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Emotion Makes Us Human, Even When Treating Other Humans

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Emotions is what makes us human. It is not a weakness to acknowledge and process them, but the essence of our humanity.
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I have often found myself while a med student, resident or beyond wondering why in a place we call healthcare and it is riddled with times in others’ lives where huge emotions take place, why we have not been taught or often allowed to discuss our own emotions to what we have witnessed.

It could be because I was raised in Mexico and we tend to be a very expressive culture with a rich language that includes double meanings to many common words, a play on words, a big emphasis on humor to any situation and a welcoming place to voice out an array of emotional states.

However, in medicine, many times I felt as if we are taught to go through motions, move on, never get too involved and continue. I can see a benefit not to get caught up with every pain, sadness, anxiety of every patient as this will leave us drained. However, our interactions with patients, our struggles, our patient complications we experience, sexism, racism, abuse, implicit bias, exhaustion from long hours produces a plethora of feelings we don’t seem to have a place to discuss in healthcare.

We make so much time to discuss research, complications, metrics etc but even within those meetings there is zero built in time to check with each other. I often wonder why? Why is this ok? Do we truly think we don’t have time, this is not a place, all our experiences are not affecting us in some way?

All unprocessed emotions and feelings have a way to show themselves in one way or another. Whether we then use drugs, alcohol, eating, social media, buying material things, we find a way to distract ourselves from dealing with our emotions and keep on marching. Again, a good solider has no time to step out of the marching line and rest. We have a goal to reach, a metric to achieve. Stopping to take care of us somehow states we are not a team player, others are waiting and marching and we must continue. The irony is that in a team we would make sure everyone is well before we can continue.

In this holiday season, I hope we stop and think about all the things we are feeling and check in with ourselves. Holidays tend to bring up many feelings, anxiety, dread, excitement, hope, peace or a mix of all. Check in with yourself and colleagues because we have done 20 months of COVID and I am still waiting to see where is the discussion of how we all are? How are we coping? What are we doing?
I hear lots about metrics on appointments, closures, changes, or staff. But healthcare has not left a place for us to discuss what makes us human: our emotions.

I hope these holidays it will give you pause to embrace what makes us human in medicine. Emotions are not a weakness. Acknowledging them, finding out what they are, expressing them is so important as again, they will find a way to surface.

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