Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas

"A human being is a part of the whole called by us 'the universe,' a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening the circle of understanding and compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty." – Albert Einstein

It's three in the morning on Christmas Day and I am just finishing up at the hospital. Of my last seven Christmases, I've probably spent about half of them at work. I will admit, it's never easy. There are mixed sentiments; on the one hand, there's a sense of pride in widening our own small lives to encompass those in need, a giving Christmas in a different sort of way. There a sense of duty, almost like filial piety; it is the right thing. But ultimately what I think about is that no matter what negative emotions I have about being here, patients must have so much more. I am here by choice to take care of those without that luxury.

That doesn't make it any easier. How hard it is to spend holidays alone in the hospital when friends and family gather and celebrate. How hard it is on our own spouses and families as they sacrifice with us, when we are not there. What a strain it places on our relationships. What it's like to see everyone else in anticipation of the holidays when instead, we dread the interminable call. How isolating it feels when no one else really understands what it's like to miss half your Christmases. Why scrolling down my Facebook feed of trees and presents and dinners and kids makes me feel a little resentment. And then, ironically, how we judge ourselves bad people for feeling that resentment.

There was recently a great JAMA article on "The Things We Have Lost" by Jennifer Best that describes those sacrifices we make as physicians, things like "absence from 'unique and unrepeatable events' - holidays, birthdays, weddings, and funerals." We feel like we can't talk about these losses because they are minuscule compared to the losses we witness in our work: the loss of independence or health or security or family. But tonight I break that silence. I hold vigil for what I've lost in caring for others holiday after holiday. It is quiet here. Peaceful.

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