IN OUR SOULS
    The AMADEO FAMILY
    George,Annmarie,
    Nina-Marie & Lil’George

  11. Kathleen says:

    How I truly wish Dr. Lon is still here. He was such a good, approachable, kind, thoughtful pediatrician to my son KJ. I trusted him. He wasn’t the warm and fuzzy person, but he was a good, great doctor in my eyes. I miss him. I miss going to his office. I miss bringing my son and telling my son “you don’t like me? we have the same birthday!”. My 3 year old always cry every moment he sees Dr. Lon due to fear of maybe injections. I know for a fact that he is a humble man. Ive never seen an doctor change the dirty diapers of his patients other than Dr. Lon. He gave me 2 big boxes of formula when I gave birth. I miss him. How I wish he is still here.

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