In September, Beatriz Blanco Morris, MD, and her son, Will Morris, sat down in the Voices of Duke Health listening booth to talk about the ups and downs of losing a family member—and how colleagues at Duke stepped in to help them through the tough times.
Dr. Morris is assistant professor of pediatrics. Learn more about her work, and watch a video, on DukeHealth.org.
The full episode will be available Thursday, December 6, 2018.
Dr. Beatriz Morris: My name is Beatreeez, or Be-A-triz, or BE-a-triz, (depending on who is reading my name) Blanco Morris, but everyone at Duke knows me as Betty, or Betty Morris, or Dr. Betty.
Karishma Sriram: This is Voices of Duke Health. I’m Karishma Sriram. Dr. Morris is a pediatrician at Duke. She came by our listening booth with her 15-year-old son, Will. And they wanted to talk about the moment their family changed forever. Let’s first hear about what their lives were like, before.
Dr. Morris: It was, I would say, a pretty stable family in the sense we were married 21 years. Things that were important were eating together. We always had our nighttime meal together. When we did go on trips, we didn’t do fast food. We stopped at Macaroni Grill or we stopped at some restaurant, sat down ate our dinner or our lunch. So meal times was important.
My husband Randy, he was military, so I was used to him leaving. He was a reserve naval officer commander so he would- I remember after 9/11 he had to go to Germany. And then later on he had to go to Iraq. So it was a little bit stressful at times but our family dynamic was good in the sense that where I lacked, he helped, and where he lacked, I helped. So when I would call home and say I am running late I have a patient with asthma and I’m giving them a treatment and I won’t be home for another 45 minutes, he goes, don’t worry, don’t worry I got it taken care of. So and he was the cook. He was the cook.
Will Morris: Definitely.
Dr. Morris: Definitely, remember homemade biscuits in the morning?
Will: Well, I do that now.
Dr. Morris: Yes. There’s a lot you have taken from from Dad.
Karishma: Will, what do you remember about, kind of, your dynamic with your parents?
Will: The most I can remember with them is just always being happy, knowing that I had two parents that I always cared for me. Of course, we had those times where it got a little bit rough but, you know, you can’t go through the mud and not expect to get dirty. So my aspect of our family is we may be small but I think we have the biggest heart of all the people that I have known.
Karishma: That’s so beautiful, I love that. So when did your family change?
Dr. Morris: March 12, 2014. That afternoon my daughter was 17. She had a little paper that said she got her new iPhone at the UPS store. And, “Mom, please can you come with me to get it because I need an adult signature!” And Dad was in the kitchen saying, well there’s a storm coming, but I’m going to make some burgers now. So if you guys go, you know you’re going to have cold burgers because we’re going to eat. And that’s what he said and my daughter kissed him goodbye and gave him a hug, because we always also did that, and I said, OK Randy, I’ll see you in a little bit. You know, iPhone takes priority here.
And so I left with my daughter to go to pick up the iPhone. And in the middle of driving I remember the horrendous rain downpour we had. It was torrential and it was also- the winds were horrible. And I remember telling my daughter please pull over and I’ve lived in Puerto Rico I lived in New Orleans, I’m used to you know thunderstorms, and this one was really different because it was shaking the car, it was actually moving the car out of the lanes. But we got to the UPS store the store she got her phone. We get back in the car and that’s when we got the tragic phone call from my neighbor that said your husband is lying unconscious in the deck.
And when we came down the street we couldn’t even park. There were fire trucks, there were ambulances, there were- the whole, the whole cul de sac was just packed. And it was raining, pouring down rain. And we came in and the police officer wouldn’t let me go back to the deck, wouldn’t let us, because he had- he had passed away, he was dead. And my son was next door and what I found out was that he was the one who discovered the body. He was the one, when the house shook… maybe you can tell that part because I can’t.
Will: Right, I was basically upstairs in my room minding my own business until I heard this loud bang and- before I tell you that, you know, we had this rotten tree in the back. My dad didn’t want to take it down for some reason, I don’t know why. Right. And so the storm came around, you know, it was pretty bad, the winds, so. A loud bang went off and I realized that- the whole house shook. So I went downstairs and I was calling out for my dad, didn’t hear him. You know I was I was a little confused, a little bit scared, and I- looking around a whole bunch of glasses broken and stuff. And you went out on the deck. I went out, and I looked over at the deck and I saw him. Unconscious. You know, I saw the tree on top of him. And I was disturbed by that and I couldn’t think of anything else so I ran over to the next door neighbor and I just banged on their door until they opened up, and they were like ”what is going on?” My dad just got hit by a tree.
Dr. Morris: My father would always say, you know, if you break a leg, you always thank God that you have another leg, and you know, moments that are horrible that you think you’re not going to survive because they’re so horrible, you still get the energy and the force and the willpower to go on. And part of it was the help from Duke.
