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My Healing Journey

I was talking to a colleague the other day about my patient’s murder.  That was surprising, since I haven’t thought about it for years.  I was surprised, too, at how much feeling surfaced – sadness, fear, anger, and that slowed-down, head-wrapped-in-cotton-wool and walking-through-molasses feeling that happens when someone dies.  Once before when I remembered her, I broke down while attending a seminar, and was shocked, then, at the feelings that emerged.  I’d just listened to a presentation on abuse and was sitting at a table with six or eight family docs and started to tell that story.  Whammo, instead of words, sobs emerged from my mouth.

All this got me thinking about the emotional ties I sometimes make with patients who confide their deepest thoughts and feelings with me.  Life events tumble over us and accumulate as the years pass.

Half told stories.  Agonies spit out in halting breath. Tales and fantasies of marital bliss.  Terror and awe in the face of fragile newborn life.  All entrusted to me as a physician in the intimacy of the examining room.

When I started my life as a doctor, I imagined help and cures.  I hadn’t yet experienced the intimate connections that would blossom, colour, and enrich my life through my journey with patients.

“Tell me more”.  I offer.

We empathize, advise, support, encourage, and open our hearts to our patients’ challenges and accomplishments, joys and deeply sad losses, fearful despair and triumphs.  The bond that can develop as a consequence, between physician and patient, comes unbidden and may be joyful or tragic.  But either way, the privilege is mine.

© Joan E Barr.  April, 2009