Editor’s Note: As 2018 wound down, students in the second cohort of our VTCSOM Narrative Medicine class embarked on their third and final assignment: a health interview of someone unfamiliar to them. Students were to explore both that person’s narrative and their own reactions to it (their ‘parallel chart’), plus create an artistic response. Yazdi Doshi interviewed a close friend of mine, Donald Garlock, who passed away this past autumn after a brief illness. With the permission of his family, these intertwined creative pieces—Yazdi’s and mine—are shared as a memorial to a life well-lived. Rest in peace, Donald Garlock (May 5, 1925-September 28, 2020).

Cyndy Unwin
ARTiculation Faculty Editor
Co-Instructor, The Rest of the Story: Discovering the Person with the Patient through Narrative Medicine


By Yazdi Doshi

As I walked up the stairs to Mr. Garlock’s house, my mind was spinning with all the different ways this upcoming conversation could go. Even though this was just an assignment for my Narrative Medicine class, I was excited at the prospect of getting into the depths of someone’s medical story. After I rang the doorbell, there was a long pause as I heard slow shuffling steps approaching the door. As it swung open, a tall, slender old man with a soft smile stood before me, hunched over a walker. He beckoned me into his lovely home, and we exchanged pleasantries in the entryway. The interior of the house was a little dated but had an old charm to it, reminding me of my own grandparents’ home. The decorations and furniture seemed to be deliberately placed in a certain manner. 

Growing up, we’re told to never judge a book by its cover. But once you get into medical school, it is an integral part of the physical exam. As we sat down in the living room, my naive medical mind started scrutinizing Mr. Garlock. I thought to myself: He’s old, he’s frail, he has limited mobility, but it seems as though his mind is sharp. He seemed independent enough, but I felt sorry for him. He was an old man living all by himself in this large house. Sorrow turned to preparedness as I prompted him with a question about his illness narrative—I was ready to unpack it all.

To my surprise, when I asked Mr. Garlock about his ailments, he shrugged and said he only really had high blood pressure and high cholesterol. At first I was confused. Why did I get Mr. Garlock as an interviewee for an illness narrative assignment when all he had was hypertension? In a strange and twisted way, I was a bit disappointed. I was ready to have deep talks about his struggles with illness, but instead I received a list of his blood pressure medications.

The conversation steered towards Mr. Garlock’s age (then 93) and what he’d accomplished in his life. He kept mentioning the community around him, from neighbors who brought him the paper in each morning to friends who would just come by to say hello.  Mr. Garlock was so interconnected with his community and his life was still so full of color. We talked about how he was the plastic bottles guy in the Blue Ridge. We talked about how he met his wife all those years ago and how spirited she was. We talked about his party last Friday with his Masonic Order friends. The conversation wandered all over, but I didn’t care. I felt so lucky to be his audience.

Mr. Garlock had mentioned his wife multiple times now and I found a good opportunity to ask him how his life outlook changed after she died. He said, “I miss her. But I accept the fact that everyone has their time on Earth. I am thankful for 65 years with her. She was in pain and the next treatment for her was a feeding tube. I accepted that death is inevitable. I’ve always been a realist about things, so it wasn’t too difficult to realize this.” He went on to talk about how much his wife loved orchids. He said that he also likes to maintain the house in the way that she would have wanted.

The sad old man I pictured before was gone. He was replaced with a strong veteran, with incredible ties to his community, wife, and friends. This was not a man waiting for his time, but someone who continued to live, not to be stopped by age.

Pen drawing of an orchid by Yazdi Doshi

Memorial for a Good Friend

By Cyndy Unwin

Flowers introduced us
You and I (and her)

Your late wife, newly gone…
             …me, newly living in these ancient hills
You, newly alone.

Orchids in need of tending
             The way she tended you
             And you tended her

You and I (and her)
We met in that winter of 2014
A temporary relationship
             Or so we thought—
Just until the orchids were healthy,

Healed enough
To be given away

But temporary grew, as it often does

             Weekly waterings became
             weekly lunches became
             enduring friendship


All because of precious orchids
Your wife loved and told you to tend

Could she have known
             we would tend each other?