In one of those tragic ironies, my Uncle Kirk just died.
If you’re reading this, you’re can probably also see my post from yesterday on my mother’s death. Who could have predicted that they would die within hours of each other?
Robert Kirkland Weber was the 3rd child of Jesse and Cliff Weber. I don’t know his exact birthdate off the top of my head, but I believe he was 72. Like my mom, he was born in Windsor. I believe he was a trouble-maker in his early days; he certainly he had an inordinate amount of energy throughout his life.
He studied medicine at the University of Toronto and worked as a GP for a year, I believe, with his father in Windsor. He then did additional training in the young discipline of anaesthesiology, and that’s what he did ever since. I believe he and his wife, Joan, have been in Toronto from the beginning and have lived there with only a 1 year interruption when they went to and lived and in Africa – I’m afraid I’m not sure where exactly. I’m sure he practiced medicine there, but am not sure exactly what it was did exactly.
He had two children, Kirk Jr. and Deanne. Both are now married and they have 3 children between the 2 of them. They were both with him when he died.
Kirk was a bundle of energy. He was a born athlete, I think, and swam almost every morning for quite a while, only stopping recently when his health suffered. He shared the gift of gab with my mother, and was, if anything, even more verbose and was certainly more energetic. He had a ready laugh, saw absurdities quickly, and suffered fools not at all. I remember his bearish hugs, his hand-laming grips, his strong opinions.
He loved nature and was a natural hunter and woodsman. He owned a cottage in Algonquin National Park, and spent much of the summers there working on the house, which he also loved. He inherited it from my grandfather, and improved it until it became quite a livable place – no longer the place the family dreaded to go, with only an outhouse and no running water!
He was an excellent clinician. He worked at the Sunnybrook Hospital for many years (decades really) and chaired the department of anaesthesia for some time. Knowing him as I do, I know he ran a tight ship and left the department in better shape than he found it. Since I went into medicine, we had our share of medical discussions and we often compared the differences between medical and surgical critical care – a field in which he was out in front of the pack. Since he retired, he would call me occasionally to clarify some medical point or another, or to get another opinion on his own health.
His health was amazingly good until well into his 70s. Sure he was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia some years ago, but this is a very slowly progressive form of blood cancer which generally is found incidentally and just sits there for a long, long time. More bothersome was the urinary urgency which struck him late last year. They discovered that he was retaining urine to the amount of a few hundred ccs. After they got a foley catheter in him for a while, and could do a more thorough work-up, they discovered he had prostate cancer. He had a prostatectomy a few months later, and did beautifully. He felt great, passed urine without difficulties and (I suspect) kept his sexual function intact.
The only complication was a blood clot that popped into one of the vessels of his eye. This was never very well explained and a pretty thorough work up revealed no good reason for it. But he went on warfarin (a ‘blood thinner’) and did just fine. He had a great summer up at the cottage.
But late in the summer he had an unexpected ‘stroke’; his face drooped, he lost control of his left side, and had trouble talking. The CT scan showed something there that shouldn’t have been. He underwent a rare brain biopsy, and it turned out not to be the lymphoma that everyone hoped it was – these are relatively treatable. It wasn’t even a metastasis from his prostate cancer. No, this was a rare Richter’s transformation.
I hadn’t heard of it either. But I looked it up and didn’t like what I read. It’s a transformation of his kind of leukemia into a particularly aggressive form of lymphoma and it’s prognosis is terrible. And this may have been the reason he developed the clot in his retinal blood vessle.
They tried chemotherapy. No change. In fact he kept getting weaker. They tried radiation, hoping to give him a few extra weeks. Same thing. He could walk out to the car for the first few treatments; by the end he had to be taken by ambulance. This was not the result of the treatment, but of the disease. He only finished his radiation therapy last week.
Last weekend – just 3 days ago – I flew to Toronto for a short visit since I suspected this would be my last chance. He looked pretty terrible. This incredibly vibrant, amazingly healthy man with a full beard that was flaming red until the last few years was wasted and unable to care for himself. He wasn’t himself mentally either, unfortunately. He knew who I was, but he didn’t ask the questions he normally would have aked about me and my wife, he didn’t make his jokes, he didn’t have the strength for his boisterous laugh. In fact, it hurt him horribly to swallow and he could only put a few words together in a whisper.
Today, he simply stopped breathing. One minute he was there, the next he was gone.
His family knew his time was limited, but no one expected it to happen quite this suddenly. That it should happen within a day of his sister’s passing is just incredible.
My family – both my father’s and mother’s sides – has been very lucky for many years, and amazingly unencumbered by death. I really hope this suddend reversal in trend stops now and we have the chance to recover a little.
My best wishes to my aunt and cousins and their children. I guess I’ll be seeing quite a bit of you in the near future.
A few corrections and modifications.
Kirk was born June 23, 1934. It turns out he was a pretty fair athlete: football, hurdles, a life-long swimmer. It showed; it irritates the bejeezus out of me that my 72 year old uncle was in better shape than I was!
He worked as a GP in Windor for 3 years before studying anaesthesia, and then went off to Lagos, Nigeria with his new family to teach medicine.
He was appointed at Sunnybrook Hospital in 1968, and served as head of the department for 20 years from the mid-70s to the mid-90s. He built the department up from a small department of gas-passers to a large department that included pain services, ran the surgical ICU, and was a group of excellent clinicians. He was on the cutting edge of all these innovations, and was also one of the first department head at this hospital to hire female physicians.
He was a true out-doorsman, and loved woodwork and carving. He was generally a great guy, and judging by the turnout at his memorial service last Saturday he will be greatly missed.