On a daily basis each practicing physician encounters a multitude of unique individuals with unique medical and emotional issues.
The examination room, a sacred space of shared intimacy, becomes a laboratory in which to study human nature.
As physicians we are at times voyeurs, listening intently to the personal history of our patients. In short order we ask and receive much of what is ordinarily held as deeply private and highly personal. Many of us realize the importance of assessing the emotional health of our patients as it directly and intimately impacts upon their physical state of being.
In the process we witness extremes of emotional fragility as well prodigious emotional strength.
While we are all familiar with the "sensitive" patient who seems unable to tolerate even an ordinary amount of stress, I am often astounded by the ability of some to overcome enormous personal suffering.
I am reminded of the patient in his late fifties who has two adult children with cancer. He carries on because he must. But I am quick to emphasize to him that he must find some outlet for his own suffering. I know that if he doesn't, his own immune system will betray him and he will be unable to shoulder the challenges that await him.
I recall that as a newly minted physician I had been extremely reluctant to explore such issues with my patients. My own lack of life experience rendered me incapable of offering much advise.
But after 30 years of practice combined with my own life's experiences, I feel honored and privileged to offer some advise along with prescriptions. I am no longer afraid to say the wrong thing.
Sometimes I feel as if I transmit a certain "wisdom", as if it has arisen from another source and I am merely the messenger. But more to the point, the patient perceives my care and concern. That trumps any words I might utter.
It is clear to me that in that exchange, I receive at least as much healing as they do.