Heather called, a few days after Stephanie's death. Heather is a PA-C (Physician's Assistant, Certified) who saw Stephanie a dozen times or more over several years, concerning her foot problems and the infection that eventually led to amputation of Steph's left leg, and then the complications in the aftermath of that amputation.

I was out when the phone rang, or more likely I was just in no mood to answer the phone, so Heather left a message on the answering machine. She wanted to express her condolences about Stephanie's death, and she asked me to call her, but added that there's no obligation, and to call only if I wanted to. Of course, I never called, because I knew I'd bawl like a baby, but I did write Heather a short letter of thanks.

Stephanie would have been pleased but not surprised that Heather called, and definitely not surprised that from the crowded realm of people who provided her health care, Heather is the only person who called. Stephanie saw a lot of doctors and nurses, and Heather was the best of them — Heather, who was neither a doctor or a nurse.

Here's a flash that might surprise you, if you don't have serious health issues or if all you know about medical care is what you see on TV. Hawkeye Pierce and Marcus Welby are fictional characters, and giving an actual damn is rare in medical work. You can expect medical providers to know their stuff and try their best, but you can't reasonably expect them to be concerned about your health beyond your ten-minute appointment. It's your job, not theirs, to be concerned about your health.

None of which is meant to belittle MDs and RNs and others, but it's a job for most of them, not a mission or a calling. And hey, my job is a job too – forty hours a week I'm trying to get people's insurance paperwork right, but I'm not passionate about it. I'm not worried about your policy after I've processed it. It's just my job.

Well, that said, that ain't Heather. I think, for her, it's a mission or a calling, not just a job.

We saw Heather regularly over several years ("we," because Stephanie always wanted me in the room with her for every scary medical appointment), both before and after the amputation. Stephanie wanted to have two legs, so Heather tried everything to avoid having one of them cut off, even though Heather basically works in the Amputation Department it's called Vascular Medicine, but her boss is a doctor and amputations are what he does for a living.

Heather always gave Steph good advice, thoughtfully considered every question we asked, and she never seemed to be in a hurry. Sometimes, when Steph had questions that needed long answers, we knew we were making Heather late for her next appointment, but Heather never mentioned it. Right from the first time we saw her, Steph and I agreed on the way home that Heather was thoroughly competent and helpful and just generally seemed to care.

Our only frustration with Heather was that she was limited to her specialty, vascular care, when we also wanted her to be Stephanie's general practitioner and handle Steph's dialysis and kidney care as well. That's how good Heather was.

So I told Heather all of this, told her she'd been terrific, and told her that these are basically Stephanie's words because they are. But I told her in a letter, not a phone call.