By Gillian Ramsay
I walk into his room, rejoicing with him and his family that the x-rays are normal, he is healed and can be discharged from Hospital. We exchange smiles and marvel at the body’s ability to heal.
Smiling I leave his room, but enter the next with a neutral expression. I sit by her side and hold her hand while I explain the results of the CT scan. It isn’t good. We need to do a biopsy. Her children silently weep; her husband goes a little pale. It is so unexpected. How can you be healthy one day and face the “C” word the next? I empathize with them and hold her hand until she is ready to let me go. Until the initial flow of questions is exhausted and she just needs rest.
In the next room I meet with suffering that is ongoing and will likely continue until the end. There are some types of pain that are not easy to treat. He is trapped in his memory, lost in a dementia that has him remembering suffering -right now a broken arm. It doesn’t matter that his pain is not physiologic, to him it is real and current. And so I express understanding and empathy for his pain. There is nothing else I can really do.
It doesn’t matter that I only had 2 hours of sleep and have now spent 30 of the past 36 hours in the hospital. Right now they need me, and I must dig deep to keep on going.
Patient after patient has their own complex needs, and for each you must mirror the right emotion. It is part of helping them to feel validated and understood. It is part of the art of medicine.
I recently read “The book of Joy” by the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams. At one point, Douglas Abrams describes how the Dalai Lama reflects each persons emotion. With one he will reflect joy, if the next person is suffering he reflects suffering, and so on.
It struck me that this is what we do every day. Mirroring back to each patient their emotion.
Walking with them, for a little ways on their journey. Sharing their load.
It is no wonder that at the end of the week I am exhausted. Emotionally and physically spent.
The introvert in me craves solitude -not something easily attainable as a mother to two young kids who have missed me all week. I am all too aware that this time with them is short. This time when they actually want me, when they will snuggle with me or invite me into their play will end far too soon. I want to make the most of every minute.
This is the dance of life as a physician mother.
Thank you for the privilege of writing for the CWIM blog. I am an Obstetrical Internist and General internist at a community teaching hospital in Alberta. I studied Medicine at Queen’s, then came to Edmonton for residency and have now been in practice just over a decade.