Many of us are aware that the 17th century English poet John Donne wrote, "never send to see for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee."

Most of us do not know that this passage describes his feelings about a life-threatening illness that struck him when he was 51.

Or that in the same work -- his "Devotions upon Emergent Occasions" -- he describes one of the severest feelings of many an ill person, abandonment:

"As Sicknes is the greatest misery, so the greatest misery of sickness is solitude; when the infectiousness of the disease deterrs them who should assist, from comming; even the Phisician dares scarce come. Solitude is a torment which is not threatned in hell it selfe . . . When I am dead, and my body might infect, they have a remedy, they may bury me, but when I am but sick and might infect, they have no remedy but their absence, and my solitude . . . it is an Outlawry, an Excommunication upon the Patient . . ."

The poet, and Church of England priest, is quoted by Dr. William Ober in the foreword to "When Doctors Are Sick."

Any physician, says Ober, might well ponder both this passage and the "for whom the bell tolls," since sooner or later he or she too will be a patient who wants something better than "absence" and "solitude." --