Although I’m still relatively early in my journey through medicine, it is still notable when a more mundane task becomes a moment I cannot forget. After seeing dozens of colonoscopies for a couple of weeks, I remember one particular patient, who after completing his procedure very joyfully told me while eating crackers and drinking juice that this was the moment he had been looking forward to the most.
Over the past day of bowel prep, he kept thinking of how good those crackers would taste after having not eaten. Normally, I would smile and not think much of this moment, but in that particular instance I was able to share in the joy of that patient on another level, because I was fasting for the month of Ramadan. His pleasure while eating and drinking hit me deeper and filled me with more empathy than I’ve ever had seeing a patient eat. As I stood, already 6 hours into my fast with another 10 hours left in the day, I was more in tune to the emotions of the patient in front of me, and experienced a now mundane task of speaking with a patient post colonoscopy in a completely new way.
Every year, medical students, physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals fast and celebrate the month of Ramadan, which will be starting in the first week of May 2019. Of course, as with most areas of life, my above patient encounter was just a glimpse into a more complicated situation. Holding out on all food and drink for most of the day, getting up before dawn to eat and energize for the day only to be at the hospital a few hours later, inching through board review questions even more slowly than before, and throwing off my entire sleep schedule all really add up. For the 30 days of Ramadan, I went through a range of physical struggles, emotional highs, and somnolent study sessions that all challenged me. Yet ultimately, as a third-year medical student in my first real year of patient interaction, I felt better off for having gone through it, and oddly, closer to my patients.
Last year, I started documenting some of these emotions on Instagram under #medinramadan along with other users, and will be doing so again this year. Check out the hashtag and get a glimpse into some of the nuanced emotions of the month experienced by thousands of physicians in the country, as well as many more staff in other areas of health care. Join the ups of feeling more compassionate for humanity and more in tune with our spiritual selves, as well as the downs of being sleep deprived, hungry, thirsty, and facing demanding physical challenges.
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