Any good psychologist always ensures there is a full box of Kleenex in the office. I need one because I’m an expert at making my clients cry, and I’m happy when they do. Empathy begets tears. When clients cry, they are allowing themselves to be vulnerable with me. That’s what I want them to do, isn’t it?
What I’ve learned over my years of patienthood is that most doctors don’t know what to do with me when I cry. Contrary to popular belief, I’m actually remarkably stoic most of the time I’m with doctors. But I do cry predictably in response to bad news–“You’re in heart failure and you need to be admitted to hospital!”–or good news–“Your red blood count is up!”
This last hospital admission, despite my unchanged crying quotient, I got a few doctors’ alarm bells going, so much so that they wanted to bring in social work reinforcements. I was a bit surprised by this offer because I felt I was coping fairly well under the circumstances, and I figured I had earned a few tears from what I’d been told. Don’t you think my tears were warranted?
But when I started crying, the doctors panicked a bit. I must have seemed unstable and in need of immediate emotional intervention, yet I politely declined their offer of a visit from social work. As I said to one of the doctors, I think it’s pretty reasonable that I’m upset given all you’ve told me, and I have a tremendous support network (thanks guys!) that I can call on if I need it. Save that limited resource for someone who needs it more.
Don’t get me wrong. You know I’m pro-counselling and I believe we should all seek professional help when we need it. I urge you to do so if you’re ever going through a rough patch. You know I’ve sought counselling myself when I’ve felt the need, and I continue to visit my therapist occasionally when I’m struggling. In fact, due to my paucity of medical appointments this week, I could fit her in on Wednesday. Fortuitously, she had an opening that day.
Why would I test drive a new car for a half hour when I can hop into the old one I already know how to drive? I didn’t really think a visit with a counsellor new to me would be as helpful as returning to someone already in the know.
Rather than calling in social work, the doctors might have taken a few minutes to ask me why I was upset, and I could easily have answered them. I imagine they would have been relieved and I would have felt better too. But doctors can be kind of funny that way, at least from my experience. And I understand: they’re so focussed on making sure my body doesn’t give out that they don’t have time to deal with my emotional reactions.
I doubt I’ll stop crying in front of doctors because some days I’m going to hear things that bring on the tears. But maybe in the future I’ll use the opportunity to teach them a little Bedside Manner 101. I’ll be gentle, though; I don’t want to make them cry.