My momma died from a long-fought battle against cancer. I am a motherless daughter and have been now for over half of my life. I’m 23.
There. I finally (finally!) said it.
My name is Alexis Morgan, and I’m a 3rd year DPT student. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet several of you through various PT channels, yet few of you know I’m a motherless daughter. Many of my patients, however, do.
By the end of reading this, I hope you will be encouraged to look deeper into your own life, thoughts, feelings, pains, and maybe begin exploring those in order to better help your patients and yourself.
My mom’s death used to define me. In an attempt to no longer have it as my definition, it then became my denial: any new person I met no longer found out within our first conversation. As you may be able to imagine, it became more and more difficult to share the more I knew a person, so the less & less I shared.
Until one day, my perspective changed. I realized I no longer had to share (or not share) out of obligation, but I had the opportunity to share for the sake of connection. I’ll explain:
I was sitting with an elderly woman in her bland room in the skilled nursing facility, where I was completing my first big internship, 10 weeks. We were sitting on the edge of her uncomfortable, stiff bed, and I was the one to help her get dressed today. (Break for a moment here, and imagine what life would be like if you had to get undressed, fully naked & vulnerable, only with the help of an individual you barely know… Every. Single. Day. Twice a day.)
She paused before we began and said, “I’ve got to warn you, I had a mastectomy, so don’t be alarmed at the sight. I don’t have a left breast.”
“Ma’am,” I replied in my most sincere and compassionate way, “Your body cannot and will not alarm me. I saw my mom’s body in the same condition for years as a young girl. I view it as a sign of strength and life.”
She asked me further questions about my mom, if she was alive, how long she had cancer, etc. I held back nothing from her.. Except tears.
And for the first time ever, I felt connected to a patient in ways I had never before, with her or with any of my patients. We were connected. She now knew the very most influential event of my life. This not only changed how she viewed me: compassionate, vulnerable, weak at times but also so strong, and an actual human being; but it also changed how I viewed and treated her. No more was she the woman with dementia and impaired mobility in room 311. She became the woman who I reciprocated basic human needs with: connection. I gave her something she needed, but really, she gave me something I needed.
You better believe her care was different now than ever before.
Fast forward six months in my outpatient rotation during Internship 2, 12 weeks. I’ve got this middle-aged quiet, reserved woman sitting in front of me, while I try to make out the unmatched correlations between her objective measures and subjective pain reports. (Break for a moment here, and imagine what life would be like if you had extreme amounts of pain – constantly – preventing you from doing just basic human functions, and no doctor believes you… at all.)
I do the only thing I know to do at this point, which is steer clear of touching her or making her move due to pain, and discuss with her the stress in her life. After I ask her what’s going on in her life, she responds with a quick: “There’s nothing for me to worry about, and everything is fine.” I knew better, though, as you would too, so I questioned further, and the truth surfaces: she’s still grieving and mourning the loss of her mother, who died over a decade ago. Instant connection. I was then able to provide her comfort and advice from both a professional and (perhaps more importantly) personal standpoint, regarding journaling, counseling, crying, and more.
I believe that it was not just the experience of living through this traumatic life-changing event of my mom’s death at a mere 11 years old, but it was my personal (and recent) decision to accept it, come to terms with it, share it, and connect with others through it. That has been the ultimate game-changer for me, which has directly impacted the care for my patients.
When the rubber meets the road, we (the providers) are human beings struggling in our own personal lives, just as our patients and our colleagues are; just as we treat our patients in the biopsychosocial model, we need to treat ourselves in the same way. (Break for a moment here, and imagine what life would be like if you took down your facade of “having it all together,” shared of piece of yourself, your story, and showed the people surrounding you that you struggle, too.)
I want to thank you, reader, for taking the time to consider my thoughts and perspective. I recognize that you likely have much more experience than me in patient-care and I appreciate your willingness to listen to my ideas, my stories.
Secondly, I want to thank EIM and specifically Mark Shepherd for this opportunity & platform. Behind this blogpost is a navy blue moleskin journal full of choppy brainstorming sessions, thoughts jotted down, and poems somehow pieced together, all because of the writing prompt. The writing process of this blogpost has been tremendously healing for me, and I am forever grateful.
I must thank my therapist/counselor who encouraged I get that journal a year and a half ago. While most of its pages lay dormant during that time, the seed was planted. The recent rain & sunshine of writing this post have allowed the bud to finally appear.
Lastly, thank you to my husband, Zac, who is extremely supportive & encouraging, and the rest of our families and friends. Without you all, I wouldn’t be nearly the woman I am today.
“We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” -Maya Angelou