What I did at work this week

I’m headed for bed tonight with an old familiar sensation in my muscles, jostling my mental/physical memories, connecting me to my 8-year-old self.

Growing up on the East coast, beach vacations were a summertime staple event. We would pack up the Coppertone, the bologna sandwiches and Wise brand potato chips with the owl on the bag (who’s with me here?), and, finally, the canvas inflatable rafts. We’d point the station wagon for a destination somewhere along the Atlantic seaboard: Misquamicut, RI; Mystic, CT; Jones Beach, NY; Virginia Beach, or the island of Chincoteague. I remember playing for hours and hours and hours in the surf, then crashing into bed at night still feeling the swell and surge of the waves rocking me into exhausted sleep.

I’m feeling that tonight, at the end of a busy week in clinic. I’m going to name it. I’m going to call it wave-loving-joy-fatigue. That’s about right. Every patient encounter has been a wave, and I played hard all week.

A lot of the waves come and go easily. Gently. Regulars, coming in to keep on working, incrementally, on their main issue. We chat. “How you doing?” “Doing good. A little better.” I pin them and blanket them. Wave comes, gently lifts my toes off the sand, and gently sets me back down.

Others catch me, unaware, not quite ready, and tumble me into the surf, rolling me over, shoving salt water into my nose and grinding sharp bits of seashell into my knees. I emerge from the encounter coughing and shaking. New patients with histories of suffering and perseverance I would never have imagined. “I watched my mother die from a violent attack.” “I lost one leg to gangrene and might lose the other.” “My wife is leaving me because I’m so sick, and then I won’t have health insurance.” I remember being at the beach as a kid, my father repeatedly counseled “Never turn your back on the ocean.” Each time one of these tumbler-waves happens, I know that’s what I’ve done. I’ve forgotten the ocean of suffering and love we’re all living in. I’m blindsided by the suffering, the trust, and the hope that each person’s visit to the clinic carries with it.

And every so often there is the wave that begs to be ridden. Gathering momentum from far out, it approaches, and I paddle like hell to maneuver my raft just so to catch a beautiful ride to the shore along with my patient. “I’m pain-free and can play on the floor with my 3-year old for the first time since she was born.” “I haven’t had a migraine for nine straight days.” “My depression is lifting and I got a part-time job.” Dang, those are fun.

But they’re all good. They’re all essential to this job I absolutely adore. They are all responsible for this wave-loving-joy-fatigue. I thank all of my patients, and I can’t wait to swim with you again next week.

Author: MichelleRivers

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