Somehow winter surprises us every year. Yesterday’s white out on the way home wasn’t unprecedented, but it was all anyone was talking about today. At least for small talk. In the exam room, give someone some space to speak, some silence, and they’ll talk about more than the weather.
As the father of the world’s most wonderful ten year-old, I wonder what every parent does: how to protect her from harm, disappointment, sadness, grief. Of course it can’t be done, and shouldn’t be, and it’s probably selfish to try. I know she will experience sadness and it will become part of the her larger self, but I can’t stand to see her hurting. Nothing is worse than watching a child who can’t be comforted because you just cannot make some things right.
Maybe that’s part of the problem in the exam room. In some ways, it’s easy to take on a parental, or at least protective, role. Many doctors share the illusion–delusion?–that we share with parents, that we can make it all better.
Neither parents nor doctors can make alright all of the time. But we can give our children comfort and space to be sad. We can give our patients space to grieve with someone they feel is somewhat insulated from their pain.