The Downside of Hope Dr. Darshak Sanghavi talks about how a particular human emotion made him act irrationally in the face of his father's impending death.
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The Downside of Hope

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The Downside of Hope

The Downside of Hope

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Commentator Dr. Darshak Sanghavi says a particular human emotion made him act irrationally in the face of his father's impending death.

Dr. DARSHAK SANGHAVI: Hope, writes poet Emily Dickenson brightly, is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul. But I've learned that hope also has a dark side and can be an intoxicating, maddening thing to people in crisis.

Years ago, my father's lungs were scarred from a rare disease. A surgeon from Johns Hopkins explained that a transplant would hopefully replace many serious problems with slightly fewer serious problems. Worse, the waiting list for lung transplants was years long.

One night in my parents' house in New Jersey, my dying father's best friend had an idea. He suggested we canvass rural India to find some indigent man who might sell his lungs and his life to my father to ensure his family's comfort. Of course, my sister and I - both physicians - rejected this plan to purchase human lungs. Trafficking in lives may happen in India - a land where everything, including one's lungs, has a price. But in the United States, the solution was simply unthinkable.

But my enlightened notions were tested a few weeks later, when I received an urgent page at the rural New Mexico hospital where I worked. It was my father. He heard a young Indian man had been in a serious car accident and was brain dead somewhere in Baltimore. Could my sister and I somehow find this man's family and talk them into donating the lungs directly to my father? With a surge of hope, I immediately began working the phones.

This is Dr. Sanghavi, I said to the nurse answering the phone. Did you happen to admit a young Indian male after an MVA with massive intracranial trauma? She said no. Meanwhile, from Boston, my sister was calling ICUs in Washington, D.C. I moved on to Delaware, then Virginia, and even Philadelphia, fingers flying over the phone keypad. I was completely irrational. What would I have said to this unfortunate man's family? I wasn't thinking about how I selfishly put my father's health above some other person on the waiting list, or the fact that my father hadn't completed the preoperative testing for the transplant. I was seized by the vision of my father, healed, one day holding a grandchild.

After calling for hours, my sister and I couldn't find the man, and we never got to ask his grieving family for his lungs. A few days later, we learned through the grapevine that the story was true, but the man died in western Pennsylvania. The family did donate his organs, and somebody else got his lungs.

In the end, I found that hope follows the arc of one's own life. It begins as an immature, impulsive thing that is prone to grandiosity and is not respectful of others. With time, it grows into an entity that is more complicated, bittersweet, more forgiving of failure.

SIEGEL: Darshak Sanghavi is a pediatric cardiologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

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