As Jill leaves, she always says, “I love you!”
Sometimes I whisper. Other times I scream down the hall: “I love you too!”
I think it’s illegal. Or risky. I’m supposed to contain my love, to practice professional distance. But why dissociate from myself or from those I care for? Why pretend to be reserved, restrained, aloof when I’m naturally warm, affectionate, friendly?
One day during med school I decided to break the rules, to celebrate my life without shame. And on that day I fell in love with myself and I gave myself permission to fall in love with my patients, to hug and kiss them, to sing and laugh with them, to look deep into their eyes, cry, and allow our tears to flow together.
On Valentine’s Day at my first job, I admitted an elderly man dying of heart disease. His wife–unable to bear the pain of watching him die–left his side. I could have left too, but it didn’t seem right to let this guy die alone on this romantic day so I sat with him, held his hand, and cried. A cardiologist, startled by my emotion, exclaimed, “You must be a new doctor,” then disappeared down the hall. Maybe old doctors don’t cry, but I don’t want to close my heart to the world.
Why is it unprofessional to love patients? Maybe love isn’t valued in a male-dominated profession. After all, love is not easily measured or reimbursed. Love is hard to control.