A medical student. A simple question.
“How am I supposed to go on caring?”
At the time, suggestions abound.
Work-life balance. Self-care. Hobbies.
Remembering our initial calling.
Remembering we still make a difference.
Remembering our love for medicine
and the privilege we have as caregivers.
But then the realization-
I don’t know the answer.
I only know that I have witnessed around me-
at every stage of training and practice-
evidence of emotional exhaustion.
So this is my plea.
A plea as we
embark further into
the world of medicine.
never to lose the satisfaction
we experience in caring for others–
the thrill savored
when we supported our first patient,
the warmth felt when families embraced us,
entrusting us with their care,
to preserve our love,
That despite challenges faced,
we refuse to lose what we have gained.
That despite the obstacles
in an ever-changing environment–
despite the self-doubt, criticism, personal struggles–
despite the constant immersion into death and suffering
and the consequent self-preservatory layers
of emotional shield–
That we would continue
Because this is my hope for the future.
That we would never lose the simple joy of helping others
I see it all around me.
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?
But then one day, I saw you.
Not you the patient.
You the person.
You are me.
And you are hurting.
And maybe I am too, although
you may never know.
So I thank you for being here.
Not only do I want you to know that
I honor the privilege of being able to
help you, but you should know that
you have in your own way
taken care of me.
And I do care for you.
We did it. We took it out.
Slowly, the oxygen saturation dropped.
Gradually, the alarms sounded.
Insisting. Imploring us to do something.
We turned them off.
Made him comfortable.
But we knew we couldn’t hide the truth.
We were letting him suffocate.
~ ~ ~
A lucid man.
A failing lung. A decision made.
A breathing tube placed—just temporarily—
until the lungs healed.
Until they got stronger. Until he got stronger.
But I saw the regret the moment it was inserted.
Nevertheless. We agreed to give it a chance.
But days passed. Then weeks.
Being alert, he communicated with us well.
Through his writing, I got to know him well.
His adventures. His best memory. His regrets in life.
He was a good man.
But a man who never desired to live like this.
While the family disputed on what course of action to take next,
he remained calm and unwavering.
“Please let me go.” was what he would say.
Then finally the moment came.
The time to say goodbye.
~ ~ ~
That day, I let myself weep during rounds.
In front of a crowd of stoic faces.
To weep over a friend.
To weep over a human being.
Over his courage.
An impossible decision.
The loss of a life.
Because I didn’t want to do it. But I did.
I let go.
• • •
“To Let Go” – the poem