In a time when the deep divisions in our country have become increasingly apparent, I, perhaps like you, have been seeking hope. I supposed hope would come in the form of an enlightened article or a profound speech, but it did not. Hope came to me in the form of my patients.
The division you have been seeing in our country is barely visible in the hospital. Here, patients are assigned to floors based on their pathology, not their sex, race, or religion. Here, the patient’s background is only important in how it informs care. Here, it is not uncommon to have an Ivy-league graduate and a blue-collar worker in the same room, bonding over illness, sharing their struggle to survive. Here, when I take a history, I move past the demographics relatively quickly and spend the largest amount of my time on my favorite part — the stories.
Stories, sometimes tragic, often inspiring, remind me that I, too, am human, broken and looking for a cure. Halls buzz with the hurried footsteps of thousands of employees caring for hundreds of patients. This is more than work. It is unconditional love come to life. I am awestruck. It is difficult for me to believe there is no hope for a broken country while working in a place where people are giving everything they have to put people back together.
It has been close to four months since residency began. What I have lost in sleep, I have gained in hope. I work with Republicans and Democrats, Muslims and Christians, women who have husbands and women who have wives, and other beautifully varied combinations of people. We work together to treat people from all over the world. Despite the variety of differences that health care workers have, we relate to each other based on a common mission to treat any human being who walks through the front door, in whatever condition they may be in, with as much compassion as we can muster.
In reality, all people are patients, suffering from medical disease but also from poverty, hunger, abuse, and neglect. The difference is that our world operates much differently than a hospital. We rarely make each other the priority. We focus on ways to tell each other apart instead of the ways we are alike. We often reduce each other to stereotypes, cheapening the value of the equal life we each have. We let the noise of ourselves drown out the voices of the suffering. Our actions have left many patients untreated. This is our greatest failure and our greatest opportunity for meaningful change.
There is no doubt that the divisions in our country will take time to reconcile. I do not pretend to have solutions, and I know there are no easy answers. However, there are a couple of truths, which medicine has taught me, that I believe can help heal our country. First, there is nothing more powerful than letting people tell you their story and listening intently to that story. Next, when in doubt, love and compassionate care are always the answer. Third, we are all profoundly flawed and profoundly equal in those flaws. And finally, our country is man’s greatest hospital: we are the workers, we are the patients, we are the hope we have been seeking.
This commentary represents the author’s personal opinions and not those of Massachusetts General Hospital.
Andrew Cruz is a resident physician. This article originally appeared in Op-(m)ed.
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