The Truth in Our Tears

Today was an ordinary day of rounding, meetings, patient visits, notes, emails and dictations.  Chaotically rushed from moment to moment by the nagging memory of the work left undone.  The beckoning of pagers, labs left unsent, and x-rays still to be read. The ticking clock of resident duty hours, medical students awaiting afternoon education, and the impending night of sign-out and overnight call.  

Yet, at high noon, on a Tuesday, in an nondescript classroom, fifty people gathered together.  Fifty people from all walks of life, collected together in mass for a scheduled resident lecture.  

Then something remarkable happened that revealed the truth in our tears.  

I wish the world could see what I have the privilege of seeing.  Physicians crying.  

Through the logistical minefield of the nuisances of modern medicine, people found their way together. A necessary together.  To share a moment and hold a space.  Not a defined moment of time, but yielding dignity to the preservation of space.  And then, together we did something that we do not do enough in medicine.  We talked about the tragedy of seeing our patients die.  We dedicated time to listen.  And we mourned together.  

One brave colleague shared about the struggles of seeing a patient die on the hospital floor and how to process a nurse asking, “Is this dose of morphine going to kill her?”  

Another young resident shares, “I went to a funeral of a child last week while there were other children running around in the church lobby…”.  

Two seats away, a tearful physician, “I was on vacation, just to come back to find out a patient I cared for had passed away….and I didn’t even know”.  

Three colleagues walk over to embrace each other in a moment of instinctual grace.  

The faculty listened. We cried too.  We attempted to share our own stories of tragedy, loss, grief and processing.  We attempted to provide comfort to an organic space where vulnerability could exist to a degree worthy of these tears.  We attempted to create a moment capable of transporting us all back to a time when the innocence dripped off of our brow like water droplets from a summer sprinkler.  An innocence unafraid to expose truth.  Unveiled from expectations.  A truth revealing an acknowledgement of the flowing principles of our basic humanity.    

It is into these moments, I carry Luke, Bailey, Audrey, Riley, Conner, and Carter.  Into these moments, I remember Lacy, Khalid, Austin, Emily, and Nathan.  Into these moments, I cherish Sam, Paco, Joshua, and Alex.  In these moments, I hold Zoe even closer to my heart.    

To witness this heartbreak, in a room of physicians, should tell the world something.  These are the moment I wish the world could see.  We carry the love of our patients with us.   It deeply affects us all.  We carry it close to our hearts, and on the tips of our tongues.  We do not forget.  We will always remember the impact the lives of our patients have on us. And when we do it right, we mourn together too.  We acknowledge our humanity in a moment yawping for our basic needs to be human too. 

We must do it right.  The humanity of our medical community relies upon it.