Tag Archives: empathy

Thoughts on an abused child



I have had the amazing opportunity to work at Red Cross Children’s hospital. I’ve learnt some amazing things on child care, but also been so shocked that child abuse seems so common. So often I’ve seen a patient who is neglected, physically or emotionally abused and it breaks my heart.

Paediatrics is something I’m very passionate about, and I’ve been thinking of writing a poem related to child abuse and this ethics course has given me the opportunity to finally do so. The material I read through/used is attached below. I have used one my personal experiences I had with one of my patients.

Thoughts on child abuse:

There is a girl of just 8 years
with tear stains in her eyes
From the shame she can’t hide.
She says, “why doesn’t my mom love me?”
She says, “it’s all my fault”
I try to comfort her,
she whispers to my ear that she wishes I were her mom.
I suspect child abuse,
how I wish I didn’t.
I distract her by playing games;
Games to improve the way her body moves.
Is there more I could do?
I feel helpless sending this girl home
just to be abused again.
I have no proof to give,
If I did I could report it.
Nothing to offer but physical therapy
and the occasional emotional support.

I’m crippled by the fear
that I’ve messed up too badly.
How can my mom love me like this?
My left arm and leg are not working
My body no longer listens to me,
it just sits there, lifeless.
They told me I had a stroke
but why can’t I move?
How can I ever please her again?
I can’t even walk.
I can’t play with my brother.
She doesn’t love me
and it’s all my fault.
I wish this young lady could be my mom
She is the only one who visits me in hospital.
She understands.
She helps me.
I’m scared of the day I have to go home.
My mom hurts me but I won’t ever tell on her.
She would only hurt me more.

I love her
I don’t know how to show her.
I never wanted children
but it was forced upon me,
one dreadful day.
He refused to wear protection.
Why I go back to him every time
I’ll never understand.
I’m afraid I’ll shatter her innocence.
Life is tough,
I do not have a job.
I have three hungry mouths to feed.
The only way to earn
is by selling myself on the street.
Sometimes she makes me mad,
she always wants to play.
I hit her,
sometimes so hard she bleeds.
The word “sorry” never seems to escape my lips.
I speak words of hate
Because I had a bad day.
Nobody understands the pain I go through
just to give her some food.
What if she gets taken away?
Away because of me.
Maybe then she would be loved and cared for.

-Kristin Cameron


Berry L, Biersteker L, Dawes A, Lake L & Smith C. (2013).  South African Child Gauge 2013. Cape Town: Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town.

DHS. (2007). Physicians guide for reporting suspected child abuse and neglect. Retrieved at 11:00 on August 17, 2014 from http://chanceatchildhood.msu.edu/pub.html

Flaherty E, Sege R. (2005). Barriers to physician identification and reporting of child abuse. Paediatric Annals 34 (5): 349-356

DSD, DWCPD and UNICEF. (2012). Violence Against Children in South Africa. Pretoria: Department of Social Development/Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities/UNICEF.

Prato N, Morris L, Mazive E, Vahidnia F, Stehr M. (2006). Relationship between HIV risk perception and condom use: Evidence from a population based survey in Mozambique. International family planning perspectives, 32 (4): 192-200.

StatsSA. (2014). Work & Labour force. Retrieved at 10:00 on August 17, 2014 from http://beta2.statssa.gov.za/?page_id=737&id=1


The art of empathy



What a challenging first week of the course! After reading and watching the content for the first week, I just could not get all my thoughts together, it is difficult to sift through all the different opinions and find your own at times. But I guess this is one of the main objectives, to actually get to engage with the content, think about it and find something meaningful to take out of it. This is what I intend to do. 

Empathy? What is it anyway? 

To my knowledge, empathy is very often confused with sympathy, but there is a big difference between them. This is where it can get complicated… Empathy can be defined as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” It’s something of a personal connection you experience with another, however slight. You can relate to a person because you can put yourself in their shoes and try understand what they really need. This to me, is about emotionally investing yourself with a patient (and I’ll get to that later). 

Now, sympathy is a different concept, and it’s defined as “Acknowledging a person’s emotional and/or physical hardships and providing comfort or reassurance.” This to me, is less helpful and impersonal. You cannot tell a patient that its all going to be okay, when you know that it might not be or much struggle lies ahead for them. But rather empathise with them by being honest about their situation and walking along side them in their struggle. 

I think empathy is essential, not only in my professional life, but in all aspects. I also believe it is an art. You cannot simply learn empathy. You need a desire for it, a desire to let another person just “be” in your presence. It involves work, being uncomfortable and possibly vulnerable (oh no! how dare I say such a scary word). Doing this, developing empathy is one of the greatest and most rewarding things you could ever do, no matter how scary or alien it may seem. That being said, we cannot run away from emotion, especially emotion connected with the patients we see. After all, they are trusting us with the intimacy of touching them, and getting into their personal space. This is often the only intimacy they let into their lives. 

BUT, being empathetic is draining, emotionally and physically and if you’re intending to invest emotionally with every patient you see without any help, you’re bound for self-destruction. It can kill your spirit and even take away your original passion. You see it in young women who go “all out” when it comes to caring for people and they eventually end up hating what they set out to do. You need to find a balance. Somehow. For me, my God sustains me and refreshes me. Without that I cannot have empathy for everybody I come across or I end up with some kind of mediocre empathy mixed with sympathy and a bit of annoyance.

What are your ways of dealing with or developing the art of empathy?