I hug, I kiss, and I cry

April 20, 2007

This author doesn't shy away from expressing her emotions-and she's touched by her patients in return

Certain aspects of my job aren't fun. I hate being an employer and dealing with all the mundane issues that entails, and I am forever drowning in paperwork. But I enjoy going to work every day. Why?

Because of the kissing and the crying.

I have a lot of physical contact during my workday. I'm constantly touching people-whether it's a hand on a shoulder while I listen to the lungs, or a hand on the knee when someone tearfully tells me about her marital problems. When I finish a well-child exam, I always try to sneak in a squeeze from a baby or a high five from an older child. These are all small things I do instinctively, without making a conscious effort, but they help my patients and me connect with one another.

When the 95-year-old matriarch of a family I take care of was admitted to the hospital with an MI, it quickly became clear that she was going to die. Her family decided they wouldn't be aggressive and only wanted her to be comfortable. It was about a week between the time she was admitted and the day she actually passed away. During that time, I visited her on rounds and I'd find her daughter or granddaughter at her bedside. As soon as one of them started to cry, my own tears started to flow. At first, I felt silly, but I came to realize that there was nothing else for me to do but show that I was with them and that I felt their pain, which I did. I find that I cry at least once or twice during most weeks. I don't try to cry, but I don't try to stop myself either.

Some physicians may not be comfortable showing the same degree of emotion as I do. And male doctors, in particular, might be afraid to touch or kiss, especially in light of the litigious world in which we live. I guess it comes down to knowing your patients and yourself. All I'm sure of is that hugging, kissing, and crying helps my patients feel better, which is what practicing medicine is all about. And if it also makes me feel better in the bargain, it's just an added bonus to the work I love.