Physicians: Listen to voices of the past. And learn.

I’ve noticed as I get older, life seems to travel full circle no matter your path or destination.  I find myself trying to teach my son Grant things that my father attempted to teach me not so long ago.  “Don’t do that, you’ll fall and hurt yourself.”  Or, “Try it this way and the process will be much easier.”  There is that brief moment of acknowledgment often followed by scraped knees or spilled paint.  I think back to my own bullheaded nature as a child with similar events that I could only learn through trial and error, not listening to wisdom from my father.

A really smart guy once said that history is destined to repeat itself.  I grasped this concept long ago, studying great people and civilizations, trying to learn from their triumphs and failures in order to be a better, man, father, and contributor to society.  The one pattern I’ve grown to appreciate is that we often repeat the same mistakes of past generations time and time again.  Isn’t this the definition of insanity?  “Insanity-doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different outcome.”  We often learn the answers, the secrets, through trial and error; later reflecting, “I remember reading about this, or my father saying that.”

I’ve come to the conclusion that some of the most crucial lessons in life, no matter how obvious or repeated through history must be learned firsthand through sweat and tears.  Is there not a middle ground where our innate nature to “explore and prove” collides with our self-awareness and historical lessons of the past, to create a better process, or evolving answer to the problem at hand?  Will Grant have that moment where he says, “Last time I didn’t listen to Dad, I fell and hurt my knee … Hey, this old dude may have a point.”  At the age of 35, I find myself having a lot of those moments related to past advice.

As an emergency provider in a robust East Texas ED, I have been both an avid participant and active observer of patient care at its best.  Heroic care and quiet sacrifice have become part of the daily ritual of our outstanding ED staff.    I’m amazed daily by the level of compassion and servanthood that I see exhibited by our frontline warriors of emergent care.   These guys are on a constant roller coaster of emotional and physical demands that actively confront the forces of life and death multiple times throughout the day.

I’ve often asked myself what motivates someone to join the profession; better yet, what fuels someone to be able to sustain this journey?   I guess you could say I had one of those “ah-ha moments” where voices of the past collided with present experiences, screaming the obvious.  Compassionate care is at it’s best when selflessly focused on helping others, whether being an ill patient or a burdened co-worker.  It’s that feeling that you have after helping the child or WW2 vet that stays with you long after the shift is over that makes this profession worthwhile.  It’s the feeling of teamwork or accomplishment you have after rolling up your sleeves and helping a co-worker when needed most.  This feeling supersedes any unpleasant interaction of ungrateful encounter.  Here lies the collision of echoing voices saying, “it’s better to give than receive,” and selfless patient care that has a priceless reward.

Whatever your path may be on the journey of life, I encourage you to listen to voices of the past while actively pursuing collisions of the present.  Selfless acts of servanthood will bring rewards that will last forever.

Jeffrey McWilliams is an emergency physician who blogs at Advocates Of Excellence.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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