Thomas Graboys, M.D.
By Caroline Patton
Dr. Tom Graboys was the kind of doctor everyone wishes for: he stopped by to see this patients when they were in the hospital, called them at home and let them do the same, wrote condolence letters to their families when they died, and gave each one a hand-written treatment plan. He was also at the top of his field, a highly successful cardiologist, part of the so-called Cardiology Dream Team that treated basketball player Reggie Lewis in 1993, and a member of the Nobel Peace Prize winning organization International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.
But after the death of his wife of many years to cancer in 1998, Graboys began to notice small changes, dismissible at first as grief but growing more noticeable over subsequent years until he could no longer hide or deny them. Graboys had developed Parkinson’s disease with Lewy body dementia, a disease which attacks not only his body but his mind.
Today, still only 63, Graboys has had to give up the practice that once was the center of his life and, though he was lucky enough to find love again with his second wife Vicky, who he married in 2003, their relationship has evolved very differently than planned.
Graboys now finds himself dependent on others for many basic tasks and struggles with simple conversations. Parkinson’s has bent his body and made his hands tremble, his handsome face is now often stiff, and he forgets easily things that he once took for granted. Most terribly, the disease is progressive.
In Life in the Balance, Graboys charts the terrible terrain of his slow loss of control over his body and his mind together with journalist Peter Zheutlin. It is not an uplifting story but a fiercely real one, and that is how he wants it. Graboys wrote in the introductions that “[p]eople always want to read stories of triumph over tragedy. But there is no sugarcoating Parkinson’s…There is no silver lining here.”
Yet out of this knowledge and out of the anger Graboys feels at the disease ravaging his brain and upending his life, comes a powerful and honest account. He also celebrates the things that continue to make his life rich in spite of all he has lost, from his relationship with Vicky to the time he spends with his two daughters and their families to the pleasure he continues to find in exercise, if now in yoga and spinning instead of tennis or football.
He also gives voice to family and friends, acknowledging that his Parkinson’s affects many others in ways both minor and fundamental.
The New York Times said of Life in the Balance, “This is the kind of book inevitably given to medical students to inculcate them in the humanistic dimensions of medicine. I wouldn’t waste it on them. Save it for older doctors, still at the top of their game, gleaming and self-confident. Each of them could use this textbook of the graceful and courageous exit.” Booklist called it “[a]n unforgettable doctor-as-patient account.”
The book has won wide praise from the doctors, patients, and families for whom Dr. Graboys has captured the light and dark of the experience of facing a severe chronic medical condition. Excerpts from the book have appeared in a variety of publications, including the physician newspaper American Medical News and the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine.
Dr. Graboys lives in Boston with his wife Vicky and has a website for Life in the Balance at www.tomgraboys.com