As physicians, our patients generally look up to us as people who make a great impact on their lives and sometimes even save them. But over the last year, I’d have to say that it’s my patients who have repeatedly saved me, starting with a four-month-old baby girl on November 9th, 2016.
The morning after election day, I walked into my first patient’s room at 9 a.m. Like most of the country, I had not slept a wink. I’d hosted the worst election day party ever where one by one guests who had come to witness “herstory” left in utter shock, heartbreak and fear. I had no idea how I was going to get through my busy day of seeing a patient every 15 minutes. How was I going to tune out the freight train in my head and instead listen to parent’s concerns about their kids. As soon as I walked in and started approaching my first mother-baby duo, my patient’s mom looked at my eyes and said, “Are you OK?” I took a big breath and said, “No, I’m not.”
I don’t talk politics with patients or openly announce my political affiliations to them. I try my best not to let my personal life be carried over into my professional one. But that morning, I felt too defeated to put on a fake smile and pretend. I sat down on my rotating stool in front of my computer as that mom and I locked eyes. Instantly, we were both in tears, and she held her baby with one hand, kissing her forehead and reached out and grabbed my hand with the other. We just sat there a few minutes together and cried in silence, hand in hand. Then, we both wiped our eyes and went on discussing her beautiful baby’s growth and milestones, and somehow I saw the rest of my patients without outwardly crying despite feeling like an elephant is sitting on my chest. They were more important than the sirens in my head.
I spent some time after the election seething, angry, openly spewing my hatred towards the president until it became apparent to everyone that I was becoming so toxic to myself and my children that to continue to wallow in hate would accomplish nothing but hurt my own family. That poisonous hatred would mean not only did he win the election, but he won against me. I decided to flip the switch, to stop posting about hate and start taking action and to look for the everyday beauty and goodness in the people around me. In short, I got on the “love trumps hate” bandwagon. It was survival, and until recently, it was working.
Over the last year, there has been at least a weekly occurrence that made me want to go back to hate and depression. But each time, the next day I’d go to work and see a mom with a newborn full of hope. I would think back to being a first-time mom myself sixteen years ago, just a few weeks after September 11th, 2001. At that time, I didn’t have the energy to worry about the rest of the world. I was in my last year of pediatric residency and married to a surgical resident. All I had time for was my baby; he was my whole world. As an Iranian-American who had experienced some bullying in grade school in the post Iran hostage crisis, I worried that my baby might grow up to face some of the same discrimination I had. That possibility seemed unbearable and overwhelming every time I’d look at him. I tuned it all out. While everyone else was watching the news 24/7, I avoided it. My only mechanism of survival was just to focus on myself and my baby.
Now, I see these babies and their parents and the hope they have for their kids. I realize that I have the time to expend energy into what they may not have the time for. Over this last year, with every infuriating news story, I tried to turn my anger into action: I’d sign more petitions, donate to another organization, make more phone calls.
And then, I broke again. In hate vs. Paria — hate won. I hate that hate won … that he won. What finally shattered me was watching Mr. President throw rolls of paper towels to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico — as if it’s a big joke. I was already in a state of complete despair after the largest mass shooting in U.S. history in Las Vegas just a few days before. How could I expect a president who had shown not just a lack of response to Puerto Rico but was now treating it like a gameshow have any appropriate response to a mass shooting? Watching him do something that idiotic made me give up any shred of hope for gun control that I was holding on to. Signing petitions, donating money, making phone calls, all seemed like a complete waste of my time. Hate took over me, and I feel defeated. My options seem to be to either plummet into hopelessness or, even worse, not give a rat’s ass and only care about myself. I mean, why should I care? I have health care. I live a pretty comfortable but not extravagant life that is unlikely to change. I could just go about my life knowing that I’ve got the resources to take care of my family and just hope that no one in my family is directly a victim of some horrific hate crime.
Here is the problem. To continue to live my cushy life, I do have to go to work. When I go to work, I have to see these beautiful babies and little kids. I can’t stand the thought of them growing up in a country that is a mess, and I’ve done nothing but get defeated. I can’t face these babies and tell them I give up and decided you’re not worth fighting for. So, I take a couple of weeks to cry and curse and wallow in hate, and then I think of that four-month-old baby who almost a year later is taking her first steps. I remember how that day, her mom sacrificed the precious time that should have been her baby’s to hold my hand, and I go back to the action pages for Moms Demand Action and End Citizens United to see what else I can do. I realize that although I gotten completely derailed for a couple of weeks, I have to get back on the love trumps hate bandwagon.
Paria Hassouri is a pediatrician who blogs at Mom On The Runsanity.
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