By Guest Blogger Chelsea Slade
In the course of my training as a medical student, I have seen many difficult situations. I have seen a sixteen-year-old girl die of tuberculosis; I have heard the mourning wails of a wife when her husband’s heart monitor went flat and his last breath was drawn; I have held a premature baby no larger than a frog shortly after he died, and felt the warmth gently pass from his tiny body. I have taken families to see their loved one in the hospital morgue. I have been the one to say, “You have cancer,” and the one to say, “Your cancer has returned, and there is very little we can do.” I have seen families pulled apart by their son and brother’s fits of psychosis and aggression. I have seen a man so tormented by his belief that he was the Anti-Christ that it drove him to try to end his own life. I have tried to comfort a woman so plagued by the memory of the abortion her mother forced her to have at age seventeen that she throws herself into a wall until she loses consciousness. I have seen children who spend their entire preschool and elementary years fed through a tube through their belly wall directly into their stomach, never knowing what it is to taste ice cream or cold lemonade on a hot summer day. I have seen a seven-year-old boy’s body wither away, ravaged by the ravenous cancer in his kidney. I have shared with an expectant mother the realization that the mass on her prenatal ultrasound is a terrible cancer that will likely take her baby’s life soon after she is born.
Perhaps the most difficult encounters I have faced—the ones that wrench my heart into a tangled mess and leave me in tears—were the several women I met while working in a psychiatric hospital, who believed beyond any convincing that they were worthless. These were beautiful women, most of them mothers, who could not, even with long hours of coaching, name anything they truly liked about themselves. They saw themselves as fat, ignorant, stupid, deserving to die, worthless, and disgusting. Many of them had toxic family members who reinforced those beliefs, or heard voices telling them these things over and over, every day of their lives. Suicide seemed the only way to escape the harsh judgments that surrounded them. They had all tried several times.
When I found myself in conversation with these women, I wanted to gather them up in a huge hug and say, “But you are a daughter of God. You are a holy, beloved child of our Heavenly Father, and that makes you beautiful and valuable—no matter what the voices or your family can say.” I knew, from my faith in what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had taught me, that each of these women was a precious spiritual being with intrinsic worth and beauty. If only I could have shown them!
But the medical profession is strict. An outside observer to that conversation would see a student doctor, in a position of authority, proselytizing and preaching to a vulnerable and victimized psychiatric patient. So I had to check myself and limit the profession of my beliefs and my pain for these beautiful women, to saying, “I don’t believe you’re worthless. I could name a hundred wonderful things about you.” I worked so hard to help each daughter of God come to her own realization that she did have value and that life was worth living, while keeping explicit religious doctrine out of the conversation.
When I left that hospital, there had been only one suicide attempt among these women for a month. I don’t know that my words and love had any lasting effect on how these daughters of God will view themselves. But I came out with further solidification of my knowledge that our Heavenly Father does love us each as his children. I hope I will be able to subtly but powerfully bring that message to all the hopeless that I will touch as a doctor.