I hate confrontation. It’s just the way I was raised. I’m not saying it’s right, or healthy, it just happened. My parents and I almost never confronted one another; even when it would have been healthier. That, of course, is water under the bridge and not in any way a condemnation of my folks who were kind and loving and indulgent parents.
But this tendency caused me to suppress emotions. Whether in friendships, romantic relationships, or my profession, speaking the truth just seemed, well, mean. It was uncomfortable. It made other people potentially unhappy. They might not like me! They might not think I was nice! Quelle horreur!
And yet, it caused me no small amount of trouble. My wife, even when she was my girlfriend, constantly prodded me to say what I felt. She did it herself. Bless her; she could never stay asleep angry. Many a night she called me to vent; or woke me from sleep beside her to get the frustration out; to drain the infection of sadness and anger. Then afterwards, it was over, and she still loved me. Hmm. Weird. I didn’t get it for a very long time.
I’m learning. You’d think I would have by 55 years on this planet. But I’m still a work in progress, I suppose.
Which is why I was so uncomfortable arguing with another physician today. I hate that. It makes me almost nauseated, but I should be used to it by now. Over the years, I have been berated and belittled. I have been the recipient of tirades and of assaults on my professionalism and knowledge. I have been yelled at and treated with sarcasm. And typically, I was a little snarky, hung up the phone (or slammed it) and went on with work.
Today I pushed back. Frustrated and angry over an issue of patient care which turned into an ad hominem, I couldn’t restrain myself and unleashed my inner, wounded, exhausted self, who had been tamping down that powder keg for decades of medical practice in the already chaotic world of the ER.
The details are not relevant. I do not want to try to “make my case” or disparage anyone else. I think we were both unprofessional and I think I was probably unkind.
But it’s tough. It’s tough to see the sick and injured all day, to hear complaints real and spurious, to see suffering and be dealt lies all in a few minutes span, and do it all with a smile of acceptance. It’s tough to be the “eternal intern,” whose work is viewed as if by an instructor. Not only so, looking back as an instructor from the comfort of having all labs and studies, looking from the vantage point of the next day or next week, seeking for things to criticize.
The ER is a fishbowl, clear, and round, where everyone sees everything. But it is a fishbowl filled with dying, wounded, intoxicated, sad, miserable fish as well. A fishbowl tinged with blood and drugs, with time-stamps and billing questions, where clarity is as scarce as meal-breaks or good computer systems.
As a Christian, I believe it is my job to bring peace, calm, love, and forgiveness into my workplace (to patients and staff alike) and into my daily life. But I often fail at that. I think today was both a success, in that I spoke my mind, and a failure, since I spoke it sarcastically and with pride and anger.
This the life of the physician, particularly in the ER. To bring healing and sometimes do it through trouble and confrontation and always though chaos.
And this is the life of the Christian, who must face all that in pursuit of truth but also in a daily attempt to mortify the sinful self and bring to life the new man, resurrected to new life in Jesus the Christ.
St. John Chrysostom said: “Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave.”
Indeed. He would have understood my struggle.
Jesus certainly does.
And tomorrow is a new day.
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.”
-Lamentations 3: 22-23
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