September 4, 2017

People : Colleagues

When I talk about work it's mostly about patients, but more and more I realize how much my work experience has to do with our clinic community.  Especially lately with all the hate happening in the world, I feel so lucky for the daily welcoming warmth of my colleagues.  Their beyond dedicated care for our patients inspires me to do better, their engagement with community issues keeps me accountable, and they are just funny, kind, interesting people who go out of their way to help each other and I love spending time with them outside of work.

My feelings about this are so deep, they're hard to express in a way that does them credit. I've always known it's important to be surrounded by people who have the qualities that I want to work towards, and that seems like an obvious fact.  But over these last two years, I've gotten to know this as an organic, dynamic thing.  And I now recognize how much of this has to do with keeping these values tangible and in motion.  That's what I admire most in my co-workers, how actively they work towards goodness.

It's impossible to do hard work if you don't have colleagues who understand the difficulty, value it, and are willing to wrestle with it. A huge part of keeping this work sustainable has been not giving into the frustrations.  Together we work through not just clinical questions but the tougher questions of how to empathize, how to communicate, how to help. I love that people ask each other: How would you share this test result? How would you frame these options?  What do you tell someone when you feel like there's no concrete answer to their symptoms?  And how do we cope with our heavy sense of limitation, both clinically when we don't know what's going on physically with a patient, and personally when we get impatient or angry with how a patient makes us feel?  Their questions prevent my own complacency, and motivate me to keep asking and pushing.

Recently, at a training about transgender care, one co-worker shared a story about an experience with a female-to-male transgender patient. When he asked her about breast reduction surgery, she told him she would look into it and he started to cry.  He told her that no provider had so easily said, "Yes, I'll try" in response to his needs.  That he'd never been to a clinic with such visible support for black lives and immigrant rights.  Our co-worker shared how this made her really proud of our clinic.  I'm so inspired by the way our colleagues actively reach out to people more vulnerable and less privileged, and use what they've been given to make more for other people.  And it makes me think that the one good thing about the election has been new awareness about how important small, active actions are.  As much as people say, what difference does it make and maybe we're just making ourselves feel better--it does matter to show solidarity with people who feel unsafe, unvalued, neglected.

Our co-workers also genuinely care about me as a person outside of my job, which has just been the sweetest.  We know about each other's families and hobbies and neuroticisms, and take care of each other.  During a week in which I had no time to get groceries, the nurse on my team brought me home-made leftovers for lunch two days in a row, and in general she often brings me dessert because we all know I love dessert.  At the time I also had no hot water at home, so another co-worker let me use her laundry and shower (she put my clothes in the dryer for me, and checked beforehand that I didn't have any delicates).  So basically, they feed, bathe and clothe me.

Because they're so great, being with them outside of clinic is a always a welcome break from work (even if sometimes we rant about work).  We go to concerts and plays and operas together, and climb together once a week.  I like happy hour-ing with them as much as I like backpacking with them.    Just like I appreciate their activeness in their work, I love our active togetherness and there's no group of people with whom I'd rather be active and together.

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