Today I was thinking about about compassion-not only is this quote on my water bottle to remind me, but I have a young patient who has been admitted umpteen times for alcohol withdrawal and detoxification. It’s hard to see young people come and go, trapped in a cycle of addiction and violence, without seeing any changes. Sometimes it feels like such a waste of time.
At first I wouldn’t let her have a cigarette and extra nonessential items she requested. But then I loosened up the restrictions because it just didn’t seem worth it…
And then she opened up. She told me that alcohol is like a cocaine addiction. She told me that alcohol addiction is like the story of the jaywalker who goes out and gets hurt, then goes to the hospital and is fixed only to go out and do it all over again. Knowing what will happen. She cried for her two young children, for her family. For other family members that are trapped in a cycle of alcoholism and abuse. She cried for her weakness, for not feeling like she can break the cycle. We talked a while and she wanted to write more in her journal. She writes beautifully.
I had a patient in the ER and so we went down to see him. He has end-stage emphysema and he knows he needs to quit smoking. But then he told me this is just like quitting alcohol. He told me that he tried for 15 years to quit drinking. And then finally one day he quit. When I asked him what his greatest source of motivation was he said it was prayer. Luckily the physician assistant was seeing him with me and she prayed for him (because God knows that my prayers are weak with faith).
His story made me think of my patient upstairs. Maybe sometimes it takes 15 years. Maybe sometimes it takes hundreds of admissions. But it wasn’t till I opened to my heart to let the compassion flow in that we can even start having meaningful conversations.
I went for a long walk this evening on the frozen sea, and I accidentally got to see the blood moon (which in Nome was at 11pm). It was so beautiful and still dusk out.
Then when I returned home I opened up my kindle and it was open to a page that read:
“Compassion means to suffer with. I love doctoring because I’m distracted from my own pain as I vicariously suffer with my patients. I attempt–without judgment–to dive deep into the tragedies of their lives and to linger there for as long as possible. There is no billing code for compassion. But it doesn’t matter. Insurance companies never pay for pain and suffering, but the wisdom I have gained is priceless.”
By Dr. Pamela Wible