I still remember clearly the first time a mother screamed at me in the hospital. I was a new intern, maybe 25, and was in that stage when I was so panicked about everything that I missed almost nothing. And, yet, while I was at clinic (one of the few times I was out at the hospital), no one had come to look in her child’s ears to see if they were infected.
She wasn’t just a little angry; she was enraged. She screamed at me so loud, people came out of other rooms. She screamed at me so hard that tears started to squeeze out of the corners of her eyes. I’ve seen some impressive tantrums in my day, but this was far, far worse.
Of course, I knew I wasn’t at fault. I tried to explain this to her, but she couldn’t hear reason. She was just so mad, and I was there, and I was the one who seemed to be in charge. I was to blame. I had to take my punishment.
Afterwards, I was a bit angry myself. I imagined scenes where I would prove I was right, and she would feel terribly. I would be vindicated, and everyone would see that I was actually the one who was wronged. I would fight back, and I would win, and I would show her! But before any of that could occur, a wise senior resident told me to forget it – that I should let it go.
He was right, of course. She wasn’t angry at me, per se. She was angry at the world. She was enraged at how bad things had gotten, that her child had cancer, and that the people who were supposed to fix that seemed to be failing. You know what? I’d scream, too.
I still feel like one of the most important lessons I pass on to new physicians is that no matter how good you are, no matter how hard you try, you are simply not going to be able to please all of your patients all of the time. It’s not that you will screw up. It’s that we, as a profession, often fail. Sometimes it’s because we, as a system, make mistakes. Sometimes it’s because we, as a system, can’t prevent every single bad thing from happening. And, when things don’t go well, not only do we have to keep on doing what we’re supposed to, we have to stand there and take it. It’s part of being a good doctor. We have to allow our patients, and their families, release. It’s our job. If you don’t like it, if it’s important to you to be loved all the time, go do something else. No one made you become a doctor.
I bring this up, because the economy is in pretty bad shape right now. People can disagree as to whether the system made a mistake, or that no matter how good the system was, it can’t always prevent bad things from happening. But this quote (yes, it’s old, but still topical) from Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg made me think of that mother:
“We all know what to do, but we don’t know how to get reelected once we have done it.”
You know what? I don’t care. And I’m speaking to all those in government right now. The economy, and the world, aren’t doing so well at the moment. At times like this, not only do you have to keep on doing what you’re supposed to, you have to stand there and take it. It’s part of being a good representative. You have to allow your constituents, and their communities, release. It’s your job. If you don’t like it, if it’s important to you to be loved all the time, go do something else.
No one made you become a politician.
(h/t Kevin Drum)