Many times during difficult patient interactions — when I am not sure about the right thing to do — I let myself be guided by the question: “What would I do if it was my family member?” This internal dialogue usually cuts the clutter and lets me focus on the most important thing: the well-being of my patient. I can step away from the behavioral chaos and guide them in a calm, compassionate manner. Several times a day, I open the exam room door with an excited greeting and a big smile on my face. I let the worry of my personal issues stay outside of that door and be in the moment with my patients. I give them my full attention, empathize with their hardships and celebrate when they tell me about their own or their families’ achievements. I feel privileged to share in their life’ experiences and to provide a safe space to unload whatever they need to during our visits while we also discuss how to manage their health.
I wish I could say the same about my interactions with my children and spouse. Mindfulness and being in the moment goes out the window while I rush my children to finish dinner, so they can start on homework — and then finish homework so they can take a shower. Only to ask them to hurry up in the shower so that they can go to bed on time. Meanwhile, thinking of what to pack for lunch the next day and what volunteer obligations I have for the school that week. My husband asks me a simple question which offends me for no reason, and I snap at him feeling somewhat entitled to my rude behavior because I’ve worked hard all day. Then I regret it immediately as I realize that he has been working hard too. I apologize and think how wonderful it would be if I treated my family like I treat my patients.
If I treated my family as my patients, I would listen attentively and empathetically when my parents call and tell me about the things going on at home instead of hurrying off the phone to make breakfast. I would ask them if they could make any small changes to their lifestyle instead of throwing my “expert opinion” at them and telling them that their wrong eating habits have caused their diabetes. When my dad brings trinkets out of immense love to my minimalist home, I would appreciate the sentiment with gratitude and a big smile, instead of reminding him that he is wasting his money on useless things. Of course, I would never say that to a patient who brought a tray of home-baked cookies to the office. How I wish, I treated my family like I treat my patients!
I wish that I checked the worries about my work at the door when I get home. That I chose to play video games with my sons over working on my inbox on the weekends. That I did not attach any hidden meanings to things my husband says and get mad about them. That when someone asked me for the hundredth time where something was, I would answer with patience and kindness.
The habits that are ingrained in us as physicians make it so natural to exhibit kindness and compassion to our patients. Even when it is hard to find empathy, we dig deeper to find some compassion and connection to make our interaction meaningful. I suspect I am not alone in feeling this disconnect between our behavior at work and home. Maybe, our kindness stores are drained, and we are emotionally exhausted by the time we get home. Perhaps, it’s not just a physician problem after all, but a societal problem. We are nicer to the strangers than we are to people closest to us. At home, we want to be free to act cranky and tired when we feel that way. Hopefully, there is a way to find a balance — to feel rejuvenated with self-care, and to give our families respect, time and kindness they deserve, just as we do for our patients.
“Doctormom_andmore” is a physician and can be reached on Medium @Doctormom_andmore.
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