The Weight of a Soldier’s Story

2014
Doko, Magbule

I just got back two weeks ago. I’m glad to be home again. But it was hard Doc. You don’t wanna know. Why should you have those images in your head too? I thought I could handle it, but look at me now. I don’t know what I have become. I am always on the edge and angry. I’ve been having trouble sleeping. Nightmares. I keep seeing the images. No one should have to see what I have seen. It is a permanent darkness deep in my soul. I’m in that moment and I can’t do anything. My heart races, my legs won’t move, my hands tremble, and I am scared. I am afraid to be alone. I haven’t been able to leave the house. I can’t help with chores, I can’t get a job, and I am not available as a husband or father. Once, I was startled and broke the lamp. The worry and constant thoughts are stressing me. Thoughts are becoming mixed and my emotions are up and down. Inside, I feel unstable. I am always living that moment. I am out of my body. How could I do those things? Who am I? I cannot live like this Doc. What’s the point? I am stuck in a moment in time and something won’t let me leave. Doc, are you listening to me? You need to help me. I just want to go back to how things were. I just want to be me again.

I am listening. I hear you. I hear your suffering. I will help you. It will get better, I told him. With time. He has suffered so much. I don’t blame him for what he is feeling. He is sad, angry, and scared. I wish I could erase his memories. But I cannot. I can listen to his story and offer him my help. I tell him that I understand his anguish and that it must be hard for him. I tell him that his physical symptoms are a manifestation of anxiety. Anxiety that can be overcome with the help of counselling and medications. I will make sure I see him more frequently during this time and follow his condition. I wish him the best. Our visit ends and he goes back out into the world.

As physicians, we see patients in unfortunate circumstances. We hear their stories of pain, suffering, and loss. What they have experienced is out of our control but we can help them. Do not forget that it is a privilege to listen to a patient’s story.  It is an opportunity to help someone when they are most vulnerable and scared. When they tell their story, they can release strong or repressed emotions and in the process find relief. They offer us the gift of their story. We offer them the opportunity to tell it.

As doctors we hear patients’ stories and it can be hard to listen. Some of the stories are so disastrous that they are hard to believe. The truth of living in this world is that some people experience the most dreadful things. The patient that is diagnosed with cancer, the mother who has lost her child, the child who lost their parent, the patient with severe anxiety, or the soldier who has seen war atrocities, all of these people have stories to tell. We listen and guide them back to a life free of anger, sadness, and fear. As physicians, we wear our stethoscopes with pride. When we put our stethoscopes on, we feel the heavy weight on our shoulders. We feel the weight of our patients’ stories. The stories that we will never forget. The stories that have changed us. The stories that we are privileged to hear. The stories that are the essence of the patient-physician relationship.  And now, I have added on the weight of a soldier’s story.                                

Theme: Health Care Delivery | Prestation des soins de santé
Theme: History | Histoire
Theme: Patients | Patients
Theme: Physicians | Médecins
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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