I have often told this story

2014
Chiche More, Dalhia

I have often told this story. Not because I am arrogant, not because it is so unique but mostly because it has a message: A message for medical students and a message for life. A message that I did not know at the time would guide me through my career as a family physician, as a teacher, and as a mother.

I was in third year medical school and on my first rotation in internal medicine. I felt like this was going to be the hardest thing I had done to date in medical school. We were constantly being tested and reprimanded. We had to come early, leave late and do some extra time on Saturdays to cover the most and to learn the most. I was part of a relatively small group of students and the physician in charge of us was very demanding. I often felt that during medical school, the attitude was to make us feel like we knew nothing and at the very end when we graduated, they would make us feel like we were brilliant and proud.

With every day that passed, I felt that I was breathing, sleeping, walking and eating internal medicine. The endless and unlimited amount of information was unattainable and slowly, I felt that I could not achieve this unattainable goal of answering correctly all the questions asked. I would come home and ask myself if these were the two months that would break me. Could these two months make me quit, or make me leave? Would these two months kill my confidence or destroy all my dreams and hopes. I wondered what would happen if… If I can not keep up with the pressure, if I make a terrible mistake, if I I fail this rotation. It all seemed very gloomy at the time. After about two weeks on that rotation, we all came in on a Saturday and found out that the physician in charge did not. We found out that his son had passed away. I remember thinking of all that worried me at the time and how it is so futile, comparing to life…and death. I could not imagine the desperation of losing a child. When faced with death, our whole value system is shattered. Our priorities are questioned, and there are no answers. I remember that whilst others were wondering if they should go to the funeral, I was sure that I had to be there. I had not known the child, and barely knew the father, but again, all the game rules are now being recreated. In the book at the entry of the funeral hall, was a book where people could sign their names. I was relatively young and did not fully understand why one needed to write their name, but did so nonetheless. I felt such sadness and had to share it. And so, next to my name, I wrote ‘so sorry’.

A month or so later, our teacher had returned to work but was not in charge of us at that time. I remember thinking of how hard it must be for him to care for others now. I wondered if every one around thought about the loss every time they saw him. Would he ever get over it? I wondered how, as a physician, we have to be aware that although someone can look perfectly fine, they may be very sad inside. Clothes can mask many woes and a smile can camouflage much pain.

Some time later, when I was approaching the end of my medical school years, I saw the doctor again. He called me into his office and thanked me for my note. I told him that I meant it and that on that day, I realized that indeed life and health are most important and that when one of those are gone, then only family and caring can help, if only a little.

I graduated medical school and went on my way. I went to residency, got married and had four lovely children. Twenty years later, in the midst of my career, when I finally achieved the dream job I had been aiming for, my own life took a turn. My son was diagnosed with cancer and our whole family was turned upside down. Days meant anxiety, pain and chemotherapy treatments. Nights meant insomnia, internet research, and tears. At first, I was trying to maintain some of my work or other family obligations, but then I gave up. With all the help I could muster from family, friends and other professionals. I stopped all other activities and moved into the hospital with my son, husband and oldest son. We were all enlisted in the army of love, caring, healing, and treating. We were not a family with a child who has cancer, but we became a cancer family. We had good soldiers, generals and even intelligence units, but despite all that, we lost the war.

Since that time, everything in my life is different. My eyes have changed; I see everything through the tears. Everything I knew up to now is questionable. Previous priorities seem no longer relevant and truth is only a suggestion. I had now become a parent who has lost a child. And I think back to that time so many years ago. I remember my feelings, my shock, and my sadness. I look around me now and often I am surrounded by young people, who were friends with my son. I see them and I know that they feel pain too.

The one thing I still know is that when nothing can be done or said, then caring and love is all we have left.

Theme: Death and Dying | Décès et le mourir
Theme: Family | Famille
Theme: Physicians | Médecins
Theme: Teaching and Learning | Enseignement et apprentissage

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

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