Death is an inevitable part of the journey of life. We all have experienced its effects: the death of a family member, the death of a friend or those special individuals who we might have barely known but who left an indelible mark upon our consciousness of living.
I will share with you a remembrance of someone who was loved very much by all who knew her and who left the greatest imprint on the way I try to live my life. Although my mom passed from this earth now decades ago, there is hardly a day that goes by when some memory of her doesn’t pass through my mind. She spent her life in service to others, first her family, then her friends and then even complete strangers who she felt needed a helping hand or a kind word. She was my best friend and the go-to person for trusted advice. She never sat still for any period of time, always keeping herself busy. At least that was the case until she was diagnosed with end-stage colon cancer in her mid-sixties. Although she was in pain, she never complained and endured what had to be endured. The inner strength, courage, and grace that she lived her final days with inspired all those around her.
The state of health care in today’s world seems at odds with itself. It’s a tug of war between governmental mandates, directives from health insurance companies and the shrinking number of hours in a day to accomplish all that needs to be done. Our doctors are feeling the emotional burden of it all. Those physicians who remain in the profession are doing their best to give the necessary care and attention to their patients, but I feel their hearts are being divided. Healing the sick or healing yourself, what comes first? How can a doctor give his “all” to his patients when his inner core is being eroded away by all the bureaucracy and sense of isolation. To admit help is needed is to somehow admit that you are broken, that you are not adequate. And that is not acceptable.
There is a country creek that flows nearby to my home. Along its banks is a row of tall, sturdy sycamore trees. Whenever I pass by, I admire their stately branches as they reach upward toward the sky. If I listen closely, I can hear words of wisdom coming from the very souls of these ancient trees. Hermann Hesse, in his writing, “Wandering” spoke of his admiration of trees: “For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. In the highest boughs, the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity, but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves.”
I fear many of our doctors have lost hope, have lost their will to strive for positive change for their profession, have lost to a certain extent, their sense of self-identity. Yes, the situation has reached a critical stage, but the situation should not be viewed as hopeless. If one looks around there are glimmers of hope and optimism. Doctors are speaking out and addressing the issues of concern and the “powers that be” are taking notice. It took a period of time for the status of health care to reach this low point, it will take time for it to be healed. But to simply give up, in my mind, is not acceptable, not for you and not for your patients. You do have a choice each and every day you put on your white coat and enter the exam room. Make the decision to “do it your way.” To really see your patients, looking at their faces, listening to their words instead of the cold lifeless computer screen. Ask your patients how you can be of help to them and what is concerning to them. You may be surprised as to the responses you receive and how much more relevant those responses are than the check boxes on the computer screen. Develop a shared feeling of trust and respect between you and your patient in a “clearing” as Dr. Rita Charon frequently describes it. A “safe place” where your patient feels that he may share facets of his life that impinge on his quality of life and health.
I mentioned my mother earlier for a purpose. She was an example of someone who never gave up, even in the face of her impending death. Even now, in my life, I call upon memories of her to get me through the rough patches with strength, dignity, and perseverance. What I would like to ask of you, those who have read this article is to share with us your remembrances of those patients you have come to know and what attributes they possessed that made them unforgettable patients, unforgettable human beings. Those patients who have been your motivating force to get you through your day. Obviously, don’t compromise the identity of anyone.
Lastly, take the time to remember what led you to chose this profession in the first place, the desire to be a “healer,” to make the life of someone else just a bit better. May the Lord bless all of you and give you the courage to keep up the good fight.
Michele Luckenbaugh is a patient.
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