Twenty years as a family physician

2012
Chiche-More, Dahlia

Twenty years as a family physician certainly has offered me a wide range of life experiences. I have been exposed to patients of many different backgrounds, of a full range of ages and in two different countries. I felt that I had a respectable amount of experience and that I had the privilege of having seen and probably heard most things already at least once in my medical lifetime. I would be proud of my experience and feel that I had gained it not only for myself to make me a better physician but also to be able to help my patients recognize what they are feeling. As a young physician I would advise based on theoretical knowledge and then as I was getting older and became a parent I felt I had acquired more subjective experiences. My life experiences would blend together and I tried at all times to be as empathetic as I could be. I never wanted to be cynical or sarcastic and promised myself at the very beginning of my career that although I could at times let out some of my feelings of frustration and share stories with colleagues, the minute I would feel cynical about patient care, I would retire.

Eighteen months ago, I had to personally experience the most tragic of all. My teenage son got diagnosed with sarcoma and after ten months of hell, he succumbed to the disease and passed away. I suddenly realized that I really never understood anything about illness, sadness, loss and family. I felt that I had failed him as a doctor-mother and that I probably did not really have any true skill or tools anymore to help others. Like many before me, I considered leaving the profession altogether.

After a ritual period of mourning of a month I decided that before I would quit, I would go back and take my time to make the decision. Most of my patients knew of my loss and something incredible started to unfold. They were now able to share their saddest moments. They would present their condolences and then proceed to share their losses. One 68 year old woman called to specifically share with me her loss: She had been 15 and her 18 year old brother died in a drowning accident. She proceeded to say that she was calling specifically to tell me that her parents DID continue their life and gave then a good life afterwards too. An 86 year old woman told me how she so understood me since she had had a teenage daughter who had died and that life has never been the same since. A woman about my age told me how she had lost a brother in a war 36 years ago. She shared with me how she remembers her feelings as a 14 year old girl who has lost an older brother and helped me understand what my other children were going through. She explained to me that her biggest fear after she lost her brother was to lose her parents and how important it was to her to see that her parents were strong. A 25 year old woman lost her father to suicide around the same time my son had passed away and how she was crying for both at the same time. Another told me how she had lost a best friend as a teenager and how she never forgot her. My most touching moment was when an 87 year old patient of mine, a holocaust survivor, shared with me that “this also, he experienced” after the war he had come to Israel and managed to rebuild his life, got married had three children and his teenage son passed away at age 18. With tears in his eyes, he told me that it was the hardest things he had to experience in his life. He always asks about the other children.

Over the course of the last 18 months, while I was deciding whether or not to leave medicine, I realized that something very special had unfolded in my medical practice, I had been exposed to so much sadness. I realized that without my pain, others would not have had the opportunity to express themselves, and I would not have had the opportunity to learn so much about loss and how different people had managed their loss. Misery does not love company, but I have learned that sharing sad experiences has indeed given me strength and understanding. Strength to go on because others before me have done so. And understanding that as hard as life is there is a before, and there is also an “after”. I felt that my patients had unbeknownst to them taken me as their project. They were trying to give me the tools I so needed to go on, to move forward and to understand. As a physician we all have a need to give and to be needed but we should not forget that at times we need our patients too!

Theme: Community | Communauté
Theme: Death and Dying | Décès et le mourir
Theme: Family | Famille
Theme: Patients | Patients
Theme: Relationships | Relations

Stories in Family Medicine | Récits en médecine familiale [Internet] Mississauga ON: College of Family Physicians of Canada. 2008 --.

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