The Humbled Physician

When I was in medical school, my mother, 53 and healthy, had a massive heart attack and ended up needing a heart transplant. By day I donned my white coat and learned the rigorous science and practice of medicine. By night I slept on a cot in my mother’s hospital room, observed her cycles of pain and relief, the comings and goings of doctors and nurses, translated and advocated for her. While my medical colleagues and I quizzed each other and compared procedures, I agonized at the thought of my mother being the guinea pig as we fumbled through our first central line or NG tube insertion. While my colleagues chided me for “caring too much”, or stood in front of me so my attending wouldn’t see the tears I shed for my dead patient, my mother encouraged me to sit on my patient’s beds, ask them about themselves and how they were doing.

I became painfully aware of the chasm between physicians and patients, science and emotion, medicine and real life. The caring that was missing from health care disturbed me, and left me struggling to make peace with my profession. I considered leaving it, but the fact is, I simply love being a doctor too much, and I am grateful for my knowledge of scientific medicine.

In addiction medicine, I found an area where science and story cannot be separated, where cure cannot come without care. My patients have taught me about human fragility and resilience, and the wisdom of our bodies. They fill me with inspiration, and challenge me to practice the self-compassion that i espouse.

In my writing, public speaking, and in my practice, I hope to contribute to the growing movement toward greater compassion and self-awareness in medicine and society. Thank you for joining me.