Last night at my "Healer's Art" seminar, there were two interesting mental exercises that we had.
Everyone was given a blank piece of paper and an envelope and instructed to close your eyes. We were told, "Close your eyes. Now imagine someone either you now, or envision someone as a patient down the road. Pretend that they have passed away and through some miracle, you are able to ask them a few questions. What would you ask them? Write down 2 or 3 questions on the paper. There's no need to share them. Seal the envelope. In the future, you will have a patient under your care or someone you know pass away. Open the envelope at the time and see if those questions still resonate or make sense."
Again, everyone was given a blank piece of paper (no envelope this time). Several faculty physicians shared experiences in their career where western empiricism failed to explain or carry them through a particular event in their career. A surgeon told of his experiences in Haiti. Another told of losing a premature baby in their arms. One told of his first time having to deliver bad news to the parents of a sick child and them helping him out. We were then instructed, "Close your eyes. Envision a time in your life where you were struck by some experience of awe."
While I will not divulge the questions I sealed in the envelope, I will divulge what came to mind about awe-struck moments in my life as they relate to medicine. They are related by events, though somewhat distinct. The first moment that struck me is as follows:
Last Christmas, both my dad and my brother helped me enormously by staining the concrete of my downstairs. I had already ripped out the carpet due to my then ailing pooch who began to lose bodily functions. He was the best dog I've ever had so I didn't mind. Not being employed anymore, though, I also didn't want to be stuck with concrete floors indefinitely since I couldn't afford anything. So my brother and dad came through for me. We stained the concrete, and in addition to paying for the materials, they did the bulk of the labor. We were headed to Whataburger for lunch after working on the floor and I distinctly remember sitting in my dad's truck and telling them, "I'm going to owe y'all a LOT of free healthcare." A little over a year has passed and both of them are now battling cancer. That's just a very striking set of circumstances to me. To further drive the uniqueness of the circumstance home, they both went into a doctor with back pain and came out with cancer. You just can't make stories like that up.
The second moment, though related, is somewhat different:
To this day, I'm still not entirely sure what drove me into medical school. Honest. And med school is not exactly one of those things that people do on a whim. You've got to really want it. But looking back, I can't honestly pinpoint any moment where I thought, "yeah, I'm going to med school." But here I am. It just sorta happened. I don't regret it and I'm glad it happened. I just have no idea where it will lead. But at this moment in time, if nothing else, it's better enabled me to deal with the adversity my family's going through. And that alone makes it worthwhile. And at some level, that knowledge will help to make me a more human physician.