Doctor Feelbad

From The New York Times:

BookIn her new book, “What Doctors Feel,” Dr. Danielle Ofri tells the unforgettable story of a pediatrician she interviewed, a woman she calls Eva. In taut, vivid prose, Dr. Ofri describes a tragic event that occurred during Eva’s residency. She helped deliver a baby doomed to asphyxiation within minutes of birth because of a severe lack of amniotic fluid in the womb. The traumatized parents knew the outcome in advance, and made it clear they did not want to see the baby. After the delivery, the room leaden with silence, Eva wrapped the baby in a blanket and wondered where to go. The hospital had no room set aside for this. So the young physician, consumed with sadness for a child who would never be held by anyone but her, took the dying newborn into a supply closet. There, knowing she would be reprimanded for not observing the precise moment at which the umbilical cord ceased pulsing, she gathered the baby in her arms. “In the cramped space Eva rocked back and forth,” Dr. Ofri writes. “ ‘I love you, baby,’ she whispered as the heart began its slow, cratering descent.”

In the hands of a less agile and intelligent writer, such a scene could easily grow maudlin. Indeed, calling attention to a physician’s emotional pain might be seen as distracting and self-indulgent. It is, after all, the physician’s role to ease the suffering of others. Yet as Dr. Ofri points out, how doctors feel matters. And while she does write of joy, pride and gratitude, her emphasis is on negative emotions — which exert the strongest influence on medical care, particularly when a case grows unexpectedly complicated, frustrating or unyielding. “This is where factors other than clinical competency come into play,” she writes. An unwell doctor is a bad doctor.

More here.