Dear Doctor, are you strong enough to be weak for your patient?
I am a doctor. I am supposed to exude strength of magnanimous proportions. I am expected to sign a death certificate without an iota of sadness. I am required to be unreasonably cold and indifferent in my dealings.
But let me confess something today. I walk around with glossy eyes, fighting back tears and sometimes even failing to do so.
I will not tell you to be strong today, the kind of “strong” that has a distorted meaning, the kind of “strong” that the society accepts. I have no qualms admitting that I still remember that adorable little boy who was admitted in the ward and succumbed to thalassemia the next day or his helpless mother who had lost her second son in a year’s time. I still think about that old man who wanted to die because it seemed like the only solution, permanent enough to end his pain or the time when I had a breakdown after I saw a domestic abuse victim in the ward; she was my age or maybe even younger than me.
I realized something very important during this time. Wearing that false armor of strength isn’t working out for me. I want to spend uninhibited time with my patients sans any glorified law that makes insensitivity a must-have personality trait of a doctor. I don’t want people around, telling me,
“Oh, you’ll just get used to it”.
How does one ever get used to seeing other people suffer? Please never tell me that I will get immune to misery. Please don’t.
I have cried with my patients and shared laughter too. I have listened to their larger than life stories and all nitty-gritty tales, seeing that sparkle return to their soulful eyes, just like a glimmer of hope relapsing in an unheard, uncared world. It reminds me of my true calling. It makes me recuperate easily, on days that are too tiring.
We interact with our patients, at the most vulnerable time of their lives. Our practice, in essence, crumples up at the heart of vulnerability too. That ability to win their trust and build a deep sacred connection; everything rests atop the power to truly feel, to unabashedly empathize, to be strong enough for ourselves yet weak and gentle enough for them. It’s a force that gives me reason enough to tread along this bumpy road.
Allow yourself to be seen first, for it will enable you to see better in return. Take off your cloak!
I must say I get weary at times. Some days are more emotionally tiring than others but each day also brings with itself a chance to reach out to those who need it the most and priceless little moments of healing, new born babies crying their first-ever cries, families tending to their ailing loved ones and bonding over mounds of care and love.
I know you are tired too. But let me tell you something, it’s all worth it and even if things don’t seem hunky dory right now, they will surely get better. They do get better. You’ll soon bask in the glory of that hard earned prefix attached to your name for life, dear doctor. Everything will be all right at the end and if it’s not all right, then it’s not the end.
About the author: Anum Wasim is a medical school graduate from Dow Medical College, Pakistan.