DO DOCTORS CRY?
Doctors do cry – it’s rare but true, and when it slips out in front of patients we go red in the face and swear never to let it happen again. Medicine, like the military, has a culture of bravado. Doctors have marched with troops since time was recorded and absorbed much of their culture, including the dry eyes value system.
I remember as a resident coming across another intern one afternoon coming down a corridor. He had a coffee steaming in one hand, his lab coat was crumpled with the collar flat on one side and sticking up on the other, a big smile on his stubbled face, and wild eyes like he’d just returned from a decade at Arkham asylum. He ejaculated: “I’ve been up for 36 hours straight and y’know what… I feel INCREDIBLE!!!” I laughed hysterically and felt the stress of on-call and residency release from my system for the moment. This was the kind of macho mumbo jumbo we were brainwashed with.
Yet I’ve still seen battle-hardened doctors weep when telling patients they are dying, or breaking bad news to a family, or after hours crushed by the mountain of stress around them. I thought twice about telling on myself in this article about my "big cry" because I'm still embarrassed about it like you would be of any other bodily function that slips out whether flatulence, a burp, or a 'shart'. But once upon a time, I had a patient return for the result of a diagnostic imaging workup for a blood test that was out of whack. As I read the report to him and his wife I was shocked by the chasm between what I was reading and how healthy he appeared. I knew what I was reading was a coming death sentence for him. Before I could catch myself I began sobbing as I read the report and the poor patient in an unexpected role reversal ended up consoling me and reassuring me that they'd had a full life with no regrets.
But enough about me, what about other doctors. I've seen colleagues cry publicly and behind the scenes. We deal in life and death situations and high stress events conducive to extreme psychic dissonance, the perfect storm for a good cry. Crying is a stress release valve on the top of a pressure cooker. Once it's over you feel more centered and back to earth.
Why Don't You See Doctors Cry More Often?
Well for starters, nobody - doctors included - likes to sob in public. So the few of us prone to lacrimation (wet eyes), are likely closet criers. But the bigger reason is that "familiarity breeds contempt". Our exposed nerves gradually get scarred and calloused over with repeated exposure. If I continued to weep each time one of my patients was afflicted with cancer or dies suddenly I'd need to go on medical leave of absence. Veteran doctors get battle hardened like their military counterparts.
So Doctors do cry... ahem... rarely. Where's the Kleenex?