To say that Michael Palmer, MD, was gregarious or friendly would be a vast understatement. Instead, his friends and family members say that he was better defined as “a connector” with a special ability to make a new acquaintance feel trusting and open with him immediately. They say he was generous, empathetic and the best kind of friend. He was intelligent, a mentor to doctors and writers young and old, and an overcomer of addiction. Almost everyone who met Palmer came away with a feeling of respect for his career as a doctor and an author, and for his genuinely caring outlook on life.
“The most amazing thing about Michael was the way he gave of himself – whether it be of his time, his ideas, his money or his house,” Dr. Judy Eaton, Palmer’s Physician Health Services (PHS) colleague and friend, says. “I was alone one Thanksgiving and he suggested I join him at his farm. He was always there for me, but the most amazing thing was how he treated everyone.”
When Palmer passed away suddenly from a heart attack on October 30, 2013 – he was on his way home from an African safari – he left a void in the lives of many readers, writers, friends and family members.
Digging back in history, it becomes clear that much of Palmer’s genuine understanding stemmed from the fact that he did, indeed, understand struggle and hardship. After years spent hooked on self-prescribed pain killers and alcohol in the 1970s, Palmer was charged with writing false prescriptions and suspended from his medical work in 1978. Years later, he told a reporter that he then fell into a deep depression. But he got through it with the support of his fellow physicians, and by writing. For years after his suspension, and even once he returned to medicine, Palmer wrote a medical suspense thriller each year. He also began to council other physicians with drug and alcohol problems.
“When a fellow doctor was having a hard time, Michael told him to just move into his house for as long as needed,” says Eaton. “He drove many miles just to attend birthday parties for me and funerals for my folks.”
Another PHS colleague and friend, Dr. Wayne Gavryck, also remembers Palmer as one of the best people he’s ever known. “Michael was always present and focused on whomever he was interacting with,” he says. “Personally, I will miss Michael’s bear hugs, his presence in our meetings and the feeling that there is someone else who believes and embodies the principles I also stand for.”
In honor of Palmer’s work in large-scale healthcare changes and small-scale personal interventions, his colleagues have organized a tribute event in his name, including a presentation by several doctors and a reading from one of Palmer’s books. This tribute event will take place on October 19, 2014 in Waltham, Mass.
Dr. Stephen Bergman, a good friend of Palmer’s and a fellow writer, hopes that this event will help people remember how to connect, support each other and mentor one another – which is what Palmer would have wanted.
“In 2013, Michael and Robin came to our house for another fundraiser,” Bergman remembers. “It was an event for a lot of doctors. Even though he was incredibly worn out – by his own admission – and, as usual, trying to keep to his crazed schedule of a book a year, he not only mixed with everyone, met new people, and told his stories, but, even though he had a long midnight drive home ahead, he was the last one to leave. Our goodbyes were, as usual, filled with mutual gratitude, intense and caring. I admired him greatly. It was the last time I saw him.”
Register for the PHS tribute event in honor of Dr. Michael Palmer here. Optional donations to the Tribute Book will cover the costs of the event, and will be used to establish a Michael Palmer, MD Lectureship to support medical school lectures by physicians recovering from addiction.
Jenni Whalen is the Executive Assistant of Editorial at Upworthy. She was previously MedTech Boston's Managing Editor and has an MS in Journalism from Boston University, as well as a BA in Psychology from Bucknell University. Whalen has written for Greatist, Boston magazine, AZ Central Healthy Living and the New England Journal of Medicine, among other places. She has also worked as a conference planner, ghost writer, researcher and content developer.
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