Monday, October 17, 2005

Melancholy Monday: I need more joy

I just walked in the door following a 12 hour shift in the ER. I’m exhausted, physically, emotionally. I witnessed the death of a four month old infant today. The baby had been brought in after being found unresponsive in his crib this morning, every parent’s worst nightmare. I sat with his mother, and watched her coddle and sob over this baby, I watched as she desperately tried to grasp on to his young life, to keep him here. I watched as he quietly slipped away, the silence of the moment broken by the high pitched beeping of his heart monitor, signaling to us both that he was gone.

I immediately threw myself back into work, which has always been my coping mechanism, I volunteered to take on extra patients, and I volunteered to cover someone else’s hours just so I wouldn’t have to go home. The medical team thinks that it’s a sign of my outstanding commitment to the hospital, but it’s really just a way for me to hide. Once I’m at home, I am given the opportunity to reflect on the day, to digest everything that has happened, and it’s days like today that I just don’t want to reflect.

I put my heart into my work, all of my heart. I feel for this mother, I feel for all of my patients, and on some days I think that that makes me exceptional at what I do. And yet, there’s only so long that I’ll be able to emotionally invest so much of myself, before I find that I have nothing left to give.

“I worry that you don’t have enough joy,” a friend told me this weekend.

And maybe she’s right, maybe my work only contributes to my melancholia. There are days where joy is abundant in my line of work, but the melancholy realization is that I can’t bottle that joy any more than I can bottle the sunshine. I can’t put it away and save it for days like today. I can’t hold it in my hand too long, or it will simply melt away. My friend is right, I do need more joy. But where do I begin to look for a source of joy that is plentiful enough to contest with the emotional stress of my work on days like today?

UPDATE: A friend of mine just sent me an article that appeared in the Times last week entitled "A Pediatrician's Pain: When a Patient Dies" here's the link