Some may think that being a dermatologist means taking care of the “superficial.” I beg to defer. We spend a great deal of time performing procedures and talking to patients. During our visits, patients share their truth, and open up their hearts to us in meaningful and vulnerable ways. We hear about their relationships, their work, their fears, and their struggles. We become a part of their inner circle of confidence, like all doctors do.
As doctors, we get these intense moments of real emotional intimacy. These are privileged moments of connection where you see the other human’s inner thoughts, fears, hopes, frustrations, and even their flesh. This relationship is authentic. It is sacred. It is private. It is real. You enter their inner circle of life, their thoughts, and become a confidant to their vulnerabilities.
Today I was informed that my beloved patient that died of an unrelated malignancy to her skin. I mourn alone.
You see, when I lost friends and family, I also was part of the inner network of mourning of our mutual friends and family. As a family, we grieved. We shared our memories, our stories, and showed each other photos of our times together. We felt the oneness of the loss collectively.
As a doctor, I mourn alone. Of course, my friends and family can provide me with compassion and comfort. However, the truth is that as a doctor, you mourn alone. You are not in the patient’s inner circle of life. You are sworn to keep their moments with you separate from others you know in common. You are in a way, a mistress who holds their inner thoughts, feelings, and secrets of their flesh in the most non-sexual way.
In helping patients, we develop our own narratives, our own stories, and what it means to be doctors, which is a big part of our own identity. We get molded and shaped by their spiritual connection of entering the patient-doctor space.
I look back on all the intimate conversations we have shared as a doctor and patient. I heard her stories of sexual identity, rejection, loss, fearful moments, and her truth as a human. We shared a sacred bond of confidence and confidentiality. In fact, her entire life with me is privileged information. Does HIPAA die at death? These thoughts, stories, and photos in my mind and those secured in the binary codes of my electronic medical system were never meant to be shared with anyone. So, I mourn alone.
As a doctor, I have been prepared, frightened, and made paranoid of all deaths or complications of my own causing. I was prepared and trained in delivering bad news and comforting patients in their moments of fear or agony.
No one prepares you that these intimate moments, spiritual connections with the patient are deep human bonds that transcend the man-made stitches on our white coats. Those that do not practice in our profession do not understand that you fall in love with your patients’ souls because you are also a spiritual being. You hold their secrets, comfort their souls, and aid their flesh. Much like a mistress, you do all this behind closed doors and in utter privacy. Their other friends or family, colleagues or neighbors may not even know about you, and how deeply you know them.
When one soul leaves their physical form, the other soul mourns. Society spends far too much time publicizing sexual love, and not enough time talking about spiritual love between two humans. I was never prepared to mourn their loss alone. I don’t get to show my photos to our inner circle and discuss our conversations and memories. I mourn alone. Doctors mourn alone.
Hence, today my beautiful Rose, I cry alone in my office for your loss. The laughter and sarcasm we shared, the joy and happiness we created, the darkness of fears we cried about will forever live only in my heart. Much like a secret mistress, as your doctor, I will take our connection to the grave, and cherish the part of this journey we shared together.
I say goodbye to you, and I thank you for opening your life to me. I thank you for trusting me to care for you and be a part of your life. Thank you for teaching me so much about courage, strength, generosity, forgiveness, leadership, and how to overcome discrimination and obstacles. I truly loved you. I grew as a person by knowing you. It has been my honor to serve as one of your doctors. I will miss you terribly, knowing that you will never occupy one of my exam tables and walk the office with your gentle grace.
May you rest in peace and have the eternal freedom that your cancer-consumed body had denied you so long.
Tanya Kormeili is a dermatologist.
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