Why doctors shouldn’t leave their emotions behind

Part of the reason I became a physician was because I got tired of watching those close to me as they suffered through illness and eventually died, while I stood helplessly by, unable to do a thing.

Throughout my training I watched as my mentors interacted with their patients, displaying a political correctness matched with just enough outward emotion so that there was no telling the difference between the good news and the bad.

“Don’t let your emotions get too involved” and “Never take those feelings home with you” were things I heard often. Yet there are some patients and families that you can’t help but get attached to. You endure the ordeal with them. In a sense you become part of the family. So as much as I respected my mentors, I let those words go in through one ear and out the other. I treat every patient as if they were a member of my family. It helps remind me why I went into medicine in the first place.

Its not until you go into practice, and step into the shoes of your mentors, that you realize what a sharp double edged sword this relationship is. There is no better feeling than the elation and pride you feel as you watch a patient who entered your life with one foot in the coffin, walk out of the hospital on his own two feet. Sometimes it may take days, sometimes it may take months, but there comes a point where your treatment transcends medicine and you find yourself praying with the families, encouraging the patients, and instilling hope in everyone that anything is possible.

On the other hand, there is no greater pain than those rare occasions in which you lose a patient without an adequate explanation. Whether its an elderly lady who’s life you spent a month saving only to have her suddenly pass away days before her scheduled release, or a young healthy female who walks into the hospital with a seemingly common problem yet fails to survive just days after surgery, it never gets any easier dealing with the loss. Complications happen. They happen to anyone. But you never expect them to end like this. And you don’t always have the answers why. That’s what I hate the most. Sometimes you find yourself in your pre-medical school days, standing helplessly by, unable to do a thing. The shock leaves you at a loss for words.

Many people think physicians are without emotions. That they have to be in order to get by. Not me. Just as I celebrate those lives that are saved, I also grieve and mourn those that are lost. Sometimes I can’t help but take that grief home with me. Luckily I have an amazing wife who understands and is a great source of support. No matter how great a surgeon I become, or how many lives I save, there will always be a few which I won’t be able to save … and those are the ones I will never forget.

Michael A. Zadeh is a general surgeon and can be reached at Zadeh Surgical, Inc.

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