I walk into the patient room, “Hello, I’m Dr. Seabury. What can we do for you today?” As soon as I see the unbundled child, I know there is a problem. I examine the patient fully. Carefully. The conversation that comes next is a challenging one.
“Strong concern.” “Slow growth.” “Percentiles.” “Development.” “Admission to the hospital.”
There is silence, then the words from the family flow forth. Angry, accusatory, confused, dismissive, worried, ugly, personal. The words cut deeply, and when I pick up the next chart, I feel as though I am still bleeding.
Let it go, I think, as I walk into the next room, smiling as big as I can muster. A fresh slate for the next family, looking for my full attention, unaware of the venomous encounter I have come from, slowly poisoning me as the day continues.
Let it go, I instruct, as I pack up to leave for the day. “You did a nice job with that encounter today,” says a colleague. Then why doesn’t it feel like it, I wonder to myself. The sharp words replaying, I shake my head as if to dispel the memory.
Let it go, I command, as I walk in my front door, briefly seeing the face of the patient superimposed on the face of my own child, who excitedly squeals to see me. I give him all that I have left.
Let it go, I plead, as I tumble into bed. What could I have done better? How could I have phrased things differently? How could I have not created the situation that was? How could I have given better care? I fall asleep restlessly with a ringing in my ears.
Let it go, I cry, showering the next morning. Perhaps the water will wash away the residue of hurt, anger, disappointment, frustration, fatigue.
Let it go, I hope, as I return to clinic. Another day to learn, another day to palpate ticklish tummies, look in tiny ears, comfort concerned new moms, excitedly ogle over milestones, reach a lonely teen. “Hello, I’m Dr. Seabury. What can we do for you today?”
Alexandra Seabury is a pediatrics resident.
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