Sunday, 7 February 2010

Dear Rita

I've never understood why people keep working in jobs they don't like. I guess I've always naively thought that you could always find *something* to enjoy about your work, or if you couldn't, that it was the impoetus to find something else. Study/learn, reskill. I never expected that I would be the one dragging my feet to work. Feeling sick at the sight of the doors that i have to walk through and push myself to be there. Of feeling not very competent. Of feeling below par. Of feeling unexceptional and unrequired and unnecessary.

It's demoralising. And when it's on top of the guilt and the pain of leaving the Possum it's almost unbearable. I've tried really hard to find that niche. To find that part of me that is good at things, that finds things easy and naturally enjoyable. But it's been missing. And I've wondered what the point is.

Tonight, at 7:30ish after I'd come back from dinner I clicked on the next patient and had a quick flick through the triage notes. A couple of lines on a screen giving you a hint as to why a patient was here. An elderly lady with a fall, 91 years old. I am pretty numb to it these days, scarred by the alcoholics with their fetid breath and lewd comments, the malingerers and the drug seekers. My compassion has been stretched to its limits, tried sorely by the long hours and vomited on by the youth who imbibed 50 standard drinks in an evening.

But when I walked in and saw Rita, something that should always be there nestled back into my chest. That warmth and that want to heal and soothe. That cliched desire to help people and actually be meaningful to someone, if only for a few hours. She is old, not frail, and suffering dementia. Over the next four hours I think I repeated the same things at least 20 times, but I didn't care. I liked that when I talked to her she settled, looked at me with some sort of comfort and I helped.

She broke her collarbone, and I diagnosed that without the x-ray. I explained it to her every time I went back to her bedside, because with her dementia she would forget. But one thing she didn't forget was my face. Every time I started talking to her, as she would get agitated being in the unfamiliar surroundings, she would soften and settle. I explained everything, carefully, to her and not over her. And she thanked me. Over and over too, because she didn't remember between times. "You've had a fall, you've hurt your shoulder and broken a bone. Yes, that one, where this bump is." Over and over again. And not once did I feel frustration in it. Not once did I want to walk out and throw up my arms, because every time I did it, she nodded, understood, and calmed.

Her daughter was there and she thanked me too. Relieved that someone was talking to her, relieved that someone was talking to her Mum, and I wanted to hug her, because the love she felt for her mother was so touching to see.

Over the next 4 hours I made her better, excluded nasty things and carefully wrote notes in the chart. Talked to superior doctors and checked I was doing the right thing. But the thing I did best of all was go back to Rita's side and have her thank me and me thank her, because every time I felt like I was doing what I was supposed to do as a doctor. Feeling like, for the first time this rotation like maybe this whole thing was not a mistake.

Several times Rita held my hand, squeezed it and looking into my eyes said "you're an angel, a beautiful angel, thank you for helping me". It made a lump swell to my throat. Having just one person, even a beautiful old lady with dementia who won't remember me tomorrow and doesnt' remember a thing I say for more than 3 minutes appreciate me and what I'm doing is the first validation I've felt this whole rotation.

Just as my shift was ending, I managed to finish everything I could do for Rita so that she could go home. I finished all the loose ends and got everything ready for her, and when I walked out of the hospital doors my heart was light. Even better it was storming, lightning flashing across the sky and heavy splodgy rain squelching in the gutters and running down tree trunks. The first time I've thought that I want to come back tomorrow.

And there on my car was a $100 parking infringement notice. Nearly 4 hours I worked tonight, to pay for a parking fine. I sank then. Caved like someone had kicked a giant flail segment in my chest. I just want something to be fucking easy. Just one good night. FOUR hours of work for nothing.

And then I thought about the fact that for four hours tonight I had been helping Rita. Helping her daughter. Actually learning again that medicine may be the career for me. That I will make more than an adequate doctor and may actually make a good one. Feeling pride in accomplishment but more than that feeling human empathy and compassion and joy in my work again.

And Rita, for you I would have done it for free. Fuck the $100. It was worth it, because for four hours I felt like a doctor again. And I wanted to be.

Thank You.


Shel said...

Darling, for every 5 of the former, there is always one Rita.

I often think of you when in the ED and just wish you were here.

Big hugs

Love me.

cesca said...

That's a lovely story.

I don't know you, but just from what I read on your blog I think you'll make a great doctor. :-)

Shannon said...

Lovely post, Jenn. I'm glad you could see the silver lining again, even if it was only a brief flash.

Hang in there. xx

Melissa said...

Beautiful. I'm glad she could see that you are special.


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