Monday, June 5, 2017

The Things That Medical School Won't Teach You (5) - Being there for your patient

Yeah, that's right! I've got an Amazing Spider-man comic cover up for a medical blog post. It's not going to be something along the lines of a treatise about "with great power comes great responsibility" (that would be too easy!) However, comics, especially the well written ones probably have useful lessons to teach us; maybe even enough to have them regarded as seriously as "literature".

This particular Spider-man adventure is from the Spider Totem story arc. Here we're dealing with a slightly more mature Peter Parker (unlike the one people seem to be pining for so much in Spider-man: Homecoming). Science teacher by day, and superhero extraordinaire when the occasion calls for it. As events begin to unfold, we're given the foreboding news that a big baddie has his sights set on Spidey; but Spidey being Spidey foregoes the advice to lay low and ends up being accosted by this mighty predator, Morlun. 

Soon as he steps on the scene, Morlun knocks the wind (and literal jokes) out of Spidey. He's pretty much Spider-man's worst nightmare: a seemingly unassailable foe that can track him no matter where he goes. A couple of battles are fought, with Spidey having to retreat each time to get a breather; in the end, however, he's worn out, quite practically defeated. So he ends up saying a few goodbyes and prepares himself to "not go so gently into the good night".

This, of course, is where the magic happens: someone miraculously comes to Spidey's aid!
This is the part that has always remained crystal clear in my mind since the first time I read the story. It's heartbreaking to see Spider-man humbled to the levels achieved in this episode, but it's elating to see him get the help he needs. His reflection at this juncture is priceless:

"And in that moment, oddly enough, I finally understand what it feels like for someone else to look up and see me...and it's great..."   

Anyone who's had someone bail them out from dire straits would probably have their own unique way of articulating this very same sentiment; and let's be real - everyone has a little something to offer whenever we find ourselves in need. As someone involved in healthcare, my greatest contribution to this world is definitely medically related.

My mind harkens back to my orientation week in 2001 at Daystar University; Pastor Mwalwa's orientation speech in particular. These were his exact opening words:

Every system in this world will fail you! 

No set of words ever did ring truer; and each time it comes true, it is an utter betrayal of the human condition because it underscores how small we are in this life; so finite, so fallible, for the most part really powerless to change a lot of the circumstances in our lives. All things considered, though, could there possibly be a greater betrayal than that of our own health failing us? Every other systemic failure is external, yet we choose to internalize it; our health, on the other hand, is automatically internal, immediately personal.

This is the backdrop against which we encounter patients every single day, and an issue to take to heart. A lot of medical school work preps you for dealing with a patient's illness, but not the ramifications of that illness on the person's being or integrity. However, just like any task we may be poorly equipped to deal with, on-the-job-learning bridges the gap; even if we were never taught how to be counselors, it becomes an essential skill to pick up. It also helps to pick up some virtues along the way: patience, respect, honesty and humility. Every new patient poses a unique set of experiences, especially bitterness, anger or depression occasioned by their illness. Thus, always exercise patience even when they (and/or their relatives) drive you up the wall; respect the patient enough to be honest about their condition, and the treatment options available, and do all in your power to help them; and, lastly, be humble enough to accept the patient's wishes and your shortcomings.

Come what may, that patient can't help but come out of the experience a little more enlightened. All this is summed up in a great quote:

Pain is a gift. Humanity without pain, would know neither fear nor pity. Without fear, there could be no humility, and every man would be a monster. The recognition of pain and fear in others gives rise in us to pity, and in our pity is our humanity, our redemption (Dean Koontz, Velocity)

As one who gets to behold broken humanity every single day in your line of work, may that spur you to restore that humanity, and alleviate that same pain. Understand that people will look up to you, and you shouldn't be scared to have that responsibility heaped on your shoulders; it will mould you, everyday, into a better human being.

I feel I can safely end this with the last words from that orientation speech from Pastor Mwalwa. He didn't set out to scare us that day; just to steep us in a little bit of reality. Thus, like a good teacher, he left us with something positive and hopeful at the end by completing his opening remarks.

Every system in this world will fail you...but God will never fail you!

God Bless

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