Grief exposed

It was the end of my day and I walked my last patient up to the front desk. “She needs an appointment in 4 weeks,” I told my secretary.   As she searched the schedule, the patient tapped me gently on the arm.

“And how’s your little one?” she asked, continuing some of the friendly banter we had started in the exam room. She remembered that I had been pregnant the last time I saw her.

I am so prepared for this question. I’ve answered it time and time again. I’ve come to terms with the fact that people will ask- a lot of people, because I have a lot of patients who saw me pregnant. Probably hundreds of them. Some know what happened and some don’t. I no longer get emotional or shut down when asked. I have my go-to words that fill the once awkward space the question leaves.

But this time was different. I had an audience. I am usually asked about my baby when it’s just me and the patient in the exam room. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked in front of others who know and here I was, with the patient, sweetly asking in about my daughter with my front desk staff there to witness. I felt self-conscious.

“I have sad news about the baby. She died last year,” I told the patient. She was kind- gave me a quick hug and expressed genuine condolences. And then I quickly moved on and brought the conversation back to the future appointment for the patient.

It was a little different than what I usually do in privacy with the patient. If it’s someone like this patient I usually give a little more space for them to react and leave room for conversation if it happens. I think it helps me and it helps the patient. But this time I felt almost embarrassed that my staff had to watch this awkward interaction, perhaps thinking about how awful it must be to get this question over and over. Part of me is glad they witnessed- people getting a little window into the ongoing grief I have, but another part of me is so very shy about it. I can open up about the raw grief I have more easily in the privacy of an exam room, but not while being watched.

Have you had this question asked in a group setting? How have you reacted?

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