I’m guessing I’ve got about fifteen minutes before all hell breaks loose. There are three little girls sleeping upstairs, but once one of them is up, they’ll all be up. I’m guessing that’ll be the start of Pancake Time.
I had this dream that I was at a small memorial for a patient of mine who died recently. As the doctor, I had a special place at the table and was given a box that held part of the preserved remains, to be buried in a special ceremony. Which is, of course, ridiculous.
As physicians we do occupy a unique and strange place in people’s lives. There is a strange intimacy that develops, one that isn’t that of family or friend or spouse. And it is tied to place and time so tightly, most of its secrets passing in a small, generic room filled with symbols of cleanliness and sterility rather than compassion and familiarity.
Both doctors and patients value this relationship, probably for different reasons. In the worst of circumstances, patients will hold to their doctor like a totem clutched in a frightened hand. Some of this is the hope that the doctor will perform some sort of deus ex machina, but some is less based on blind hope. Patients can come to us knowing that we are not intimately tied to their dying in the same way that family and friends are. Speaking frankly to me in my exam room won’t cause me visible pain as it would with a spouse or child.
But it does cause pain, pain that we are used to sublimating. The intimacy of the exam room does affect doctors, and sometimes the loss of a patient finally hits you in a way that you didn’t expect. It’s not a pain you would show your patients for fear that they will try to protect you with silence.
So you go home, pour yourself a glass of Scotch, and when you wake up in the morning, listen to the squeals of little girls as they share their own innocent intimacies and then demand pancakes.