I was standing outside the patient room, feeling slightly restless that day. A few days ago, I had just received some news from my doctor that I was not expecting. My mind sifted through the various possibilities and directions this could take me. When will I get to see my doctor to discuss this? What does this mean? As my brain was walking through the various unknowns, my physical body was also not volunteering to comply. I had some constant nagging pain that was preventing me from prolonged standing that day.
I knew, however, that amongst all the commotion in my brain and body, I had to refocus to provide care to the patients I was responsible for. It was time to apply those expert compartmentalizing skills that we had been taught as physicians. Once you turn that doorknob on a patient room, your personal life takes a back burner, and the patient is your top priority. Most patients come to you in a time of their own pain and vulnerability, and we, as physicians, owe it to them to give them the best care and time they need. This doesn’t, however, change the fact that many of us are dealing with a surrey of struggles in our own lives when we come to work. And some days may be harder than others.
The day that I received the not-so-good news from my doctor. The day that my foot was not cooperating, withstanding. The day my grandmother was critically ill and undergoing surgery in a hospital miles away. The day my daughter started daycare and cried relentlessly at drop-off. Those were the days when my heart was split. However, I knew that I owed it to my patients to show up and give them the care they deserve.
I remember one specific day when I walked into the room, I had a family worried about their toddler who had also received a life-changing diagnosis. I looked into their eyes and told them with all honesty that “it would get better.” They believed me, smiled, and thanked me for their time. I remember the day I convinced a hopeless teenager that she mattered to the people around her, even though it didn’t feel like this at the time. She believed me and called me an angel. I remember the day my foot wouldn’t let me stand, so I sat down in the room with my parents, to who I had to break some bad news. And we grieved together. By the end of it, my own pain seemed less worrisome.
I realized that I was struggling with my own, shifting my focus and listening to others salvaged me on the days. My patients’ stories, their acceptance of their situations, their bravery in the face of adversity, their unwillingness to give up, their smiles, and their patience despite it all were the armor I needed to survive my day. I needed their compassion. And despite not realizing it, they imparted it to me.
Despite the world’s fluctuating opinions, medicine is a noble profession, and health care providers are heroes. They show up for their patients time and again and give them their best, often fighting their own personal struggles at the same time. But I am also here to say that my patients have been my heroes in the last few weeks. They have given me hope and salvaged my courage in a time when I needed it the most. Their bravery has given me courage, and their gratefulness has given me hope that the work I do has meaning. And I need to keep fighting for it.
Saba Fatima is a pediatric hospitalist.
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