I started kissing patients in med school. And I haven’t stopped.
During my third year pediatric rotation, I used to stay up late at night in the hospital, holding sick and dying children. I’d lift them from their cribs, kiss them, and sing to them, rocking them back and forth until they fell asleep. One day the head of the department pulled me aside. He said that I was a doctor when my patients needed a doctor and a mother when they needed a mother.
Twenty years later, I’m still mothering my patients.
I’m a family physician born into a family of physicians. My parents warned me not to pursue medicine. They worried that big government would kill the small-town physician. But I love being a family doctor. And I love my patients. I hug them and kiss them, and I do housecalls. And most patients call me Pamela or sweetie, or honey. They all have my home phone number. I’m on call 24/7, but I never feel like I’m working.
I’m not good with boundaries. I’m never sure when work ends and play begins. It all feels the same to me. Many of my patients are friends. I do their physicals and eat over their homes for dinner.
I’m not a fan of professional distance. But I’ve been trained to maintain distance from patients. How can I remain distant when I’m looking deep inside people in places nobody has been before? How can I remain detached when delivering a mother’s first baby, saving a brother’s sister, or helping a child’s grandfather die?
Apparently maintaining a safe distance from patients will help my objectivity, limit favoritism, maintain clear sexual boundaries, and prevent exploitation. But patients today don’t want professional distance; they want professional closeness with a doctor who has a big heart and a great love for people and service in a clinic where people feel warm, nurtured, loved and important.
And I want to be that kind of doctor.
The truth is: I can’t always stop patients with heart attacks from eating bacon double cheeseburgers. I can’t always stop smokers from smoking. I can’t always stop little kids from dying.
I can’t always cure, but I can always care — and kiss my patients.