I've done some musical theater in the past, and anyone who's done theater knows that people who engage in the dramatic arts tend to be, well, a bit dramatic themselves. I once had a director in college who exhorted us to "leave it at the stage door," the "it" being any of life's current issues, problems, or concerns. He expected us to temporarily disengage from our personal dramas for a few hours to put our full energy into rehearsal.
I have thought of that phrase many times since then. In polite, adult society, we expect each other to progress through our work days with equanimity and diligence. I can't give my learners and patients my full attention if I allow myself to be overly preoccupied with personal matters. Sure, we might share some issues with a confidant or two, but most of the time we physicians - and other professionals, I'm sure - set aside personal concerns during the work day. In my observation, it's usually only when this setting aside becomes permanent neglect that this necessary process is harmful.
Sometimes, though, I can't help but wonder how many of the people I pass by in the hospital and in my office have left something significant "at the stage door." I wonder about the cache of secrets we walk around with, issues that tear at our heart that secretly wait for acknowledgement until the workday is done. This status quo is certainly best for our patients, but is it best for us?
Physicians are well-trained in self-neglect, in this unwritten curriculum to always put the patient first. And, in the end, I can't bring myself to disagree with that order. This profession is about selfless service, not accolades and marquee listings.
Every now and then, though, part of me wishes we could allow ourselves to be vulnerable, too. I suspect that we each possess enough caring to take good care of our patients and still reach out to our colleagues.
After all, that pile by the stage door probably isn't getting any smaller.