While waiting for my cardiologist, I heard his comments with the patient in the room next to mine. The walls are very thin and so I was able to hear almost all of the conversation. Things weren’t going well for the patient. I could tell it was also very awkward for the doctor. He is fairly young, this doctor, in a field where he sees very sick people all day long.
I had seen the patient before in the waiting room. I suspected he had cancer by the color of his skin. It also looked like he had gone bald from chemotherapy. He was also being pushed around in a wheelchair and had oxygen. So there was far more than just heart problems going on here.
The doctor started off by saying “Sorry to hear about the diagnosis and stuff.” And then he asked the patient if he wanted to continue treatment he was on, assessing what was valuable and what wasn’t. With a stage four cancer diagnosis, you have to reassess everything. Some treatments are just more hassle than they are worth. Some are worthless. They had to make some hard decisions. Cure wasn’t an option. Just easing symptoms. Palliative care.
I thought how hard it has to be to be a doctor and go from patient to patient, from hard thing to hard thing. Of course he’s a cardiologist and people get sick and die. They’re not here because they’re well. I am one of the few patients who is well and is doing well. In part I go to a cardiologist because I want to stay well. But I am unusual. I believe in prevention, rather than cure.
The doctor came to visit me next. He was in a rush and wanted to get right into the exam. I asked the doctor when we had a pause how he goes from one patient to another when it’s a hard thing. He looked at me briefly and he said “You just get used to it.” That really wasn’t what I was expecting. I was hoping he would say something useful like “I pray” or “I do yoga”. But he just said “You get used to it.”
I could see later that he was shaking. You don’t get used to it. You don’t get used to carrying heavy burdens. And when you know that someone you know, even if it’s just a patient and not someone you love, is going to die soon and in a ugly way then it’s a heavy thing to have to carry.
The only way of getting rid of these feelings that are hard is processing them. It’s not about ignoring them or about running away from them. That it is not dealing with them.
Hard feelings are just like having to go to the bathroom. We have to know what to do when we have that feeling in our body. Stress is the accumulation of a lot of hard feelings that have not been processed. Stress is like poop. If you don’t get rid of poop it will build up and you will become very sick. If you don’t get rid of the anger and the sadness and the fear it will back up and you will also become very sick. There are ways to process it at the time, but the best thing is to learn how to not store it at all.
I do that by my practice. Part of that is exercising and by eating well daily. I get enough sleep. I make sure that I am strong enough to be able to handle these feelings when they come to me. Praying and reading the Word daily helps too. When something does surprise or overwhelm me, I remember to return to my routine and my practice. I remember to pray. I remember to do yoga. I remember to do art. I remember to write.
When something extra difficult happens, not the everyday sort of stress, I make sure to set aside a little extra time to do all of those things. I may paint a painting specifically for that purpose. I may write a poem just on that issue. I’ll write more, even though I may not publish it. I have to process it or it will process me.
Think of a food processor – something is going to get ground up into little bits. I’d rather have some say as to what gets ground up. You don’t just “get used to it”. If you don’t process something hard, it will use you up and wear you out. It will wash you away until you are nothing.