infinite and infinitesimal
Today was more of a feeling-infinitesimal kind of day. I had my most difficult patient interview to date.
Not, in fact, the one I’d spent hours preparing for, conducted in front of ~150 of my classmates for our genetics class. That one went surprisingly well.
The difficult one was in the afternoon. My patient was recovering from a cancer removal surgery, physically. And then, emotionally, she was recovering because both of her adult children–her onlies–passed away a couple of years ago. She couldn’t tell me without tearing up.
Who knows if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that I haven’t lost composure once through all of my patient interactions thus far, even before I got to school. I’m not sure if we can count the time I spent with human trafficking victims in undergrad as ‘patient interaction’, but suffice to say I’ve listened to some tough stories and somehow I’ve always been able to be just involved enough to listen well and just aloof enough to stay emotionally composed.
I don’t even know what it was. The fact that she’d had several cancers, her sweet toothless smile, the earnestness of her eyes, her apology when she began to cry. I don’t remember exactly what it was she said that pulled the trigger but I felt it, that tell-tale intraorbital sting that means tears have been squirted and only await a poorly-controlled blink so they can trickle out.
It made me panic, to be honest. I had to stare hard at my clipboard and will myself to ask about something clinical, something sciencey, because, for some reason, I just didn’t feel like crying, didn’t know if it was okay to cry and it was probably better to err on the safe side with my brotastic preceptor watching, right?
Maybe. But in the moments which followed as she told me more and more of her story I felt smaller and smaller. Even though many of our class sessions over the last few months have made me feel infinite, exhilarated at what medicine can do these days, occasionally I feel infinitesimal before all that science can never hope to heal.
I’ve been trying to imagine death–what’s it’s like for someone you know and love to be suddenly gone, unreachable and unlovable, just gone. When I really frame it that way it hurts so acutely– how do people survive such a burden?! I honestly can’t understand.
But surviving she is. My patient. Whom I thank for making me feel exactly the right amount of small.