Silence. The first act was silence. And he exploded in a river of emotions, of pain that had been bottled up for too long. I like to think it was almost osmosis. Silence invites words, not just to fill the space, but to go beyond – as if they were attracted to not only fill the space in between us, but my space too. In those few minutes of silence, I gathered a deep understanding of the man standing in front of me. A man who had not been given any silence in months in which to pour his emotions. It was a river closed off by a dam – once the dam was broken, the river flowed with energy, but then placated itself and went back to its usual stillness.
Medical students often fear silence. There is a precise list of questions, a method, a sequence we go through in a patient history to specifically avoid that silence. Part of that is due to the time constraints we are often reminded of, that will be part of our professional lives. A precious 10 minutes per patient. And then there are the patients who seize the silence with force, and fill it with rambling words – they scare medical students too, and perhaps more than silence itself. When you can’t use silence, you have to revert to the questions, and the sequence and the method. But how much more superficial will that consultation have been, albeit necessary.
Silence breaks the barriers between us, vanishes the dams, and lets the rivers inside us meet and flow together. Silence is where souls touch.