As a medical student I thought if I knew the textbook well I will be fine. Hours were spent desperately trying to memorise all the mundane terms, definitions, classifications. The path to nirvana was in book.
Books gave me the vocabulary. I could doctor-speak. But it did not take long to realise that there is a lot more to caring. Still a young doctor I realised that I had to be able to relate to my patients. And that came surprisingly easy. I felt that warm glow within and realised that I will be fine.
Sam was a lively young teenager with all the awkwardness not-a-child-any-more and not-a-grown-up-yet brings. He had a passion for cricket, but was also increasingly curious about girls. He liked to talk about them and the opportunities to do so were getting more frequent. His chronic leukaemia was in a blast crisis and this meant that he was spending more and more days in hospital. I often wondered whether these frivolous chit chat during chemotherapy sessions made my life easier for the writing was on the wall. We began preparing each other. And I felt that intimacy with Sam, his father, mother, sister that only grief brings.
Yet, when the end came it was sudden, too sudden. Expected, yet completely unexpected. It was over in a matter of few minutes: a massive bleed somewhere in his upper airway as we were happily chatting. He drowned in his own blood and I could do nothing. That was horrible, but it was the rage of father that was even more unsettling. His grief turned into anger. Sharply and pointedly directed towards me.
Many years have gone by and I kept trying to understand what happened then. Why was he so enraged at me? I kept hurting.
No longer a young doctor, I think that this was a different type of emotion: a father’s attempt to hurt me to ensure that we were both hurting. After the weeks of extreme intimacy that we had shared it was perhaps only appropriate to hurt and grieve together. Another lesson they don’t teach in medical school.
We are emotional creatures capable of occasional rational thinking. Perhaps I am just rationalising, but I know that I will be fine. I hope Sam’s family also found peace.