Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Dream Catcher

The heat rushed into my cheeks and a frog caught in my throat.  I knew the woman approaching me. Years ago, I sat at the bedside and watched her mother take her last breaths.  It had been the end of an emotionally cruel and grueling year in which we ultimately decided on hospice.  Her mother was one of my first patients.  It was an intimate experience.

Back then, this woman and I talked dozens of times.  I stood by her during a difficult period of life.  Yet as she reached out her hand for mine, I couldn't recall her or her mother's name. We exchanged pleasantries and eventually moved on.  She likely didn't detect my mental lapse.

When I became a physician, I promised that I would remember each and every patient and family who lived and died under my care.  As the years pass, my vessel has become so full that the details often run over.  After being a part of countless life altering experiences, the emotional muscle memory loses it's resilience.

And thus the irony of being a physician.  Your face becomes seared in the brains of many who must be forgotten to make room for the needs of those who remain.  You become a dream catcher, catching the peaceful sleeper's nightmares and holding them till the sun washes away all the specifics.  But something remains.

It is in the ashes of those remnants that my writing takes form. 

I try to capture the gift.

The gift that each soul has left behind.


Moofie said...

Dr. Jordan,

I just saw one of your posts on Kevin's blog, and before reading the 3rd paragraph, I knew who had written it! :o)

Thank you ... again and again ... for giving medicine a face that's not only human, but also compassionate.

It makes being on the other side of the fence much less scary.

older + wiser said...

Ah, but you did remember her. Not her name, which in some ways was the least of it, but the experience and the emotional truths surrounding it.

Many of my encounters with the health care system have been extremely negative (much better lately, but still...) Whenever I start feeling disillusioned, I come to your blog for a healing dose of humanity.

Kristin Osborn said...

Dear Kevin,
This is the first time I've read your blog. Thank you so much for sharing your physician perspective. I was the health care proxy for my mentor, Dr. Leigh McCullough, Ph.D.. Leigh was diagnosed with ALS in June 2010 and placed on a ventilator and g-tub in November 2010. She died in June 2012, two days after her birthday. Leigh was an internationally known researcher, author and clinician in the field of psychology. There is so much that I can share regarding my experiences while she was ill, but today I want to share that I always wondered about the self-care of her medical providers. How did they care for themselves working so closely with illness and death? When I've asked people in the medical field, I'm usually told that the existential experience is rarely discussed among colleagues, friend, and family. So I am much relieved to learn that there is someone talking about death and dying from the medical perspective. I'm in the midst of upgrading Leigh's website and I will certainly add a link to your blog as I think your perspective is so important to be shared among your colleagues and the people you work with on a daily basis.
Kristin Osborn

opwfredericks said...

I try to capture the gift.
The gift that each soul has left behind.

And you do, again and again.