The Wounded Healer by Brooks Brodrick (The Differential)In Greek myth, Chiron was the wisest of centaurs and had been taught medicine by Apollo and Artemis. He was wounded by an arrow from Hercules’ bow but since he was immortal he was left to suffer excruciating pain for the rest of his life. Chiron became known as a legendary healer in ancient Greece. He fostered the orphaned Esculapius and taught him everything he knew about the healing arts. Esculapius become one of the two founding fathers of western medicine. In 1961, Carl Jung based his archetype of the wounded healer on Chiron. Jung said, “The doctor is effective only when he himself is affected. Only the wounded physician heals.”
Who is the wounded healer? It is a person who has gone through suffering and as a result of that process has become a source of great wisdom, healing power and inspiration for others. The wounded healer actually undergoes a transformation as a result of his suffering, which ultimately leads him along a path of service.
Do I fancy myself a wounded healer? Far from it. Wounded – yes. Healer – No. Some believe medicine is a science and healing is an art. I believe a good physician is a delicate balance of the two: a well educated scientist and an empathetic healer. I am not saying all physicians have to be wounded but I do believe our own struggles and periods of personal suffering are what define our character and thus make us better physicians.
My most memorable period of suffering began as a first year medical student, but it wasn’t until second year that it really became evident something was drastically wrong. I distinctly remember reading about GI for a problem set when I turned the page and inadvertently read about anorexia nervosa. It was then that I realized I met the criteria. Yes, there had been worried comments by friends and concerned looks by relatives at a family reunion, but I managed to quickly brush them off. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the 30 pounds that I had shed over the course of the year left me a fragile skeleton of my former self.
My road to recovery was anything but direct. Even in a college town and working at a nationally renowned hospital, it was hard to find trained eating disorder specialists. And there is the issue that admitting to being anorexic is one thing, but putting in the hard work and effort it takes to recover is another thing. For me it was largely a matter of control, I sought to control food in what seemed like an out of control world. I took a year and half off, gained back the necessary weight, and successfully completed second year with the help of a therapist, nutritionist, and PCP. However, I quickly lost the weight again when no one was monitoring me, and I was catapulted into a two-year battle with anorexia that resulted in two inpatient treatments for a total of 100 days and a 3-day hospital stay for a feeding tube.
Over two years later, I can confidently say anorexia has been the hardest beast I have ever faced, and recovery has transformed me into what I hope one day will be a knowledgeable healer. As I complete my PhD and enter back into 3rd year rotations, I am left to contemplate what I want to specialize in. I am inclined to say Child and Adolescent Psychiatry because Psychiatry has had the most profound influence on my life. I can think of nothing more rewarding than giving back to another suffering soul the pleasure of life that I have since rediscovered.
KHAIRUL ANWAR IBRAHIM