“In order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling” -Brene Brown. This is vulnerable. Sometimes I’d rather not go back to certain times and feelings. It takes a lot of emotional energy. It also takes a lot of time. Sitting with a patient in their pain, vulnerably connecting our own pain to theirs… doesn’t always fit neatly into a schedule.
Before I started medical school, I took a year to serve as a pastoral resident at a church south of Nashville, working with student ministry and local missions. In that season and in prior seasons of ministry, I learned a good deal about empathy. Teenagers have a lot of complex issues in their lives. They have a lot of feelings. Adolescence is an incredibly difficult time. And sometimes they just need someone to be present. I was always so thankful for the moments I was able to spend one-on-one with my students. Some of our conversations required me to be incredibly introspective and connect to prior experiences so that I could better love the hurting student in front of me. Ultimately, these times celebrated our shared humanity.
The same is true for our patients. Of course we are going to take care of their physical issues with the best possible care, but sometimes… we can’t fix them. Or maybe fixing their medical need isn’t the most urgent priority. Maybe they just need a moment. A moment of true connection. Yes there are patient-provider boundaries. Yes there are time constraints and demands. But yes… we are human. And that’s a good thing.