Saturday, February 16, 2013

Perspective And Empathy

I could see through the two window shields into her car.  Her forehead creased into a petulant frown and she mouthed the words over dramatically.


Five minutes earlier, I was packing up my papers at the nursing home when my pager went off.  I fumbled for the desk phone, my arms constrained by the bulky winter jacket I had just climbed into.  I tapped my feet and waited impatiently for someone to pick up the line.

Hello, hello Dr. Grumet?  I think she's dying.  Can you come now?

The ICU nurse sounded panicky.  It was early in the morning and the critical care specialist wasn't in the building.  I jumped out of my seat and sprinted toward the car.  The trip was less than a mile.  I turned onto the expressway and then made a right onto to the nearest exit.  I stealthily navigated a series of small streets punctuated by a stop sign.  As I came to the intersection another car pulled up facing me.  Seeing her right turn signal and knowing I was going straight, I made a superficial attempt at stopping and then rolled through.

While passing, I could see the anger seethe from her lips for my failing to abide by the most basic rules of the road.  She was furious.  I felt like laughing.  If she only knew that I was racing to the hospital in the most dire of circumstances. 

It was a matter of perspective.  But I couldn't be too angry.

Hadn't I been just as guilty?   How many times had I shook my head disapprovingly as an elderly patient hobbled into my office thirty minutes late?  Had I fumbled with the icy certainty of arthritic joints or the Himalayan distances crossed in the parking lot, maybe I would understand differently. 

It is shockingly easy to regret the futile decisions of  a panicking family when it's not your loved one lying in the hospital bed.

Perspective and empathy.  Different sides of the same coin.

The women in the car was right. 

I had been everything she hauntingly accused me of.

At times. 


Maggie said...

Amazing how the view changes depending on which side we're standing on. I try my best not to be the occasion for someone else's muttering, but fail often. Thanks for articulating this so well.

Anonymous said...

That woman might have been me, an ambulatory veterinarian, on my way to my own emergency, with a patient on a farm 45 minutes away with only the owner - no nurse, ICU, or anything else.

Decisions like yours cause accidents. You can't help anyone if you're waiting for the police and a tow truck. Drive safely.