Blood or Tears

I’ve been negligent (chronically) in remembering to post my Twitter/Instagram comics on the website. … So here’s a comic on the tissue-finding reflex that was trained into some of us doctors in medical school:

In medical school, we were taught to offer tissues when patients started crying. (image shows medical student offering tissue box with caption "BOOM! compassion acheived.")
Many of us continue to have this tissue reflex for years. Image shows doctors scrambling and a social worker asking "What's this obsession with tissues? You'd think someone was spilling gallons of blood!"
Since then, I've begun to pay more attention. Often, I think that the impulse to go get tissues is because of our own discomfort. Most of us are more comfortable with blood than tears. (Image shows a doctor wiping up a puddle of tears.)
What message do we send when we disappear to go get tissues for a patient in distress? (Image shows a doctor saying "Ew. Your Grief is too Messy." Another doctor says "Wow. Awkward. I'm going to look for an excuse to leave the room.")
These days, if tissues are nearby, I may still quietly put them in reach. But more often I'm trying to learn to do the more difficult thing of sitting still and being present. Image shows doctor sitting beside a patient crying.

Nathan A. Gray, MD

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