The simple joy of caring…
You already knew. Gaze unflinching, you told us to say the words.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. A. L. S.
Despite sparse questions, your eyes revealed an understanding
far deeper than our answers-
that with one moment, robbed were you of the years ahead,
of memories awaiting, of stories belonging to you. Now lost.
Strength dissolving, your conviction remains unscathed.
You savor each passing sunrise. Each caress, each step. For you know…
A hope for the future…
How do I know the pill won’t seem
bitter to your tongue through your teeth?
How do I wear a once white coat
stained with tears of memories?
How do I compel my pen to write
scripts to fight a dimming light?
How do I know which waters will flow
to unearth the strength within me?…
Once when I was on a specialized heart failure service, I took care of a teenage boy. He had a form of idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy and had a big heart…in, obviously, more ways than one.
He loved baseball, pumpkin pie, and horses. His family owned a farm, so before he got sick, he would often go horseback riding. He also loved to draw.
We, a team of five physicians, took care of him for a month while he was waiting for a heart transplant. He liked us. We liked him. So he drew us as well.
I thought he was clever. He thought I was even more so. All because he liked my joke:
“What do you call a cow with no legs?”
That was it. He was just a great kid, trying his best to live the life given to him.
I found out recently that he passed away. And today I found the drawing he gave me. And I wept.
It used to be, that at the end of our visits, we would both say to each other, “Ground beef!” with a wink. It perplexed everyone else, but we knew exactly what we were talking about.
So here’s to you, dear buddy…
A bustling hospital.
An unexpected arrival.
A frigid Christmas eve.
I was saying goodbye to another patient when fate collided us.
“I’m sorry, father. You can no longer live with us.
But here is a nice doctor who will find you a home.
Merry Christmas, dad…”
“…You are a doctor to many,
but an angel you have been to me
who encouraged, cared, and healed my pain,
and a light you made me see.
I am sad that you are no longer my doc
but am glad that you are my friend.
And I hope we can keep in touch
until the very end…”
Allow me to spin upon the spindle
a tale of an encounter true.
A patient once, a homeless mum,
her words now shared with you:
The hour of autumn arrives anew
when mirth and feasts abound.
But let me confess my days to you,
true gifts which have been found…
Each word, a slap.
Each consonant, piercing.
Bursting in like a winter’s storm,
you permeated into our lives.
We wanted to help you,
but we only came to fear you.
Many shook their heads in pity.
Some avoided you.
Others talked about you.
Each gesture, scornful.
Each insult, stinging.
My attempts to talk to you
only seemed to anger you more.
You terrified me. Yet I yearned.
To see. To know. To understand.
I knew you were frustrated.
Your disease, unforgiving.
I knew you were discouraged.
Your body, powerless.
But why wouldn’t you let us care for you?…
What do I hear when I bring you to my ears?
What story does your body unveil?
I hear your heart,
the clap of each valve,
sloshes of vigor from lumen
to chamber to reveal
resilience and strength.
I hear your lungs,
the whisper of bronchi,
each crackle, each wheeze
unearthed with your breaths
to expose a hundred secrets.
I hear your bowels,
the timbre of their song,
divulging their activity
to massage a burden
through labyrinthine depths…
I met you my intern year. I remember the first thing you said to me.
“I don’t care to be here.”
With a countenance creased from decades of hardship, a gait staggered from illness, eyes steeled by sufferings, your restrained presence betrayed a sheath impervious. I believed you previously had poor experiences in similar settings, because you told me so. I knew you didn’t trust me, because you told me so.
Our first few visits were stippled with formality. I posed questions; you answered. But they weren’t your answers, but perhaps words you knew I wanted to hear. I half expected you to stop coming. But you never did. Instead, you continued to sit there, guarded, a portrait of cordiality and cautiousness.
And then one day it happened…
Burnout. To be burnt.
When we simply stop caring.
Most of the time we don’t even need
to say anything. But you know.
You hear it in our voice.
You see it in our eyes.
And you feel it too.
You know what
is going through our
mind with each wayward glance.
Is this what I signed up for?
Is this all this profession has to offer?
Because I have seen the articles.
To prevent physician burnout.
Changes we must make.
Putting us first.
I too used to be desperate.
What is happening to me?
What is happening to my colleagues?
What is happening to medicine?…