I am an Obstetrician-Gynecologist. Due to the nature of the patients who we tend to see in this profession, the specialty is a relatively happy one.
In other words, as generalists, we tend to see very little death and dying or even significant human suffering. For the most part, gynecologists take care of relatively young, healthy women; and we help them to remain that way.
We assist our patients in having healthy babies, and can cure many ailments for which nonpregnant women seek gynecologic care. For those who cannot be entirely cured, we can often manage chronic conditions so that a woman’s quality of life is barely disturbed. The women for whom we care are generally resilient, and as a result, they often survive the most morbid of conditions… at the end of the day, all is typically well and we get to feel pretty good about ourselves.
Many years ago, however, an attending physician at the residency program at which I trained, put this all into very clear perspective for me. He said,
“… Young, healthy women generally don’t die DESPITE what we do to them…”
Because of the grace of that phenomena, I have enjoyed a career with a relatively low frequency of tragic illnesses.
As a result, I have very distinct memories of the times that I have had to tell a patient that her unborn fetus had died; or that she has HIV; or that her biopsy results were positive for cancer.
As the years have gone by, I have tried to find the “right and perfect way” to deliver such painful news. The solution still eludes me. However, watching patients receive difficult news, has taught me about the elements which will have the most impact in their ability to travel successfully through these frightening and painful sojourns. My patients have taught me about the resources that helped them to remain emotionally whole, even when the future of their physical health appeared frightening and bleak.
The first thing that I would suggest, is that if it is at all possible, bring a loved one with you if your physician has requested that you come in to receive the results of biopsies and/or imaging studies.
Choose this person wisely.
Please do not bring the sister who is certain to fall to the ground, wailing and screaming for Jesus. She means well, but so as not to distract from the primary purpose for which you are there, leave her at home.
Instead, bring that person who realizes that this is all about you, and not them. Bring that person who will listen carefully to what your provider has to say; and who may think to ask questions that you are unable to in that moment. Bring that person who can drive you home safely, and who will respect your silence and privacy if you don’t feel like talking. Bring that person who will make tea or dinner for you, if that’s what you want; and who will understand that you may need to be alone with your feelings for a while; but who will come the moment that you call. Bring that person who will accompany you on your journey to health.
As your path to healing begins, surround yourself with supportive individuals. Siblings, friends, neighbors, colleagues, children, church family or a spouse are all candidates for your inner circle. Avail yourself of support groups if you have access to them.
The therapeutic value of having a “safe” place to express your concerns and feelings, and to share some of what burdens you, can never be overstated, nor can it be quantified.
Merely surrounding yourself with support is not enough, however. Please, don’t stop there.
Get into the habit of asking for help. If this proves to be a challenge for you, practice asking for help by asking for help. Do not give in to the urge to isolate.
The natural human condition is to have relationships and to prosper within them. We were designed to encourage, support and love one another. We see this theme in stories that have been told about the creation of man.
In many religions and cultures, the story of the genesis of Man lays the groundwork for the need for Man to have companionship, and to not be alone. We see evidence of this in the stories of Adam and Eve in Chirstianity, Judaism and Islam; as well as the story of Brahma who splits himself into man and woman in the Hindu creationist tale.
The Hindi faith has several versions of this. One starts with a single soul.
This soul noticed that it could not see anything but its self and yelled “Here I am!” and the concept of 1 immediately began to exist. The soul then became afraid. Then the soul thought to itself,
“Why should I be afraid when I am the only one?”
At once its fear vanished. However, his soul began to notice how lonely it was and how there was no pleasure. It decided that it wanted companionship. Since this soul was as big as two people, it split itself into two, becoming husband and wife. The husband and wife took to the companionship and the pleasures that come with it and had intercourse. From this human beings were born.
God gave us the gift of other human beings… companions along this road that we call life. It is at times such as those of intense difficulty, that we should most make use of this very precious gift.
I believe that when most of us consider our lives, we will realize that the greatest joys became even greater when shared with those that we love; and life’s tragedies were lessened when we had the hands of trusted companions to hold.
Again calling reference to the many stories of Creation, these all illustrate Man as having a relationship with God; they establish that there is something greater than Man, and that this entity has the power to create, as well as, to take care of Man.
Therefore, my final suggestion is that you strengthen your relationship with whom or whatever you have defined as your Creator. At present, if you do not have such a relationship, I strongly urge you to build one. This can never be done too soon.
Invariably, there will be times that material things cannot bring the relief that we seek. There will be times when man’s knowledge, words and solutions cannot free us from grief, anguish or fear. In those times, it is often the existence of faith, and our belief that someone or something greater than ourselves is caring for us, that carry us through our strife. This intangible, yet consummately powerful, gift only comes from a relationship with a Creator; and one that existed for us prior to trouble and turmoil.
From all that I have seen and experienced over the years, I posit that these are the elements that allow us to accept the things that frighten and confound us. These elements enable us to arrive on the other side of our pain and fear, and to remain spiritually whole. It is only then that we are able to recognize and appreciate the blessings that continue to surround us, despite our suffering.