"I do what I can"
One of my Family Medicine residents came into my office looking a bit tired. It had been hard for him to focus on his research with so many other things going on in the hospital. On Tuesday, he was treating a pregnant woman who ended up dying along with her baby. Later that day, the family of the woman attacked her cousin because they thought he had placed a curse on her. The cousin’s house was burned down and he was in our ward with a fractured skull. We didn’t have any blood to give him due to issues with quality controls on our blood bank screening. On Wednesday afternoon, an ambulance pulled up with a woman who died soon after arrival. Her husband sliced her neck. He came in the ambulance, wanting to turn himself in at the police station, but the police ran away, the hospital guards ran also, and in the end the man was stabbed by angry relatives outside our Emergency Room. The chaplain couldn’t pray and the doctors couldn’t treat him for the better part of an hour as the community extracted its own justice. I asked my resident what he thought was the hardest part of the last few days, and he said it was the woman and child who died, because that was something he thought he could make a difference for. I’ve talked to other young doctors in Malawi who really struggle with deaths that might have been prevented and carry them on their shoulders, but this resident had invested a lot in his own emotional and spiritual well-being recently. “I know that I can’t do everything so I do what I can.” He told me. Then he explained how he successfully completed a difficult case on Thursday and saved a woman from a ruptured ovary which caused so much bleeding into the woman’s abdomen that she didn’t even have a pulse after anesthesia was administered. But he found the rupture, sealed it off, and watched her improve on the ward after the operation. Sometimes it’s hard to feel like a bystander, unsure how to help as things get progressively worse. I’ve seen that with the Coronavirus situation in Malawi and some other community issues, and it gets me discouraged at times. I could really learn a lot from my resident in those times – to do what I can and let go of the things beyond my control. All the while, making sure that I have emotional and physical and spiritual reserve to pull me through the darker times.