I was on a train moving through the darkness of Eastern Ontario between Toronto and Ottawa when I saw the notification on Twitter that the body of Dr. Elana Fric-Shamji, a family physician at Scarborough General Hospital in Toronto had been found.
It was news that hit the small but active community of Ontario doctors using social media very hard because Dr. Fric-Shamji had been one of them.
For a couple of hours before the announcement of the body’s discovery there had been uneasy communications between some on Twitter after a news report that she had been reported missing. Those worried comments were quickly followed by expressions of sadness and dismay.
Her Twitter account reflected the vibracy of an individual who was enjoying playing with the media as well as becoming more engaged in the local politics of medicine in Ontario.
“What can I say, I love Lord of the Rings,” was her final tweet.
Days earlier, Dr. Fric-Shamji had found Twitter fame (such as it is) with a tweet posted as part of the #trudeaueulogies hashtag mocking Canada’s Prime Minister for praising Fidel Castro at his death, without remarking on the negative qualities of his rule.
“Saddened about the passing of Sauron who, while heavy-handed, did advocate for open borders and usher in industrial era,” tweeted Dr. Fric-Shamji in a tweet that yielded 622 retweets and 945 likes. (For those needing an explanation, Sauron is the main villain in Lord of the Rings)
A week previously, Dr. Fric-Shamji had participated in the council meeting of the Ontario Medical Association – the body which represents the province’s physicians. It was a cathartic meeting for an organization badly torn recently by internal divisions on how to deal with a government unwilling to negotiate on equal terms.
It is also an organization whose members have made transformative changes through the use of social media, and especially Twitter, as internal advocacy and networking tools.
Many who were in attendance at that meeting remembered Dr. Fric-Shamji and her excitement with her new roles and opportunities – in both the professional and personal spheres.
“Proud to represent #Scarborough physicians at #OMACouncil16,” she had tweeted. “Unity, change and advocacy on the agenda.”
The day after the announcement of her death, the Ontario Medical Association issued a news release from President Dr. Virginia Walley, also posted to Twitter, noting how the “close knit community” of Ontario doctors was stunned by the “tragic news” of her untimely death.
That community is now looking for a way to honour Dr. Fric-Shamji’s legacy and help her three surviving young children.
It took a couple of days for the print media to catch up but local and national newspaper are now filled by the story of her death and news that her physician husband had been charged with her murder.
Dr. Fric-Shamjii is not the first of the Twitter physician community to die this year.
Dr. Kate Granger (#hellomynameis) passed away after arguably bringing more humanity to the provision of medical care in the U.K. by asking those providing care to identify themselves by name. Tens of thousands have been touched by her message and her last days of life.
And there were others. Dr. David Lewis (@DrPlumEU) who died a few years ago, for instance, lives on through his Twitter account which continues to curate news content based on parameters set by Dr. Lewis himself.
I did not know Dr. Fric-Shamji personally and I am not a physician but I was one of 157 people she followed on Twitter … and I followed her.
I felt a few words should be said from here.