In medical school we quite often had discussions about how we should appear to our patients, specifically we wondered between ourselves if its was ok to show our emotions to the patients. Our mentors and teachers were not too keen on this idea of showing emotions for the good of our patients and ourselves. It would compromise the sacred patient – doctor relationship. Their fear was based on the presumption that emotional entanglement of the two parties would lead to interference of the healing dynamic that takes place in this special relationship; it may interfere , for example , with us making good decisions in timely fashion; it may affect our judgement etc. This is why it was not advisable to treat family members. We were to maintain dignity, look professionally competent, appear non judgemental and impartial. There was no room for emotions. Certainly there is some wisdom in this approach and I as a young medical student adopted this whole heartedly without a question.
It was years later , I realized ” showing no emotions” certainly has some major flows which causes harm to the doctor treating the patient and maybe to the patient as well. In the medical school when I was deciding on which branch of medicine to pursue I noticed some of my highly regarded teachers, who were amazing clinicians and technically highly competent , were at there best when they were working on the wards making crucial decisions, but as soon as they left the wards they were emotionally devoid, and their conversation were not very engaging. They seemed like amateurs at the game of enjoying life and living. I wondered to myself if I wanted to end up like them but made no definite judgements at the time. It was not until my father died at a young age of 59 that I noticed something very odd about myself. I had been graduated 2 years by then and had already learned to look at my patients objectively, what disease they had, what was their prognosis, what was their likely hood of dying etc; in fact I would quite often remember their disease then their name. The odd observation I made about myself when my father died was that every one in my family was crying except me. I wanted to cry and intellectually I knew I should be crying but no tears came. This made me feel guilty because my father was very proud of me and I couldn’t understand why I could not show my sadness by crying. I realize now that my sadness was at intellectual level and not from my heart. I seemed to have disconnected from my heart.
After my fathers funeral I went back to doing medicine, noticing I became more alive when I was on call for medicine, being first on the scene in the emergency to sort out what disease process was making the patient sick, and how to change it so that healing could begin. I was becoming like my teachers. Off the wards I just wanted to be by myself , rest or sleep, devoid of any emotions. This was difficult for anyone to understand, especially for those close to me wanting intimacy. It was not until I became seriously sick myself that my emotions stirred and showed interest. I was crying for reasons I could not understand intellectually. I was sad and my friend who is also a doctor thought I was going to die if things didn’t change. I requested to see a counsellor who got me talking about my dad, this made me cry even more. He told me that I had not grieved my father’s death and my own illness had triggered the sad feeling associated with my father’s death, which I had suppressed long ago. He told me it was good that I was crying , it meant I was becoming in touch with my strong emotions and my heart was opening. I realized then, why my mind could not understand the crying, it was because these were matters of the heart and I had forgotten how to listen to my own heart. I had practiced since medical school not to listen, not only to my own heart, but to the hearts of my patients and my loved ones. It doesn’t have to be that way. Experiencing and expressing emotions is healthy if done appropriately and maybe even when it is expressed inappropriately. The price of not listening to your heart is too high and suppressing emotions is a time bomb waiting to be triggered.
There are many other incidents in my life when I felt strong emotions of tremendous joy, anger , sadness, grief of loss, anxiety, shame, excitement, relief and I am sure many other which I can’t recall right now. I am now learning how to listen to my heart, recognize the emotion, stay with it until it matures to its full glory and then letting it go by expressing it appropriately. Yes I get angry, sad , anxious, become grief-stricken with loss, feel shame , get excited, experience relief and some time tremendous joy. I am no longer ashamed to express my emotions appropriately, I no longer feel the need to look dignified at all times, I am not afraid of failure as long as I have made every effort with all my being, I accept that it is only human to have these strong emotions. I celebrate being human and experiencing the joy of being happy.
The Rules of Life
By Richard Templar