Ritual Confessions

March 7, 2008

Message (continued)

Filed under: Uncategorized — elissakaren @ 6:49 am

On Christmas Eve, in fact, I slept over, crashing on the daybed after Beatriz and I watched Bad Boys, a Will Smith / Martin Lawrence movie that actually made us laugh pretty hard. It felt great to laugh with her.

Hours later, I woke to two nearly simultaneous sounds: Giovanna letting out a moan and Beatriz’s bare feet on the linoleum as she leapt up and ran to her daughter’s bedside. It was as if she had trained herself to react with lightning speed and precision while still half-asleep.

Generally, a hospital room is invaded all night by medical personnel, coming and going like apparitions in the near-dark. Somewhere in the early morning hours, I was aware that a doctor had come in and was consulting the monitors, adjusting the equipment, around Giovanna’s bed. Without my contacts, he was no more than a compact figure in a doctor’s white coat. When I sat up and leaned closer, I realized with a shock that it was my own brother. (My baby brother! He was still in residency; I wasn’t yet used to thinking of him as a doctor.)

Here it may be noted that it was my brother’s fledgling status as a doctor that allowed him to attach to Giovanna in the way that he did. Never before (for lack of circumstance) and never since (as a matter of necessity) has he let a patient so profoundly into his heart. Doctors have to walk an impossible line of caring deeply and yet not attaching to their patients. If they can’t maintain some level of professional detachment, they won’t be effective and won’t survive emotionally. He admitted as much when describing an incident where Giovanna coded (suffered a cardiac arrest) and he was the one to respond. He managed to do all the right things, but with none of his usual composure. As he later described it to me: “It was as if you had coded, or mom. I was trembling; I felt that scared and sick.”

After Giovanna, he would resolve never again to let a patient affect him on such a personal level. But during her time in his care, he surrendered to his feelings with relative abandon. He brought her presents. He painted her toenails. One evening he stopped into her room to visit after working for more than twenty-four hours straight. She was asleep. He dropped into the chair beside her bed and was out like a fuse. When he woke two hours later, she was holding his hand.



1 Comment »

  1. What a difficult thing for your brother. I can understand though. Not that it is like what your brother has to do but I know that for a long, long time (even now to some extent) I didn’t allow myself to get close to anyone or to let anyone see that I care. I had suffered blow after blow and it was just too difficult to let myself care for anyone, so I protected myself by remaining detached, or at least keeping the appearance of remaining detached.

    Comment by Corina — March 7, 2008 @ 7:55 am

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