Sandy Brown, MD


September 05, 2007

Nick, a patient I hadn't seen in several years, appeared in my office one Friday afternoon just as we were getting ready to leave for the weekend. "Doc," he said, "can I see you for a minute?" Nick looked agitated and so I said, "Sure. Come on in."

As soon as he was in my office and I had closed the door, Nick started to cry. Now, I'm used to women crying for one reason or another, but Nick was 50 years old and 6'4'' and 240 pounds. I couldn't imagine what the matter was. "Nick", I said, thinking he might have split up with his wife, "Is everything ok with Amy?" "Yeah", Nick said, "Amy's great. But it's been a very bad year. First my dad got sick and then my mother. He got better but she died." "I'm so sorry," I said. "Yeah, but after she died, my aunt told me that my father wasn't really my father. She said my mother got pregnant with me when she was a teenager by the boy next door. He went into the army and was killed in the Korean War before I was born. I don't know anything about him. All I have is a picture of him in his uniform that was part of my family's photo album."

While he was talking, Nick was going through my Kleenex box at a furious rate. "What are you really upset about?" I asked him, "Not knowing your biological father or not being told about him while you were growing up?" "Well," Nick said, "I couldn't have known him but my mother could have at least told me about him before she died." "Did you ask your father about it?" "Yeah," Nick said, "and his jaw dropped to the floor. He denied it. So I tracked down my real father's sister and asked her and she said that they were never sure whose kid I was. But I saw his picture; I look just like him."

"Doc," he said, "it's really getting to me. I can't eat, sleep, or work. What's more, I don't think my younger brother, Tim, was my father's either. My aunt told me that there was another man my mother was involved with before he was born. He's a miserable son of a bitch and doesn't care about knowing Tim. I'm not sure I should tell him." Seeing the effect that knowing his true paternity had on Nick, I wasn't sure he should tell Tim either.

"I think he suspects something," Nick said, "But if I told him I know it would kill him, and my dad as well." "You know, Nick," I said, "It isn't as though your brother knows he's adopted and is looking for his birth father. Aside from some medical history, what's to be gained? Sometimes it's best to let sleeping dogs lie."

Before he left, I set Nick up with counseling and suggested he try an SSRI. I couldn't help but think how easy it is today for children who are adopted to find their birth parents, while in Nick's childhood unwed mothers were often sent away to have their babies and never saw them again. Nick's mother must have been brave to be a single parent in those days. Too bad her secret didn't die with her.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.
Post as: