Earlier this week I was sitting with a dozen very smart and well-trained physicians – all women – and listening to them talk about how they take care of themselves so they can continue to endure the stress and pressure of medical practice. One by one they shared thoughtful methods of self-care: asking their husbands for appreciation and tenderness, sharing their feelings with friends who listened, getting massages, going on mini-vacations with their loved ones, yet no one said that they looked to Medicine itself for inspiration, fulfillment and renewal. No one had even considered it. Yet why not??
No question that the medical system is seriously broken, but Medicine itself is not. Even on the most stressful and pressured of days there are moments in which we can experience something else, moments in which we connect to people on a very intimate level and make a difference to them and they to us. Times when, despite everything, we experience compassion, give and receive love, ease suffering and fear and are profoundly trusted. Instances when the greatness and courage of an ordinary person is suddenly revealed and we know ourselves to be in the presence of a hero. Or we recognize that we ourselves are heroes. No question that these experiences are brief, but they happen daily. And often they are life giving – like taking single breathes of pure oxygen in the middle of a deep-water dive.
There is a deep river of meaning that runs through the work of every health professional. It can sustain us in difficult times. Tapping into it usually requires the capacity to see familiar things in new ways. I like to think it has something to do with bringing your heart into it. The way I was trained John Wayne could have been the Father of Medicine, but there are older wiser ways of being. Perhaps the heart and not the mind is the strongest place from which to live a life and especially a health professional’s life. Several hundred years ago, Maimonides, seeking the strength to live a physician’s life, wrote the following:
“Inspire me with love for all of Thy Creatures. May I see in all who suffer only the fellow human being. “
I think the heart is an organ of vision, a way of seeing. Only the heart can read the deep meaning hidden in the smallest and most ordinary of gestures and events. And only the heart can recognize a fellow human being.
Contemporary Healthcare tends to regard the perspective of the heart as suspect or soft, far too individual to be “evidence based” or even measureable. But the things that we cannot measure are often the very things that sustain our lives. So easy to become blinded by routine, numbed by mindless paperwork and let something meaningful and inspiring pass us by unnoticed. So look for those moments when you catch a glimpse of something that has been present in this work and its relationships for thousands of years, something that connects you to every person and every health professional that has ever lived. Honor these moments of clarity and hold them close. Fill yourself from them. Notice the next time that you and a fellow human being meet in an environment that can only be described as “toxic” and transcend it all in the blink of an eye simply by seeing each other whole and mattering deeply to one another. This work is