The Impossible Caregiver

Mary Fisher and Dr. Michael S. Saag

COVID has put the spotlight on medical caregivers who exhaust themselves struggling to save the un-saveable. Reading through old speeches, I was reminded that in the 1980s and ’90s AIDS, not COVID, begged for heroic caregivers. I singled out one who has guided us through both COVID and AIDS, Dr. Michael S. Saag, when keynoting an AIDS Symposium at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Dear, dear Michael — how we admire your brilliance. We’re grateful for your tenacity, and we can barely understand your boundless energy and productivity. Do you ever sleep?

Beyond the limelight where you love to act out some goofy Broadway song, after the lights have gone out in the lab, when your office is finally empty, we’ve seen you haunting the hallways of your clinic. You were still looking for the man whose life you could not save, the sweet woman who was never compliant, the nurse who could not hold another dying hand, the patient who was both rabbi and friend.

One of the reasons we love you is that you’ve never let us go, even when death has taken us.

But there was more, not only about what you’ve done but about who you are. You never sought a famous list of patients, though others have and you could have. You never worried about your haircut, or made your bedside manner into that feigned sympathy we resent in caregivers who must hurry on to others.

You wore our blonde wigs and danced into our rooms, bringing us laughter when you could not bring us healing. In the midst of all the dying, however improbably, you have relieved us of our obsession with death. In the quiet of the night, I have sometimes wondered how you stayed sane and gentle amid the torrent of dying, where you found strength to point us to hope when we had none.

You have served us all well. How often have I heard you speak of science, and responded by speaking to you of miracles. You have taught us about knowledge and wisdom, and we have answered you with love….

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Mary Fisher

Mary Fisher

Speaker, artist and author. Activist calling for courage, compassion and integrity. Mom/Grandma. 1st Female White House Advanceman. Keynoted ’92 RNC.