People state that I’m too sensitive at work, that I need a thicker skin. I know it’s true but yet undue as I carry a lot with me in my proverbial, emotional shoulder bag. Maybe I should empty the handbag but somehow I cannot disregard its contents; I cannot discount those moments. I cannot brush away them away akin to routine household dusting. So, I keep them in my bag and my heart on my sleeve.
My patients’ fights are the anchoring weight in my shoulder bag. Their defining life altering moments burden me and provide the heaviness in my handbag. Instances arise, not infrequently, when a poor prognostic test result returns or a bad pathology report becomes available, and I know, as a provider, that there is nothing on this temporal earth that can save them. It is a Game Over moment. I do not use that phrase off-handedly but with the gravest sincerity.
These moments happen while sitting at the nurses’ station or standing in the hallway outside a patient’s room pulling up results on a mobile computer. Moments where, barring an intervention from God, I know before they do what will likely cause their demise.
So I walk into my patients’ rooms, sit down, and read the situation. I tell them what I feel they can handle at that moment, continually monitoring my “gentleness meter,” which unfortunately does not exist in my every day, non-medical life. I hold their hands, I cry, I pray for them, and I put their moment in my shoulder bag for safekeeping.
We cannot carry the full weight as only God can do that. I encourage my patients to surrender their fears and pain to God. Matthew 11:28 NIV reads, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” We are impossibly destined to carry the unendurable weight alone if we do not go to God with it. As I give my patients their new burden, I keep a small piece for myself in remembrance and place it in my bag.
I keep those small bits to say I know how scared you are; I’m scared for you, too. I know how hard you’ve struggled; I see you. I know that life is unfair, and I stand in agreement while simultaneously trusting God’s ultimate plan. I see you and I respect what you are facing. I will guard and protect this memory, this moment when you had to hear the news. I ask God to help me carry my bag, too.
Thicker skin? Maybe. Maybe I should let those memories go. One day I will. One day when I get my own Game Over moment. Until then, I’ll carry my shoulder bag with me, and I’ll continue to cry, pray, and hold their hands.