Sharing Life's Journey with Your Patients

July 25, 2017

A special aspect of being a physician is the privilege to share in your patient's journey through life. Here, one doc shares her experience.

I just returned from vacation. Our plan was to head to Yosemite National Park, but the wildfires in the area affected the cabin we had rented, so we needed to make a change to our plans. We needed to make a change pretty quickly as we were driving towards the fire with a car full of groceries and kids. Fortunately, after several rather stressful hours, we found a different cabin in a different area and readjusted our plans to visit another national park. The journey we took reminded me of the journey my patients are on and caused me to contemplate the role I play in their journey.

Recently, I saw a couple in which one partner was affected with early-onset Alzheimer's. Unfortunately, I know where the Alzheimer goes and how it looks in the end. My job is to support both of my patients, albeit in different ways. For the unaffected spouse, I have an obligation to be truthful while being kind. He does not need to know the outcome yet, while he is grappling with so many losses.

I also saw one of my youngest travelers – a two-month old just starting to coo and smile. His journey is as much a mystery to me as it is to his parents. He may be rambunctious or quiet, a daredevil who I see repeatedly for scrapes, bruises, and fractures, or a reserved child who I only see for well visits. That is part of the fun – experiencing life and its surprises with my patients.

Another one of my patient's is suffering from the physical effects of depression. She is at a fork in the road. One path leads to ongoing misery and suffering, one to potential hope and healing. I gently engage and encourage her to accept treatment, to trust my guidance and know that it will help her feel better.

Similar to my unexpected travel plans, life often throws us curve-balls, upsets our careful preparations, and takes us places we never thought we'd go. For our patients, this can be a cancer diagnosis, the loss of a child, a pregnancy following years of infertility, the arrival of twins, or a cure.

As a physician, I have the privilege of going through life with my patients – amid moments of joy, sorrow, heartbreak, celebration, life, and finally death. Sometimes I can impact where their journey leads, while other times I can only hold their hand as they walk a painful and difficult road. I meet many travelers for brief snippets of time and hope that my words, actions, and treatments make part of their journey better.