I felt a kinship with Ms. Angelica Recierdo when I read her nonfiction piece, “Coming Out of the Medical Closet” (Intima Spring 2014). The author expertly describes the anxiety healthcare professionals feel but often try and hide from their patients. I particularly like the following passage: “It took me a while to become comfortable just entering a patient’s room. How could my feeble presence ever put someone at ease? I gulped in intimidation when seeing life-sustaining machines connected to every possible orifice and wires tangling my path to them like an obstacle course.”
In my own nonfiction essay, “Stuck,” I write about my very stressful experiences as a surgical intern. Both pieces touch on the complicated relationships patients have with the individuals who take care of them. Patients want caregivers to be professional and competent. At the same time, patients expect a level of compassion and empathy from medical professionals. These two impulses can be contradictory. I recall having to inform a family member of a patient that her husband had died after a devastating infection. I had grown quite attached to the family and tried to keep a measured, unemotional tone. This quickly dissolved once she thanked me for everything I had done. My voice cracked and I was overtaken by both her grace and her gratitude.
Healthcare workers have to decide which impulse patients and their families need more of in a given situation. I wish I could say I have figured this out, but I would be lying.
Vik Reddy is a practicing plastic surgeon and a regular contributor to the Detroit Free Press. He serves as the Medical Director of Quality at Henry Ford Macomb Hospital. Read his piece, “Stuck” in the Spring 2015 Intima.
©2015 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine