MB ChB, Dip Obst, FRNCGP
passed from this life on 1 January 2012.
In 1995 the Millhouse Medical Centre receptionist came in and said there was a doctor in the waiting room who wished to speak to me.
I went out and found an attractive blonde female sitting in reception. "I'm Dr Ric Coleman," I said, and shook her hand. "I'm Dr Chris Morgan, pleased to meet you" she replied. I invited her into my room for a short chat.
Dr Chris told me she had worked at Hunters Corner Papatoetoe, but was resident in Howick and that it would be easier to work closer to home. As well as being a trained family doctor she was married and a mother of four children.
I said to her I had only commenced my Howick practice in 1994, that I wasn't very busy but the practice was in the rapidly growing Botany area and there was a spare consulting room. I said to her she could start part-time work when she wanted to, and I would pay her a percentage of income earned. I did not ask for Chris's CV or obtain referee reports and I never had a written contract with her.
Chris began to see patients. Some came from her previous practice at Hunters Corner, but many were young mothers who brought their children for treatment. Chris brought a personal commitment and compassion that came from facing the emotional challenges of pregnancy, raising children and juggling her professional life. Chris resonated with the anxious, the stressed and the depressed.
She listened to their stories, she hugged them and shed tears with them in their sadness and sorrows.
Chris was totally empathic and available for her patients but also professional, always willing to learn new things and to debate aspects of medical practice. She could be authoritative and tell you straight what she thought, and on occasions would "take the high ground" on moral issues.
Two years ago at our weekly Wednesday practice meeting she informed us - being frank, honest and upfront as always – she had been having headaches and was going to have a brain scan and would not be here for a few days.
When the report came through, she had sent a copy to herself at the clinic, we knew that Chris had a mass in her brain. The next day a chest x-ray report arrived by fax, which told of another lesion in her lung.
She was 52 years old.
After her operations, we learned that Chris had a spreading melanoma, although no primary skin lesion was found. This diagnosis seemed totally unfair, how someone so warm and welcoming should receive such a sentence.
Chris had every treatment that medical colleagues thought possible and she also tried everything else that we could think of.
In the remaining months Chris lived for her family, waited eagerly for son Freddy's return from Switzerland and took solace from growing organic vegetables in the concrete tubs at home. It was hard - the ongoing headaches, nausea, constant tiredness with unclear thoughts and side effects of potent drug therapies.
In August last year when I visited, Chris asked if we could go down to the Medical Centre so she could tidy up loose ends. As we drove the short distance we talked about living and dying. It was a frank conversation.
Chris asked me 'Did I really know her?' I placed my hand on hers and said:
"Chris, one thing I do know is that you cared too much for others and perhaps not enough for you."
We went inside.
Chris went through her papers and books. She found a small figurine of Mary the Mother of Jesus that someone had given her, and a crucifix that was hidden on the book shelf, then we drove home.
Last week I saw her again at the Baptist Hospital; in the silence I knew this was last time I would see her alive. She had fought valiantly to the end.
Chris you challenged our minds and our hearts.
You were a wonderful colleague.
You inspired us to care for the stressed, anxious, the unfortunate and lonely and to love each other; this is your legacy to us.
Rest in peace, your life was not wasted.
Dr Richard Coleman, January 2012