Cry Baby


The first time I cried in front of a patient I was working in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and at the end of a 30-hour shift one of my patients passed away.  Surprisingly, that itself wasn’t what made me cry.  It was rather the mother’s response to the passing of her child, those tender last words that she whispered in her newborn’s ears while the medical team circled about turning off the machinery that previously provided a background soundtrack of beeps, swooshes, and dings.  I felt the tears rising up and did not want my own emotion to in any way take away from this special moment between mother and child, so I fled the bedside with the intention of crying alone in the employee bathroom.  As soon as the metal double doors of her NICU pod swung shut behind me, I went into a full ugly cry.  As I navigated to the bathroom through the blur of tears in front of me, I saw the father of one of my other patients and tried to avoid eye contact.  I was mortified that my professional exterior had been shattered and thought that this father would now see me as a weaker version of myself.

Later on as I rounded on my patients I nervously approached the bedside of the father who saw me crying.  I examined his child as usual, updated the parents, and then turned to flee.  The dad though interrupted my getaway and said, “I heard about what happened on the other side of the NICU and then I saw you crying.  It was good to see my child’s doctor care so much about one of her patients.  I’m happy you are her doctor.”

This encounter hasn’t made me more likely to cry in front of patients, but it does reassure me that those times when it is unavoidable it may not been seen negatively by the parents.  Sadness is a normal emotion and doctors are not immune to it although surrounded by it often.  Now as a parent, I am often overcome by the suffering of families because I know firsthand about the love between a parent and child and imagine myself in their place.  I find myself with teary eyes more often than before and I continue to struggle with how to balance that emotion, which sometimes comes from a personal place, with my professional role.  As a mother now, I know that like the father who gave me his support, I too would want a doctor who loved someone enough to cry.

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  1. Ahh That is such a sweet post. We are all human and we need to recognize that even in the work world we may exert our emotions. I too have experienced tears at work at I was happy that those I work just like you acknowledge that the emotions validate how natural it really is to show we are affected by things.

  2. Emotions are difficult to hide. You may have been embarrassed to have that dad see your tears, but they gave him confidence in you and he was nice enough to tell you.
    Thanks for sharing, this touched my heart.

  3. So… this made me cry. Our daughter was in the NICU for 2 months and not expected to live due to a ruptured vasa previa. One night we were there and she had just pulled through a difficult stretch. Our favorite doctor stood chatting with us past visiting hours. It was late, and we were all emotional, and she got teary eyed telling us what a miracle our daughter was after pulling through the impossible. We never forgot her empathy and nurturing. She remains one of our favorite people to this day, because we knew our daughter was in good hands even after we had to leave each night. Thank you for caring enough about your patients to show your human side.

    1. Thanks for sharing your NICU story. My first son was in the NICU too and I have a few posts about that. You should read some of my older posts too. =)

  4. SO….This made me cry!! Two weeks ago we were told my dad needed open heart surgery and it broke me. I couldn’t control myself, I thought for sure he would just need another stent and not another open heart surgery. When the cardiologist asked if I was ok I said (hysterically) “He is my babies grandpa and they love him more than anything in the world” at that I cried….and so did the cardiologist!! He wasn’t new or young! He’s a very well known cardiologist and I made him cry. I love him for that!

  5. An incredibly touching story Katie! I am sure that memory sticks in your head. I have such an admiration for the physicians in this world that allow themselves to be human and put their whole self into their work, even the emotional side. Kudos to you for what you do day in and day out! Thank you!!
    Lauryn recently posted…How to Build a Trifle {Recipe}My Profile

  6. What we all want and need is caring health care professionals. I’ve had some who have actually rolled their eyes at me, others who just wanted to make sure I didn’t step off the table before buying products I didn’t need. (I wish I was kidding on that one.) But then again, I had the OB who spent more time on my case – and figured out the cause of my stroke 3 years earlier – that my file was 4 inches thick and would say things, like, “I was thinking of you late last night and looked up in the Journal of Medicine about…” There was the nurse who cleaned me after getting sick in the ICU only to have me get sick directly after, and totally do nothing but smile authentically and tell me it was ok. And the nurse from the pediatric cardiologist who gave me all kinds of hints and tips on how to get help for Amelia, taking my mind off her VSD. I am forever grateful to those professionals. We patients need to know you guys care and that you are listening – so I’d be ok with tears from a pro.
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