As a physician, I have felt that I had a pretty good lock on what my patients were going through. Although with few exceptions, I couldn’t know exactly what they were experiencing. Still, I felt I had experience, empathy, physiologic understanding, and the desire to identify with them so that I might better address their issues.
That is all well and good, but there comes a point where reality stands distinctly apart from perception. There has come a point where I have had to accept that for many things, my perception is not nearly accurate enough. The distance between the two is determined by how closely common experiences approximate. We have all heard that perception is reality, but many times, it just isn’t.
There are some things I will never completely understand, and even more that I won’t completely appreciate until I experience them for myself. I will never know what child birth is like from a mother’s viewpoint. I’ve delivered plenty of babies, but that’s not the same thing. I’ve been there but have not been there. I was with one parent when he died, but not with the other one when she died. I have pronounced children dead but have never known such personal loss. I am a veteran, but I have never been in mortal fear of my life, except once while on duty in the ER. I have seen the hopelessness in the eyes of father who has just handed me his lifeless newborn son, but I have never lived that feeling.
There is no one we encounter in our daily lives who escapes the pain and suffering that life leaves in its wake. There are experiences we each endure that we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemies, yet often we fail to realize each one of struggles with something.
When I learn of someone’s history that had it happened to me, it would have without question plowed me under; and that had I not been in a position as a physician to know about it, I never would have had a clue about their experiences. Who am I? I am humbled, more and more, each day.
Richard E. Draper, a double board-certified emergency medicine physician, blogger, and speaker, and practices in the Kaleidoscope Weekly distribution area. The Healer’s Heart is based on his perceptions and observations of his experiences in the ER over his career. Any similarities to actual patients are purely coincidental.