no Catcher In The Rye

Nothing peeved me more during my training than being accused in my first year of having a “Rescue Fantasy.”  Admittedly, the patient involved was a depressed chronic alcoholic with pancreatitis and a dismal liver who exuded sociopathy.  However, I thought “Sure I have a rescue fantasy!  We all should!  We want to save patients.  Otherwise, what are we doing?”   I have ruminated variations on that theme ever since.

However, recently a patient loathed my work, and in so doing taught me the flaw in my thinking.  The patient  opposed me every step of our few meetings.   And, I bent myself into pretzels, adjusting my usual work to try to honor his treatment requests.  Not to his benefit.  Although, thankfully, not to his harm.  Wisely, nonetheless, he fired me.

I felt decimated.   Should I be a doctor still?  Is it worth such outcomes?  Was I any good at all if I so dramatically failed to help a suffering patient seeking treatment?

Fortunately, shortly thereafter I had one of those golden clinics. Patient after patient glowed happiness.  The patients had worked with me for months and years and utilizing every behavioral, biological, holistic, and therapy measure we could find — had improved immensely.    Clients recounted positive lives and burgeoning health.

Reflecting on the vast distance between the angry patient and the golden clinic, I began to see that I was only devastated because I still suffered from that accursed rescue fantasy.  Those teachers were right.

Of course, it would be lovely if I could save my patients.  I long to put up a golden net so that I can safely catch patients who fall off the cliff into illness.   I want to pile pillows in the abyss to soften falls. I wish to lob the right pill and in one fell swoop erase ills.  But that’s not how it works.  At least not with my patients.  Or not often.

The patients who get better are not caught.  Rather, they run a marathon alongside me. We work together and  little by little over time we overcome the multitudinous hurdles of life’s traumas, side effects, inefficacies, insufficient efficacies of various treatments and little by little we veer back towards the path of health and happiness.

I am not in front but alongside.  If patients won’t stay next to me, I can not help.  It does not work.  My teachers were right.  I am no Catcher in the Rye.