As†I wrote about here, I believe medicine is a spiritual practice because practicing medicine is all about being vessels for Divine love, so we can facilitate the process of self-healing for our patients.
But nobody ever taught me this in medical school. I learned it by merely being human.
Because of my ability to be both human and a doctor, I have always practiced love, with a little medicine on the side.
The Night of Four Dead Babies
Iíll explain what I mean by that.† I remember one crazy busy night in Labor & Delivery as a third year resident at Northwestern University when I delivered 13 babies – four of which were dead – in one 24-hour shift.
The night went something like this – run into a room, check the cervix of a woman who is in labor with a healthy baby, then run into the room next door, where a woman whose baby died at 34 weeks is 8-centimeters dilated and about to push out her dead baby.
Then I had to run into another room, catch a live baby as it came flying out, then race off to yet another room, where a woman was terminating her pregnancy because her baby had a lethal chromosome problem – Trisomy 13.
Long story short, I would deliver a dead baby, wrap the baby in a blanket, hand her to her mother, and promptly start weeping. I wound up crawling in bed with these women, holding them in my arms as they held their dead babies, and crying with them until someone called my name overhead and I had to wipe my tears and run off to deliver a live baby.
By 4:00 a.m., I had delivered all four dead babies, and I was crumpled into a heap on the floor of the locker room, sobbing inconsolably. My teacher was standing in the doorway (because it was the womenís locker room and he was male) screaming at me, ďBUCK UP, RANKIN. Youíre never gonna make it in this field if you canít get a thicker skin.Ē
And while he was screaming, two midwives sat on the floor, holding me, rocking me in their arms while I sobbed. One of them whispered the words Iíll never forget. ďDonít ever let them break you, Lissa.Ē
Keeping Your Heart Open
Thatís the thing about practicing medicine. Itís a fine balance in order to feel with your patients and still manage to keep on chugging. I wasnít much use for the rest of the night and I pretty much cried through the deliveries of a few more live, healthy babies before my shift ended. But I still believe I eased the suffering of those women who delivered dead babies by being human, crying in bed with them rather than coldly doing my job and getting the hell outta dodge.
I decided in that moment, as that midwife rocked me, that I would NEVER let them break me. In fact, thatís why I left my traditional practice a few years back – because they were this close to breaking me and I just refused to let that happen. I had to reconfigure my practice so I could keep my heart open and not get fractured into a million little pieces.
I Love My Patients
I have a confession to make. This is something I have shared with hardly anybody because it feels somewhat taboo. But itís the truth.
I love my patients.
I genuinely love them and want the very best for their bodies, minds, and spirits. Iím not in love with them in some romantic way, and Iím not codependent with them in some creepy, unhealthy way.
But I truly love my patients. Some are harder to love. The ones with borderline personality disorder try my capacity for unconditional love. The crazy one who sued me for stealing her labia (yup – true story), she was hard to love.
But for the most part, I pretty much love them all.