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Re-Writing Your Painful Story

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Re-Writing Your Painful Story

Returning to the scene of the trauma

As I write this, I am on a plane, flying to Chicago where I start my book tour. The irony of this fact is not lost on me. You see, I lived in Chicago for four years while I did my OB/GYN residency at Northwestern. But I havenít been back in more than a decade. Why? Well, itís not that I donít love Chicago. And itís not that I donít have good friends there. But my four years of residency were the hardest four years of my life. I honestly think I have post traumatic stress disorder because of my residency. Itís been more than ten years since I finished, and the nightmares only stopped last year.

Why the trauma?

Well, when youíre a resident, youíre supposed to give up caring about yourself in exchange for caring about patients. You might have been up for 36 hours straight, but if the patient under your care has a complication and needs to go back to surgery, youíre expected to scrub in, even if itís hours past the time when the next resident was supposed to relieve you.

And when your grandmother dies and you want to go to the funeral, forget it. My teacher said, in all seriousness, as if he deserved a medal, ďI didnít even go to my own fatherís funeral.Ē

And when youíve been in the operating room working on a cancer patient for eight hours straight, and you ask to scrub out for a five minute break so you can pee and change your tampon, youíll get laughed at. Someone will say, ďCancer doesnít take a potty breakĒ and youíll cross your legs and hope the blood doesnít soak through your scrubs.

Then, when youíre puking your guts out and pooing liquid from food poisoning and you ask if you can go home so you can worship at the altar of the porcelain gods in the privacy of your own bathroom, theyíll pump you full of anti-nausea medications, fit you with a Depends, and send you back to work in the operating room. And then, when you pass out in the operating room, theyíll put you on a gurney, run a liter of IV fluids into your veins, and send you back to work.

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Lissa Rankin

Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the†Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of†Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.† She is on a grassroots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.† Lissa blogs at† and also created two online communities -† and† She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.


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2:03PM PST on Feb 19, 2012

I really appreciate you writing this article. It's been a tough past few years and the positive reinforcement in this really touches me and it's so uplifting. You're a tough cookie and don't let anyone tell you different.

9:20PM PDT on Oct 31, 2010

Thank you Lissa for your honesty. It's great that you can rewrite your story of abuse at the hands of people with power over you. But what about the system that caused the abuse? When are you going to work to change the abusive system of medical "education" that teaches doctors to stuff their feelings and act like robotic gods while abusing students and graduates like dysfunctional parents? The abuse continues and produces our "healthcare" system that abuses the people it's supposed to be taking care of.

7:42AM PDT on Oct 18, 2010

Once again Lissa, your words and your life story provides encouragement, hope, and the life changing words that so many of us as women, workers, Mom's, spouses, and the "chief, cook and bottle washers" of this nation room to breathe in and say, yes, we can overcome. You are a blessing to women all over this world, and I am so incredibly grateful to "know" you. Your grace, courage, and stamina to go through the trenches, yet allow yourself to be just who you are, and then share the great, not so great, and down right horrible portions of what life throws at you brings comfort to myself and the many women who have dealt with and continue to deal with some really horrific things that happen to us daily... thank you always for being you, and having the courage to share that with all of us....

3:39PM PDT on Oct 8, 2010

great story! thank you

7:55PM PDT on Oct 5, 2010

good article

4:30PM PDT on Oct 5, 2010

Thank you for sharing. I don't feel so bad about my own painful stories after having read yours. But I hope you'll continue to tell people of the abusive treatment you received as a resident -- if the things you've described were standard practice in any other industry we would be outraged, so why should we accept it in medicine?

11:02AM PDT on Oct 3, 2010

thanks for sharing, all the best on your rewriting your story.

1:44AM PDT on Oct 3, 2010

Oh gosh... my sister is an OB/GYN and I had no idea about any of that. Seriously, how are you supposed to be a good OB/GYN if you AREN'T compassionate? The best ones always are.

No wonder why it doesn't hurt to be appreciated at times... I know you're getting paid well, but I just think that residents need a better shake.

7:34PM PDT on Oct 2, 2010

Excellent! You go!

1:13PM PDT on Oct 2, 2010

Dear Lissa, I cannot even begin to think about the topic of re-writing my own painful story because of what I read in your article. Quite frankly, I am not surprised at the inhumane treatment leveled at med students. It shows in spades in the conduct of some physicians.

It is never wise to abuse people, who are going to hold the power of life and death in their hands . Sometimes, they become abusive, heartless practitioners. If the sense of humanity and compassion are "beaten" out of a person (by whatever means), everyone in that person's care is at risk.

My mother had such a doctor, who was, by every indication, psychopathic. He deliberately killed my mother, and he TOLD me that he intended to do so. An independent autopsy confirmed that. He was also EXTREMELY abusive to me - and in front of witnesses. I am certain this kind of inhumane, abusive treatment in medical school only exacerbates the sick behavior of physicians, who are already mentally or emotionally unstable. This desperately needs to change.

We are not supposed to be living in barbaric times. No one, including a doctor, can be worth a damn to any patient, when that doctor is working the kinds of hours and under the kinds of conditions, which you described.

I am, by the way, suing the hospital and the doctor (who was only out of medical school for 6 years before he killed my mother), but that will not bring her back to me. Nothing can undo the trauma and damage he caused.

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