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Family Ties

Jean E. Shelton, MD
JAMA. 1986;256(1):85. doi:10.1001/jama.1986.03380010091034.
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"You're a doctor. Why don't you tell him?"

The words rang in my ears as I carefully replaced the telephone receiver into its cradle. These instructions were given to me—a pediatrician—by my father's internist, a well-respected physician with excellent training and a thriving practice. He was referring to my 80-year-old father's chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

Appropriate blood tests had been pursued when Dad failed to respond as expected to antibiotic treatment of a simple lobar pneumonia. He was told "a problem might exist" and that the test results should give the reason for his slow recovery. Dad and Mom went home and waited patiently but apprehensively for answers.

Days went by with no message from the doctor. My parents' anxiety mounted. They called the internist's office. The doctor was out. Their repeated calls were not returned. At the end of the third week, they asked for my help.

Almost magically, the


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