Sunday, December 14, 2008

The doctor is out sick

I'm sick! Started with a sore throat, progressed to body aches and fatigue, then the sinus pressure and congestion kicked in. I'm miserable! All I want to do is sleep, but my nose is so stuffed up that I have to breathe through my mouth, which dries out my throat, which hurts worse and wakes me up. If I take a decongestant pill, the nose clears up, but I can't sleep because the decongestant is a stimulant. My sinuses hurt unless I press on them constantly and take enough ibuprofen to endanger my kidneys. This is the weekend I was supposed to do all my Christmas shopping, and I don't even want to leave the house. Not only that, I'm falling behind on my training for the half marathon in January, mere weeks away! Boo hoo and waaah!

Why am I moaning out loud on a blog? Because I think there's a lesson in all this. For me and other docs, that is. I'm usually very healthy, and manage not to catch most of the germs that are coughed in my face daily. But every so often something gets me. When that happens, I invariably find myself surprised at how miserable I feel, and humbled thinking of how miserable all the patients must feel. No wonder they came in! No wonder they couldn't do their homework or sit for their exam! This sucks!

We docs tend to get a little numbed by numbers. When we see ten people with respiratory infections in one day, they blur together, and the process becomes rote. Listen to the symptoms, swab the throat, recite a list of comfort measures, make a sorry face, then go on to the next patient. Part of rote-ness is remote-ness. Distance from the feelings of the patient. I hear them moan like I did above, I see their lips moving, but it doesn't really land after a while. I nod and smile, but I don't really, well, honestly, care as much as I should.

Now I know I'm just talking about a cold here. But as I have relearned this week, even "just" a cold can be devastating in its own way. More serious illnesses are more devastating, but those can be subject to the same doctor numbness if we're not careful.

The Universe is offering me an opportunity to share an experience with my patients in order to be a more compassionate physician.

It's not an illness; it's an opportunity! Yeah, that's it! A Universal lesson.

Okay, I get it already. I'm miserable. They're miserable. Can I please get better now?

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