Love Is Medicine

It’s Valentine’s Day 1997. I’m at Sacred Heart Hospital admitting a colleague’s patient—an elderly man dying of heart disease. On oxygen, gasping for life, he exchanges no words. His wife—unable to bear the pain of watching him die—leaves the room. So it’s just the two of us this Valentine’s Eve. A blind date. No champagne. No candlelit dinner. I could leave too, but it doesn’t seem right to let this guy die alone on this romantic day. So I sit with him, hold his hand, and cry.

A cardiologist looks in. Startled by my emotion, he says, “You must be a new doctor,” then disappears down the hall.

Maybe old doctors don’t cry, but I don’t want to close my heart to the wounded. I don’t believe in professional distance. I believe in professional closeness. And I believe in loving my patients.

During my pediatric rotation in medical school I used to stay up late at night in the hospital holding sick and dying children. I’d lift them from their cribs and sing to them, rocking them back and forth. One day the head of the department gave me a compliment I’ll never forget. He said that I was a doctor when my patients needed a doctor and a mother when they needed a mother.

A few years ago I visited the foster home where my nephew lived before he moved in with me. I spent the weekend with a dozen teenage boys, all on psychiatric medications. An autistic child had just moved into the home that day. As it got dark, he begged me to tuck him into bed. That night I tucked all 12 boys into bed and kissed them goodnight. When the foster mom found out she said, “You crazy. Them boys hasn’t been kissed in years!”

Some patients don’t need a pill. They need a kiss.

Photo by Spark Boemi

Pamela Wible, M.D., is a family physician in Eugene, Oregon. She is author of Pet Goats & Pap Smears: 101 Medical Adventures to Open Your Heart & Mind.


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11 comments on “Love Is Medicine
  1. Jennifer Michelle says:

    Aww, this was beautiful. Thank you for posting it.

    When I was 15, I ran away from home – suburban style. Which meant I packed everything I needed and called a cab to take me to the nearest runaway shelter. There, I met a whole group of teens swirling in their own pain, and I felt in way, way over my head.

    The first night, we all sat in a big circle and the counselors gave us a talk (I can’t even remember about what), but, afterwards, they went around and gave each and every kid there a hug. I was sitting at the far other side of the circle, so I was the very last kid to get a hug, and I was so nervous I wasn’t going to get one. My mom never hugged me – in fact, she went stiff whenever I tried to hug her. So I wanted that hug so badly I was struggling not to cry, and I was terrified I’d be the only kid who didn’t get one. I remember mentally scrambling to be prepared to seem like it didn’t matter (like I did with my mom).

    But I got that hug – and, 30 years later, I still remember it.

  2. Kassy Daggett says:

    This is a very moving blog post and a very moving comment Jennifer. Safe touch is so important to healing. Particularly when the injury was at the hands of another. Grateful for both of your stories on this day of celebrating love.

  3. kim says:

    As one not normally speechless….finding you, the book and now your blog… I am speechless…..

  4. Dipty Rahman says:

    Hi Pamela, you are great. It is so important to have safe touch for healing. Especially when the injury was caused by another. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Dipty Rahman says:

    Hi Pamela, you are great. The importance of having safe touch for healing cannot be overstated. A personal injury is especially painful when another person is responsible for it. Your contribution is greatly appreciated.

  6. Shalini Arora says:

    i am speechless, after reading this.

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