Vulnerability, Becoming a Better Doctor and the Beach.

I like to keep a separation between my workday and my home life. It is created by a walk to my car and a 20 minute drive home. During this time I think, create and often, ask myself how I can be a better doctor tomorrow. Lately, I have been thinking the answer lies not in reading more books or journals, timely license renewal or peer review. The answer it seems, lies in feeling my own vulnerability.

I had a patient this week who was perhaps, a bit challenging. I was overloaded, behind, late. She was not doing what her parent and I needed her to do. Frustration started to enter the room but, as I sensed its arrival I stepped back (literally) and looked at my patient. Then, it hit me. She wasn’t trying to be non-cooperative (that horrid, judgmental, doctor term); she was feeling vulnerable. Scared, hurting, feeling… at a loss. Being ill or hurt makes it hard to be brave, strong and – cooperative. The more time we physicians have the “opportunity” to feel this vulnerability, the more we become able to feel what our patients and their families feel.

Maybe I should not take vacations. I seem to end up worse for the wear after many of them. Hawaii the first time found me in preterm labor and complete bed rest at 20 weeks. Scary then, but now he is 15 and perfectly fine. Hawaii again led to a ruptured appendix and way too much time in a hospital bed. Most recently, a sparkling San Diego day disintegrated into an explosion of pain as my skate slipped on a patch of poorly placed sand. I was left immobilized for a handful of weeks and am now facing a ridiculously long period of rehab. Each of these beach-side mishaps left me stranded, forced to slow down and experience the world as many of my patients have had to. I felt acutely vulnerable. Pain. Needles. Limp. Weak. Dependent. All of this bringing to mind an often quoted passage:

“Did you ever say yes to a pleasure? Oh my friends, then you also said yes to all pain. All things are linked, entwined, in love with one another.”

“What does not kill me, makes me stronger.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

Yes to vacation? Then risk yes to… learning. For I have found during each stint with vulnerability my skills as a physician do become stronger. But maybe on my next trip (in June with my mother and Godmother in a faraway seaside city) I can take a holiday… not just from daily life and work but from learning?

2 thoughts on “Vulnerability, Becoming a Better Doctor and the Beach.

  1. Kate, this so resonates with me. It is absolutely a beautiful, true piece of writing. I love that yo think so deeply about experience and find the useful lessons. The pairing of pleasure and pain, the willingness to risk is to live fully.

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