Sunday, September 4, 2016

Face Collector - Stanford Medicine X

I sit in the surgical waiting room, surrounded by family.

I feel quite alone, even though the banter throughout the room is lively.

They are cutting into my child's chest, I hear the surgeon say in my mind "retractors".

I've watched enough open heart surgery videos on You Tube to know exactly what this looks and sounds like......and this is her 5th heart surgery. She's only 4.

That reality was over 5 years ago. It was when I first coined the phrase "I collect faces".

But instead of focusing on the reality of the operating room in this story, I want to reflect on the reality of the people outside of those operating rooms. I even want to reflect on the faces of clinicians as they come to update families of those patients in the operating rooms.

I see the faces of  parents, grandparents, friends, of these children, and the gamut of emotions that run across their faces from moment to moment. And over the years I have collected these faces full of emotion, like a collage in my mind.

The face of my daughters cardiologist as he comes to update me, its his bad face, the face that says "what is happening in there is not good". His eyes are like black holes, lips pursed downwards in this half frown that is the most frightening face I have ever seen. He didn't need to speak. I knew what he was going to say "She's bleeding, he can't find the bleed."

The look on the face of the Mother sitting across the waiting area from me. She was listening. She heard. She saw. Her eyes perky, her ears almost jutting out from the side of her head, eavesdropping. I watched as her eavesdropping turned into fear. Her eyes squished like she had been sprayed with lemon juice in them, and her cheeks became pale. The face of fear. Fear for me, and fear for her child.

That same Mother's face turned to overabundant joy as her child's doctor came out, with a bubbly walk, and a smile, as she was updated that all had went well. She would see her child soon. Her eyes became bright again. Blue like the ocean. Her cheeks red with blood. Her lips in a smile for the ages.

Not only have I collected faces from that day, I have collected faces for the past decade.

The face of my dear friend, as she watched my 8 year old daughter take the pain of an IV insertion, with no tears, no fear. Her face was in wonder. Eyes big, ears perked. leaning over the bed, mouth agape in wonder at the amazement of strength of this child. Then shame as she felt bad for feeling sorry for herself in her own chronic medical condition. I felt horrible that she felt that shame. To me my child and her are one in the same. They both exhibit strength and fortitude in the face of incredible pain. I look up to both of them.

The face of the nurse in the room across from us as a code was called on a 3 month old baby. She was dripping tears, but attempting to stay strong. Her eyes were like swirls of energy, emotion. The red flush of adrenaline as she squeezed the bag around the baby's mouth in between chest compressions.

When I think back on this medical journey. this story of medicine, I see faces.

Faces of clinicians, nurses, administrators.

I remember the face of a CEO of a hospital as he said "People are leaving this facility to get care out of state, because we can't give them what they need". His downward lips almost hissed the words. The shame and embarrassment as he spoke oozed out of his eyes. I swear his entire head of hair turned gray in that one sentence.

In the world of medicine, I see faces. Faces of humans. Humans being. Humans working, living, dying, crying, laughing. Screaming. Existing in agony. Dark circles and bald heads. Faces. Faces of sadness and happiness.

Faces with cannula's on them. Eyes red with pain. An older gentlemen as he comforts his wife and assures her he is okay. And he's the one in the hospital bed.

The face of my Father, as he pats his first granddaughter on her head as she is hooked up to a ventilator, with chest tubes full of blood coming out of her, and a fresh zipper scar to be proud of. My Daddy never cries. Here I see his blue eyes well with tears. The grey hairs in his mustache trembling as his upper lip quivers in emotional pain.

The face of a emergency room pediatrician who was in awe of how I had learned to manage my daughters care. His eyes large. Pushing back in his chair, as he shook his head at the complexity and exhaustion he must think I felt. He was right. There was exhaustion. His face lightened when I said she would turn 9 this July. His lips smiled and his cheeks turned pink with happiness.

Its our faces, our human faces that give us away. It's in these moments, these moments of collaboration, of desperation, of living, and even of dying that we learn what it means to be human.

And the world of medicine is filled with all of them. Every emotion, every frown, every smile, every tear, every IV insertion, the human is there.

The human is there when that code is called. That face of the resident doctor who had to call his first time of death. The withdrawn look he has as he looks at the wall clock. Eyes falling deeper into his head, lips in a grimace. His face shows his humanity. His face. Its in the face we see the medicine. Its in the face we see the work.

So I collect these faces. I replay them from time to time. Searching them for visions of what it means to be human.

The world of health care, the world of medicine, is the art of humanity. It is the respecter of life. It is the preservation of life.

I collect these faces.

I am the Face Collector. And I am human.

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