Yesterday I had a university student shadowing me in the emergency department. AF is a bright student, a hard worker who will make a wonderful physician. She is always curious and insightful when I ask her questions, or show her new things. Today, she saw something that was new for her, but perhaps too common for me.
I walked into the room of an infirm, frail old gentleman who was gracious and polite, as was his family. It turns out he came to us with a terminal illness. I did not know it, but his physician was meeting him. So, as AF and I walked into the room, the patient’s physician walked in after us, and continued a conversation about hospice that he had apparently begun earlier in the day.
Realizing I had nothing to add, and would not be needed, I slipped away with my shadow behind. She looked at me, tears welling, and excused herself. Later she returned and explained that when she saw the wife’s wedding band, and knew what hospice meant, she could not restrain her tears.
She apologized, which is the last thing she needed to do. I suspect she was afraid I would judge her as someone not fit for a medical career — a person too emotional, too easily overwrought. But I told her that her tears were the right thing, and a sign that she would fit wonderfully in medicine.
I wonder how long it takes us all to stop crying? I wonder how many times we have to witness some stop-motion tableaux of sorrow before it stops shaking us to the core of our hearts? Probably fewer than we imagine.
I was ready to walk out and move on, relieved that on a complex and busy day I would have one less complex thing to manage. I was reminded, by one new to all of this, one energized and excited, one compassionate and fresh to the fight, that we should all be so lucky to cry when we feel sorrow, and to occasionally excuse ourselves for a moment just to grasp the enormity and, oddly enough, the beauty of life and death that we are blessed to witness.
*This blog post was originally published at edwinleap.com*