I had an exhausting day at work.
As each hour passed, I had more and more patients to see. There were so many patients waiting, with problems so complex, that at 1 o’clock in the afternoon, I asked my assistant to cancel a clinic so that I could finish while I still had enough space in my brain to make a list of the problems I would solve tomorrow.
There was not enough time to solve problems today, only enough time to make a good list.
The practice of medicine has a lot of unknowns and Hippocrates taught that the measure of a good doctor is the capacity to be able to tolerate uncertainty long enough that the real physiological problem causing a patient’s illness emerges. It takes a lifetime of medical practice to learn this skill – if you ever learn it.
As a psychiatrist, I am among the most disrespected physicians. The so-called “soft skills” needed for me to be good at what I do are often deemed to be “easy”, requiring little skill other than a kind heart and compassionate approach. All my colleagues who think that kindness and compassion and genuine respect for people are easy, need to try it for a few weeks. It takes years of practice to be compassionate with someone whose illness results in their being lice-infested, intoxicated and irritable. It takes a great knowledge of what illnesses someone could have to overlook the fact that they spat in your face and consider instead whether it was delusions that caused them to do this. And are those delusions the result of intoxication or some other disease process?
Among the Episcopal Baptism prayers is one that asks that parents learn “calm strength and patient wisdom”, but I have needed those more as a doctor than as a parent.
I am a reasonably good psychiatrist and, if you asked me why, I would say that it is because God has granted me “calm strength and patient wisdom” on days like today when I’ve needed them.