Over the past year, I have been visiting a man facing seemingly insurmountable physical and emotional traumas (for the sake of this paper, he will be referred to as George). George is paralyzed from the neck down due to multiple sclerosis and was admitted to hospice at far too young of an age. I was told at the beginning of the year that he can be difficult to handle, but I was up to the challenge. As an able-bodied individual, I feel I have the responsibility to embody my privileges to help others. Privileges of able-bodiedness, intellect, opportunity, etc are those that I use to give back to God and his creations, especially those that might not have the same privileges as me. However, I had no idea that my medical values would be put to the test like it has with George.
The first day I visited George, he was laying down and chuckling at the Newlywed Game. We hit it off well; I used whatever sports knowledge I had to create a mutually enjoyable conversation. He seemed delightful at his happiest moments, praising the staff and myself for our youthful vitality.
The mood soon changed, however, when George asked me to adjust his pillows. As much as I wanted to help him, I was not allowed to move his body. I reluctantly told him that I was not able to help him, to which he replied with a series of loaded profanities and verbal attacks, in which I was called a “wuss” and “useless” and was told to leave the room. I almost teared up but talked to Lisa Jackson, the previous director of our hospice program, who offered me the choice to work with another patient. This was a test. Should I continue the disrespect in the name of medicine, or preserve myself by abandoning him? Despite the pain that I felt in that moment, I would have felt disappointed in myself for quitting on him, so I chose to stay with him. I firmly told George that I deserve respect and patience and that I would not tolerate verbal harassment. George apologized for his anger and explained his helplessness and sadness, and I felt the tears coming back.
George and I developed a stronger relationship over the past year. It pains me to see his anger at the helplessness of the situation, but I am far better equipped emotionally to handle the nuances of his emotions. His case was one of fortitude in the face of seemingly hopeless conditions. George is subject to a life of monotony and relying on others to complete mundane tasks for him. Though his anger is projective and painful, it was understandable.
My experience with George has given me a great perspective on my role in medicine. Medicine is more than the sensational act of healing. It is the smell of feces on as you pass by the dying. It is also the emotional hurdles of others projected towards you against your will. Medicine is a profession which ebbs and flows stronger than many other vocations, but I understand my role within this profession just as strongly. Medicine is my calling because I not only dream of its sensationalism but am ready for the strength and perspective it will give me as I climb its mountains of emotional strain. Hospice gave me the chance to see the darker side of medicine, but it only made me more determined to be a holistic, grounded, and patient doctor.