When I was heading to a retreat held by the physician who started the ideal medical care movement, Dr. Pamela Wible, I expected an orderly and structured program on how to improve the current culture of medicine. I knew, with about 40 physicians and 10 other medical students, there would be a lot of Type A personalities since that’s typically the sort of people that go into medicine. While I did receive the systematic instruction that I had hoped, I learned so much more than I ever expected.
When I got to the hot springs retreat in Oregon, I wasn’t quite sure what I had gotten myself into. It was the complete opposite of what I had expected. Type A personalities seemed like they lived many, many miles away. There were hippies everywhere, clothing was optional and all of the meals were vegetarian. It felt so unlike the conservative pace of the Midwest. The thing that I found the most astounding was the abundance of clean air and the feeling of being one with nature. Having grown up in a small town with frequent trips to the nearby river and opportunities to hike in trails nearby, I felt right at home.
It felt as though I had left all of the hierarchy and protocols that come along with medical education behind. For example, when I had been in therapy, I often felt as though I was talking to a clipboard. While my counselor was great at giving me specific structure on how to proceed with my life, I wondered if following the protocol would really work for me. I went inconsistently to therapy or to talk to another professional about my mental health issues because I felt that it was useless. I was battling regret about my past, anxiety about my future and feeling hopeless in between. The stress of medical school and a failed relationship with someone whom I once thought I would be spending my life with didn’t help. I didn’t want to be on another medication, but I didn’t know how to address the issues I was battling. I felt like I was going to explode.
Having a history of some social anxiety, I never thought that I would befriend an outgoing couple in the middle of nowhere. I entered a hot tub on my last night in Oregon with two people that I initially thought were physicians that were attending the same retreat. I quickly realized that their voices were strange and that they weren’t part of the retreat. I got over my fears and began opening up to them, which was unlike my norm of being guarded with strangers. I told them about my worry of being forced to practice medicine in a way that I wasn’t okay with. I told them fears of becoming someone my parents don’t approve of. I revealed to them some of my biggest regrets and fears.
They owed me nothing, they didn’t even know me before that night. Yet they were kind and sincere to me in a way that I hadn’t experienced in a long while. They calmly listened and gave me advice in a nurturing and encouraging manner. They drew upon their own experiences and related with me. We had a genuine conversation, and I gave them advice on turning their skills into a business to help other people like myself. No one was worried about the time or taking notes. It was one of most therapeutic nights in my life. I have a feeling that I will never forget the guidance and courage they gave me that night.
I definitely never thought that Eli and Dylan would help me gain more insight on things I had been struggling with than the professional I had seen a couple of times in the Midwest. I have made more progress towards a healthy mindset with the advice that I had received from them than the advice I’ve gotten from anyone else. I am nowhere near close to solving all of my mental health issues, but I’m at a better place than I was before. I still have days that I have battles with myself, but I notice that these days are more and more infrequent. For the first time in a while, I feel in control of my life and my future.
Eli and Dylan taught me that you don’t need to have a degree or title to be a healer. They also taught me that those with degrees and titles aren’t necessarily the kind-hearted people we expect to encounter sometimes. It feels far too often that I meet physicians who have lost some humanity from all of the protocols that they have been forced to comply with. I came to find a new perspective on mental health and well-being from two healers that came from backgrounds so unlike my own. They were not following algorithms or protocols in treating patients, they were just being themselves — kind and sincere individuals that genuinely wanted to help others.
I want to thank Eli and Dylan for teaching me that sometimes the best medicine is a genuine conversation. I hope I can find the compassion that you two have and convey it to my future patients. Thank you, guys.
The author is an anonymous medical student who blogs at Naked Medicine.
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