In Touch

All this time I’ve been
Held to a high standard
Of detachment, and
It doesn’t really serve me
It presents itself as resilience,
As perseverance,
As necessary
But all of that is a lie
No one is detached as they
Head into another surgery
After watching a child die

The falsehood is a heavy one,
But I was convinced otherwise
I thought I let things go
As they came,
But really I pushed them down
And they built up inside me
Until I was incapacitated

Did you know that up to fifty percent
Of people who do this work
Experience PTSD?
Maybe it isn’t to you,
But this was news to me
So now every day I work to make sure
That it isn’t for others
I spend my life making sure that
The future is connected

The high standard of the future
Is being in touch

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

He was a pediatric physician with a focus on heart issues. Most of his career had involved high-intensity heart surgery on children. Many of them died. Because of the intensity of the job, the work culture implicitly stressed the values of strength and detachment in the face of deeply emotional experiences. After years of bottling things up, the weight of his work began to adversely affect him. He started avoiding interacting with families as much as possible because of the painful empathy that it required, and he became angry and closed off in his home life. After he lost a close friend and colleague to suicide from these same pressures, he realized that neither of them had been dealing with work experiences in healthy ways. He learned that empathy, reflection, connection, and introspection were essential parts of their daily work. In his new role arranging curriculum for medical students, he worked hard to emphasize the importance of these skills in any medical career.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician
Listener Poet: Elle Klassen

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