UNC School of Medicine students response to “Love Alone”: part 2

By Lee Kyung Hong
Lee Kyung Hong
Before entering medical school, I read Pauline Chen’s book Final Exam. I was terrified at her description of a terse conversation she had with a supervising physician. “You will make a mistake.” 
How could I ever live with killing one of my patients?

Medical students are trained to understand that some medical errors are out of our control – a systematic error, a computer glitch, a fatigued colleague. We turn inward in our training to drill out any human weaknesses. We study long hours, cram everything into our heads, stay on call overnight, and above all lose ourselves in our work… because deep down inside, we know that one day we’ll be touching the lives of real people.

Yet, the reality is that we are not perfect. Our humanity betrays us in those tired, hungry hours. We give so much to our work that sometimes there is nothing left to give, and we are left emotionally and mentally spent. Indeed, physician and medical student burnout is becoming increasingly studied as a work-related phenomenon. It’s ironic that, in a profession of serving people, we can become numb to the intricacies of human interaction.

Love Alone opens with the mind-numbing hum of monitors and a faded waiting room, a familiar scene. Patiently, the characters peruse the magazines that lay strewn across the end tables. As I watch and become immersed into the lives of these characters – the doctor, her husband, her coworker, the survivors, their lawyer – I begin to realize that, just as the characters talk across each other on a common set, I experience this cross-talk within myself, as both a patient and (future) provider. In the face of a devastating medical error, the lives of both the survivors and physician are forever changed. Love Alone, to me, beautifully portrays the rituals – smoking at the hospital parking lot, performing to swarms of fans, listening for the 6PM watch alarm – that help us all to cope with unfathomable fear and loss. We cling to that pulse of everyday life because it’s what keeps us going in those tired, hungry days.