How Can I Help?
It's too painful to confront a colleague's loss of a child.
Three or more decades ago, we physicians had more difficulty dealing with death and dying than in more recent times. But it is still very difficult.
We are particularly at a loss when it comes to the death of a physician's child. And it is even more challenging when it is a colleague, a member of the hospital staff's child who has died.
In the support group that I facilitate for family and friends of individuals struggling with addictive behaviors, people spill their stories of sadness, of anger, of frustration...
Mary barely introduces herself before describing her struggles. Married for thirteen years, the mother of two little boys, she complains about her husband’s alcoholism. Her in-laws’ get-togethers revolve around heavy drinking, dancing, and singing, often extending into the next morning. Last weekend, after her husband got fired, she took her boys and slept at her mother’s place.
Six years ago, I retired early because of serious health problems. I’d worked for decades as a doctor.
Early on, it was difficult for me to ask for and accept help. I was always the one who stepped in, not the one who needed assistance. Well-meaning friends would say, “Let me know if I can do anything.” I was floundering.
I knew almost immediately that I was pregnant, and I knew remaining pregnant was not an option. I scheduled a D & C procedure at a local clinic, telling no one in my family. The only person who knew was the man involved, a man forty years my senior.
My parents spent their lives as givers, not receivers. Buying them a gift that they would graciously accept and use always proved challenging; they, however, never stopped gifting my older brother and me, their grandchildren, and even my paternal grandmother. Whenever I had a problem, my parents always responded with an encouraging “How can we help?” response.
Sometimes, when a patient comes to me with a myriad of thorny problems--"My teenage son is stressing me out...I'm so depressed...My back pain has come back...The insurance won't cover any more physical therapy...None of the medicines are doing any good...My mother's memory is failing..." I'll ask, "How were you hoping I could help you today?"