Helping a patient can help with grief

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The constant hum of the subway car over the tracks plays in the background as I sit there with my mind running over the tasks of the day. I never quite thought of myself as a particularly intense person, yet here I was three years later working with an underserved population between a state and county hospital in my first week as one of the new administrative chiefs. The very recent, very sudden, loss of my dear colleague and friend sent me into a little bit of a tailspin. At the time of the news, our program was quick to mobilize, gather us all together, take us off clinical duty, and provide a myriad of resources. Yet, regardless of the immense support from my program, it still felt like there was no time to grieve. I felt a responsibility to take care of my patients and the new role I had been gifted with as administrative chief meant that I was now someone that my colleagues relied on. All of a sudden, it just seemed so daunting. I needed to find my bearings.

The reality is that this conflict of being overwhelmed due to life events but also the need to push forward in our professional commitment is familiar to many of us. For me, as challenging as the loss of my friend has been, it also brought to surface how remarkably resilient we are as physicians. I will be the first to admit I could not have done this alone. The support and genuine camaraderie pushed us forward through the days. Some days it was nice just to sit beside someone who understood exactly what it was you were going through because they felt it too. I am immeasurably thankful for the environment our program has fostered and the friendships we have forged.

The second thing that I learned during this time was that the act of helping a patient in itself can be therapeutic. The idea of bringing a new life to the world whilst mourning the loss of my dear friend at first seemed nauseating. And yet the very same day we had received the news I found myself sitting at the side of my patient’s bed as I taught her how to push. On one hand it was a relief to have to focus on something else. More importantly, there was something therapeutic in pouring myself into that moment. For a period of time everything melted away and all my energy was synced to one purpose: the safe delivery of a newborn baby. As I welcomed the newborn’s cry into the world, a tiny, very distant, very faint wave of joy went through me.

These past few weeks have been very challenging. But I have been amazed at the kindness, resilience and strength of my colleagues. I will remember my friend every day. On the hard days, I will remember her passion for caring for the underprivileged and for doing what’s right. I will remember her strength, her courage and her laughter. I will remember her genuine love for life and her unquenchable thirst for more. I will remember my friend every day.

Sasha Sabir is an obstetrics-gynecology resident.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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