I’ve learned a lot so far in medical school. Especially over the past year and a half of clinical rotations. But there is still a skill I need to master. The one thing that doesn’t seem to be getting any easier. How do I leave my work behind me at the end of the day?
It seems silly. I’m sure it’s a problem everyone deals with in life. It’s never good to “bring your work home with you.” It can interfere with family time and that is never a good thing. And sometimes it’s probably just not possible. But there have been days – bad days. Days where I’ve seen things that no one should ever have to see. A patient learns that they have cancer. A woman loses her child. A family member misses his son’s birthday because he is in the hospital. A routine procedure goes wrong. Or the worst, when a patient dies. And somehow, at the end of the day, I have to leave the hospital. I have to reenter the “real world.” I have to put it behind me. And it isn’t easy.
Some days I am thankful for my daily commute. Because sometimes that is how long it takes to deal with the emotions. Sometimes I need thirty minutes to cry because I can’t take the fact that back at the hospital, somebody is dying, a family is mourning. But sometimes thirty minutes isn’t enough. There are faces of some patients who still haunt my dreams. I wonder if they made it. Are they still alive? And if so, how much longer do they have to live?
I think the hardest part is that the world keeps moving on. All the other drivers in the hundreds of other cars have no idea what is happening in some tiny hospital room on the other side of town. They are just heading home to have dinner with their families. But I know. And I carry the grief.
But I have a family at home too. And they are excited to see me and share dinner with me. And they don’t know either. How can I come home and pretend that everything is okay? How can I be happy and enjoy my time with them when I know that out there somewhere a family doesn’t get to be happy?
I wish I knew the answer. I hope that someday it gets a little easier. But I also hope that it doesn’t. I don’t want to stop caring. I don’t want to stop feeling. I want to know how to carry the grief but not be weighed down by it.
Tomorrow I start a new rotation in the ICU. I have a feeling it’s going to be a very difficult month. I have not lost many patients, but all of them passed away in the ICU. I ask for lots of prayers for me and all the patients I will care for this month. The holidays, I’m sure, will be an especially hard time for families to have loved ones in the ICU. But I definitely feel blessed to get to take part in it all.