We couldn’t go in the house because it was all yellow taped, so we were all meeting at my neighbor’s house and there- there were people from Duke. And I’m like… they just wanted to be there with me, to hold me, to hug me, to just- they didn’t have anything to have to say they just… you see people that you just work with, and you say hi and bye to them at work and here they are there, just there to hold your hand. And that was that was really amazing to see how many people that I would have never expected that from them.
And that’s just the beginning. You know that night, oh that was just the beginning. Because that’s when I realized that Duke is my family. And that’s when we realized how Duke has been like the cohesive part of our family and how we have survived all of this, because of the kindness and love and dedication of other people. That would come just from their heart.
They- they knew that Randy was the cook, okay? And they’re like, okay Betty’s going to have to… So they, you know, I think I had meals for three months. I didn’t cook for three months. And on top of that, the whole pediatric group where I work developed a cookbook from their own quick and easy recipes. And they dedicated a cookbook for me with all these- you know, hey, you can make this for Will, it’s really quick. It was beautiful. I don’t know if that would have been done somewhere else, or- but I just want to say thank you, Duke. And thank you, pediatrics, and thank you to all those people that not only helped me survive but helped me thrive. And now I am so grateful because it’s going to be almost five years and I have this young man who was 11 when he found his dad in that situation. But he also said mom, it’s how you handle a situation. I can sit back and cry and feel sorry for myself that I don’t have a dad, or I can take this and say, this has made me stronger. Now, he wants to follow his dad’s footsteps in the military.
Karishma: How has it been since, you know, 2014?
Will: Rollercoaster. One word, rollercoaster, up and down.
Dr. Morris: That’s right, up and down. Time- you know, people always say time makes it better, but there are moments like right now. I was crying. I was tearful, that thought came back, and those are the downs.
But also, it has taught me that life is today. And you enjoy today, you do everything possible today to to make your life happy. And that means that in one hand, you have your stressors, you have your hard work, you have whatever it is. And then on the other hand you have your joys, your flowers that you smell- the grass. I take off my shoes because before where I was working, there’s this nice lawn and I love it when they cut it. And from the parking lot take off my shoes, I walk through the grass, I put them back on, and then go to a clinic. So that’s what I’ve been doing after the incident, because my life is today, my life is, you know, how was your day at school, Will, tell me about it. And calling my friends and talking to them and- and oh yeah, I do have to sweep the kitchen but I think I’ll do that tomorrow. You know, prioritize the things that bring joy and happiness into your life because if you wait for tomorrow, there might not be tomorrow and that was also my husband’s theory because we have so many good memories to look upon.
And I love photographs. Now I’m happy that we took so many photos so many things that-
Will: It’s a little bit tiring, though.
Dr. Morris: Oh yeah. Yeah okay, cause I’ll take-
Will: Right before I’m about to go, like let’s say- Hawaii or something. You know, I’m ready to go to the beach- “Oh, Will, let’s go take a photo of this!” Let me go, come on.
Dr. Morris: I should take more spontaneous photos, is what you’re saying, instead of posing photos. But sometimes with spontaneous photos I just get the back of your head.
Karishma: Running away.
Dr. Morris: Yeah, yeah. So these years have taught me, and I try to teach that to my children, that life is short and don’t wait for that perfect moment, the perfect moment is now. You make it. You make your own happiness. It’s like a flower, the fragrance from the flower, it comes out and it makes other people happy. So if you’re happy you’re going to make other people happy. And it’s contagious like laughter laughter is the best medicine.
Karishma: Dr. Morris, how do you think it’s changed how you tackle your profession and interact with your patients?
Dr. Morris: That’s a good question, because I- some things have changed but some things have not. I love what I do. That, I think, is my core and that has not changed. I do pediatrics today like I did that first day that I came out of med school, all excited that I was going to see the newborn baby and I get excited when I go to the nursery, and see the babies.
But it has helped me open up more to other people at work. I would say it has helped me with more with the staff, to all of a sudden, that person that, you know, I said hello and good morning to, now I care more. In other words, I- how’s that baby, how’s that grandbaby doing? Tell me more about… So it’s made me think more of other people’s lives beyond pediatrics, beyond our work, because there’s so much that could be going on in their lives that you don’t even know about.
You know, you hear about big Duke and oh, it’s a huge big corporation, blah blah blah. But it’s like a picture with pixels. You know, when you look at it closer all those little pixels are people that make this wonderful big picture, and that’s how it is with Duke pediatrics, all those tiny little colors are people that are wonderful, each one in its own ways.
Karishma: Dr. Morris, Will, thank you guys so much for coming to our booth, what an amazing conversation and just, perspective, that you guys brought and I’m really thankful that you guys decided to share that story with us.
Dr. Morris: Thank you for having the opportunity, because people want to share their joy. So this is the perfect way to to share that feeling. That feeling, that joy, that happiness that- so thank you guys for letting us do it.
Will: Yes I appreciate it. Thank you.