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Monday, August 1, 2011

At the clinic I work at, patients are told to return for a three-week follow-up. I always feel a sense of joy when a patient comes in for her follow-up visit and it’s as though her life has made a 180, a complete turnaround. 

Last week a woman showed up for her follow-up with a big smile on her face and mentioned her boyfriend who had accompanied her to her appointment. She said she and her boyfriend hoped to get more financially stable and then plan to have a kid in the next few years.
This patient had stuck out to me, because she cried through every moment of both her state-mandated counseling appointment and her procedure appointment. I assisted in the room during her procedure and her tears seemed endless.

Call me brash, but I often feel challenged by patients who cry, particularly when their tears seem to be infinite. I am always professional and I try to be supportive and kind. However, I cannot tell a lie: in every capacity I have ever worked in as an abortioneer, I have been challenged by “criers.” I do understand when a woman sheds tears, and I believe women have the right to respond to the choice to have an abortion however they need to. There is a certain harshness in me that is challenged by other people's tears.

I remember being trained at my first job in an abortion clinic. After I took my first phone call, the person training me told me, "Good job, but try to watch how harsh your voice is -- many of the women calling need to hear a supportive voice on the other end of the phone." I'm not sure if it is personality or life experience, but I just don't cry a lot, and when someone else cries I have to make a special effort not to be dismissive, in both my personal and professional life.

The patient who recently showed up to her follow-up appointment beaming had presented this challenge for me. She cried when I told her we did not allow male partners to the back, she cried when she met with the doctor, she cried when she set her appointment. On the day of her abortion she walked in with her boyfriend, sniffling and tearing up. She cried as her boyfriend paid the fee, she cried when I handed her the gown to change into, she cried off and on throughout every moment of both of her appointments.

I know that I treated her just as I treat any other patient and we did the best we could to make her experience as comfortable as possible. And she walked into her follow-up appointment with a smile from ear to ear. She told the receptionist that she was feeling great and she hoped to have a kid with her boyfriend when they were more stable. I was tied up with another patient and didn’t have any interaction with this patient at her follow-up, but I heard the relief and joy in her voice and saw it in her body language.

So often this is the case -- patients come into follow-up appointments with joy and relief written all over their faces. It's part of why I know what I do is sacred.

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