Boston ‘Dream’ Doc Thomas Graboys Gets Elegant Farewell

Tom Graboys was someone special.

From his sweet Boston Globe sendoff by Bryan Marquard:

Dr. Thomas Graboys, 70; cardiologist, writer

On hospital rounds Dr. Thomas Graboys listened carefully to a chorus of beating hearts, placing his stethoscope on the warm, damp backs of bed-bound patients. As each sat forward, he Thomas_Graboys_2AAreached behind to flip the pillow. Asked why he took time for this simple courtesy, “he would imitate what it felt like to the patient to lie back on a cool, dry pillow,” Dr. William Rigby, a brother-in-law, recalled in a eulogy.

“These small gestures just came naturally to him,” said Dr. Caren Solomon, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a former student of Dr. Graboys, who was 70 when he died in his Chestnut Hill home Jan. 5 of complications from Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body disease.

A body he came to hate but never rejected.

Peter Zheutlin helped Dr. Graboys write his memoir, which was subtitled “A Physician’s Memoir of Life, Love, and Loss with Parkinson’s Disease and Dementia.” Reviewing the book in The New York Times, Dr. Abigail Zuger called it “a small wonder” and added that Dr. Graboys “does one of the best jobs on record of doggedly unpeeling the onion-skin layers of alternating ego and vulnerability that encase the doctor turned patient.”

Unsparing and unsentimental, Dr. Graboys examined his decline with candor that would give the most confessional memoirist pause, writing about “the tremors and involuntary jerks of the hands and arms; the drippy nose; the sweats; the old man’s stoop; the gaped, open mouth – I’m deeply embarrassed by it all.”

Tom Graboys was a member of the star-crossed Reggie Lewis Dream Team back in the ’90s, as Sam Roberts’ New York Times obit noted yesterday.

He skied and played tennis and joined fellow cardiologists as the drummer in a rock band called the Dysrhythmics. In Boston, he was famous as a member of the team that diagnosed the Celtics star Reggie Lewis’s heart defect before he died abruptly on a basketball court.

GRABOYS-obit-master315In short, “he was a medical version of one of Tom Wolfe’s masters of the universe,” one reviewer concluded after Dr. Graboys (pronounced GRAY-boys) published his autobiography.

But barely 60, after experiencing horrific nightmares, frequently flailing in bed, losing his memory, suffering tremors and finally collapsing on his wedding day, he acknowledged that he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and the onset of dementia. He informed his patients that he had no choice but to close his practice.

And eventually his life.

From Marquard’s Globe obit:

Near the end, the physician who once sat comfortingly close to patients had to place his lips by the ears of visitors, conversing in a near-embrace. “When I saw him two weeks ago, he said, ‘When do you think I should end it all?’ It was very hard to understand him, his voice was barely a whisper and his eyes were filled with anguish and agony,” [Dr. Bernard] Lown said. “We all hold onto life, but he knew when to let go.”

I encountered Tom Graboys several times before he got sick and I was always impressed by his combination of professional accomplishment and personal modesty. It was a shame – and a triumph – that he met the end he did.

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