Prof Dr Jan Bonhoeffer
6 min readJul 8, 2020
  • **TRIGGER WARNING This article contains references to violence and other content many people may find disturbing. If you think you may find the kind of content disturbing, you might consider leaving this page. Please always take good care of yourself.

As a doctor, I can write down symptoms, I can prescribe tests and medicines. But what matters to me most is when I’m given the opportunity to meet pain, to address pain, and to allow pain to melt into love. My commitment as a physician is to show up as that love, deeply enough that it can allow pain to be transformed.

Oh, the pain I have seen.

I met a man who had survived the atrocities in Syria. He spoke of the kaleidoscope of trauma his family, his friends, and he himself had endured. I found found myself standing helplessly at the threshold of the world he has known: an endless flood of images of violence and suffering.

I was overtaken with a sadness that has no name, a deep nausea.

Oh, the pain I have seen. How can we bear it?

For many years I worked as a paramedic, sometimes the first to arrive at the scene when someone had been shot in the street.

We were called once to a house where a gun had gone off during a domestic dispute. The victim’s brains were splattered across the wall, like spaghetti. That was someone’s child, someone’s brother, someone’s father.

The pain I have seen. How can we open ourselves to it?

I had a Croatian patient who came to see me, who had been tortured in the war there. He walked bent over, with great difficulty. When he took off his shirt, I saw the deep scars, burns made with electricity. His bones had been fractured so frequently that his rib cage no longer had its original shape. He had difficulty breathing.

The pain I have seen. How can we contain our rage?

I can hardly allow myself to remember the little girl who came into St. George’s…



Prof Dr Jan Bonhoeffer

There’s never been a better time to revise our understanding of health and our role as caregivers.