I've decided to use this space to add stories from my medical career that build off of my experiences in Bogota...now, 3 years later, here is a new entry:
Listening and Tears
Observing. Listening. Reacting. Observing. Listening. Reacting. Listening. Listening. That was the beat of my day. I’ll start with the last part, since my emotional reaction from the whole day decided to come out then and motivated me to write again. To write something that wouldn’t be an email, or a patient note.
After frantically flipping through one of my medicine textbooks, chastising myself for not understanding medication dosages and dilutions well enough, I decided to shut my books and take the subway down to Wall St. It’s funny because every time I go down there, it is for something that is somewhat always anti-corporation. Last time it was flu shots in Zucotti Park. This time it was “Yoga for change-makers.” I arrived and was instantly warmed by the smiles that met me at the door. We introduced ourselves, sharing bits and pieces about our professions and the way we believe we make change. After everyone spoke, it was as if a nest had been woven between us, catching us all-in our fatigue, in our failures, in our frustrations and fears. Then we closed our eyes, and followed the soothing voice of our yoga teacher, allowing her words to rub our lower backs and to let us breathe out the day.
Today was a particularly intense day for me. Another one of those days in third year, where you say, holy shit: What did I just hear? What did I just see? And what did I do when this happened? I’m guessing Palliative care must be like this every day. To see so much sadness, enmeshment between family members, existential crises, pain. In one exercise in the yoga class, we practiced the art of listening. We broke up into dyads and listened to each other for 5 minutes, without responding or interrupting the other person. The exercise made me feel like I had never truly listened to anyone before. We were supposed to speak about a strength we have, and how we intend to keep that strength growing. I decided to give an example from my day. It happened when I went into a patient’s* room, to speak with her about her pain management. She had just been readmitted to the hospital after finding out that her cancer was no longer in remission. She told us that all she wanted was to go back to her daily life, her job, her running. She said that she wanted her pain to be controlled, but couldn’t accept the fact that it would make her drowsy and unable to communicate with her husband with a clear head. While she told us about her personal goals of treatment, I felt my throat swell, my nose grow hot, and my eyes begin to moisten. At first, I was angry with myself, upset that I had let my own emotions into the patient’s personal space, and tried my best not to let the patient see me. As I told this story to my listening partner in class, I began cry again. It’s hard to explain why we cry some times, but in that moment, I returned to myself in the white coat, by the bedside. I returned to my moist eyes and thanked them. I acknowledged my expression of sadness as my strength. This experience brought up an important question for me: Why are we ashamed of letting others see our tears?
*identifying characteristics have been changed