Saturday, August 27, 2016

Youth and Resilience

We see two kinds of youth in medicine: the invulnerable and the sick. The classic young and invulnerable patient is the trauma patient. He is drunk and foolish and thought himself a superhero. He is recalcitrant and won't change his ways. He'll be back with new broken bones or head trauma or stab wounds. It's a terrible story but all too common in trauma centers everywhere.

Then there's the chronically ill person in her twenties or thirties. At that age we see diseases like inflammatory bowel conditions, schizophrenia, pregnancy-related problems, and even chronic pain. It's hard for me to fathom how it must feel to deal with pain, symptoms, or medications every day for the rest of one's life. How it must change one's dreams, for better or for worse. I've met patients whose experiences have motivated them to pursue incredible art, service, and academic achievements. But I've also met patients whose diseases have broken down their resilience; they struggle every day to survive.

What determines our resilience and reserve? Why do some people fly through adversity while others struggle? Is it one's fortitude, genetics, and upbringing? Or is it one's social support, medical care, and environment? Can we arm others to succeed through hardship? Can we arm ourselves to succeed through hardship?

There's always something. Whether it is a job transition, an elective surgery, a parent with cancer, a newborn whose growth curves are worrisome, divorce, financial trouble, miscarriage, or any number of stressful life situations, there's always something. It may seem way smaller or way bigger than what others struggle with, but it's relative. For the one in it, whatever it is, it's a big deal.

We must all find resilience. We depend on our family and friends. We look to our communities, our faith, our values, and our principles to guide us. We go through anger and rage and moping and sadness and denial and escape and acceptance. Sometimes we are able to reconcile and repair the situation, and sometimes it is out of our hands. In the same way, we must help our family and friends through their own struggles. We must provide for them what measure of strength we can, the patient ear, the kind shoulder, the word of resolve. Together, we overcome the ebbs and tides of everyday life.

(The wonderful thing about writing blogs is that when I start, I have no idea where they are going to go.)

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