Medicine takes something away from you

When someone asks me about what it is like to be a doctor, a funny thing happens.  My eyes start to water and the words catch.

It’s rather comical how emotional I can be.  I have been all my life.  I sometimes feel the sadness flow through me.  I am a sieve.  Whether it be a touching book or a sappy TV commercial, I cry.  Silently.  Often missed by others in the room, the tear ducts in my eyes become overactive.  And it eventually stops.

I used to be embarrassed.  I used to cover my eyes and wipe the tears dry before anyone could see. I don’t anymore.  As so often in life, I find it much more empowering to own my “weaknesses” and embrace it.  This is who I am.  I’m comfortable with that.  In fact, I enjoy it.

We can fight the inevitable pain of life or we can bask in it.  When we allow the skin to become penetrable, emotion soaks right through us and then out.  We become free once again.

I am no stranger to the suffering in life.  My profession, my calling, requires that I squat in the most uncomfortable climes.  I have watched hundreds die. I have walked in moments after the last breath has faded, and I have felt the spirit leave the room.  I tell people often that the end is near.

And I have done so all these years without shedding a single tear.

It is only when someone asks me about how it feels to be a doctor, that the emotion returns.  Here, away from the examining room and aseptic hospital halls, it is once again safe.  The heat rises into my chest and the throat becomes dry.  And I remember that I am neither dead on the inside nor cold, just in pain.

How ironic to describe a majestic calling from childhood in chocked and unsavory terms.  The words struggle to leave my lips in such anemic tones.

It takes something away from you.

Jordan Grumet is an internal medicine physician and founder, CrisisMD.  He blogs at In My Humble Opinion.

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  • doc99
    • DeceasedMD1

      wow that was a great letter. Appreciate you posting it! $15,000 per week for drug injections. LOL. Interesting that money is attributed to the docs income not the pharaceutical.

  • Patient Kit

    I don’t know about “basking” in pain, or worse, wallowing in it. But I do believe we should all feel and express our pain. I don’t see emotion as weakness. In fact, there is a kind of strength in allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. I see it as human. And I want my docs to be human, not superhuman and not a cold robot.

    I’m also a firm believer that the price is too high for numbing out, suppressing and controlling the “bad” stuff like pain, sadness and fear. The price for that is often that we don’t really feel the good stuff either.

    Personally, I much prefer emotional people to cold, numb, unfeeling people. And that certainly includes my docs, who are people, not machines. I know that docs compartmentalize and need to stay in control while being confronted by overwhelming amounts of sadness in their work so that they can function, make serious decisions, perform surgery, etc. But there are also plenty of time when it is perfectly appropriate to let your patients see some of what you are feeling.

    As a patient, I’m a relentless eye contact maker. You can control a lot but you can’t control your eyes. Eyes are the windows to the soul and all that. If I’m looking into a doc’s
    eyes and they are dead and cold, that would be terrifying to me. If I look into your eyes I want to see someone there, even if you are a most awesome doc who can perform extraordinary things under amazing pressure. I certainly would not to object to genuine tears. They are not a sign of weakness. They are a sign of caring.

    • DoubtfulGuest

      And the completely phony smiles, when the lower half of the face just drops straight down. Chilling. Just tell me you’re having a bad time. I care, and I can deal with it.

  • buzzkillersmith

    Medicine is repeated kicks in the groin lasting, oh, 35 years or so. Then you kick the bucket.

    But you get to help people out

    I try not to think about how things might have turned out better.

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