We are not powerless to respond after Dr. Michael Davidson’s death

Michael Davidson’s death was the result of a senseless act, and it has shaken our community to its core. We physicians are part of a profession that prides itself on healing and restoring lives, and it is difficult to accept an untimely and unjust death in any context. It is all the more incomprehensible that such tragic circumstances could exist as to result in such an irrevocable end to one of our own. We each go to our respective hospitals with the desire to improve patients’ lives, and rarely does it cross our minds that we could be entering harm’s way. Though we often find ourselves confronted with difficult patients and their families, it only takes a few difficult encounters during our training years to understand that these reactions are born of fear and confusion as our patients try to make sense of illness.  In addition, these encounters rarely escalate to the point where we find our personal safety at risk. How do we, the medical community, proceed from this moment of darkness and continue to provide compassionate care to a public that now harbors the potential for such severe threat?

There is no single answer to this question.  We as physicians are a community comprised of unique personalities, and we each handle difficult circumstances differently. Trying to generate a universal answer to such a complex question disregards our diversity.  We are complex people seeking  to deliver care to a complex public. We may try to insulate ourselves from the personal details of our patients’ lives, but often we can’t help but to bring our full selves to the relationship. We are emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental beings. Likewise, we treat patients who bring their full selves, particularly so during these often vulnerable times of illness. Many times, this vulnerability manifests as conflict as we participate in the management of our patients’ illnesses, because patients may feel unheard, unacknowledged, or dismissed when needs are expressed and perceived to be unmet. It’s difficult to conceive that any practitioner intends for this, but however we still need to navigate the raw emotions that patients have as they deal with their illness.

Amidst this complexity, we may find our true humanity. In medicine, we see the beautiful and the ugly; we see peoples’ potential and their potential for failure. We join this profession despite this unavoidable tension, and it is the possibility of driving the equilibrium toward beauty, toward success, and toward goodness, that draws us and drives us to pick up our stethoscopes for yet another day.

Despite the profound darkness that surrounds an event like Dr. Davidson’s death, we are not powerless in our response to it.  On a far lesser scale, we have all been the recipients of resentment during a patient encounter or during a meeting with a patient’s family member.  We have also all likely received gratitude from patients and family members, which may be a source of strength in times when it is required. In the moments where things may feel bleak, we can choose to remember the moments when unexpected miracles happened. It is these good moments that remind us of the reasons we chose this profession. Things may not always appear to be beautiful, and at times things may become incredibly onerous, but an ability to call upon the times of goodness is what we can give to the patients whom are to come, or whom we are treating now. This is a light that our community and our patients need right now, as we grieve the senseless loss of one of our own.

Chiduzie Madubata is an internal medicine physician. Kenneth D. Bishop is a hematology-oncology fellow who blogs at Out Living.

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