Several months ago, a healthcare organization canceled a speaking engagement with me. They were concerned that my heart condition might keep me from appearing (see Schlagbyte, Sept,2019). I was a bit demoralized thinking my public speaking days were over, however my spirit was resurrected a short time afterwards when I was invited to deliver Grand Rounds at the Emergency Medicine Department at the University of Texas/McGovern Medical School.
Last week I delivered that address, and in the weeks prior to my presentation I had some anxious moments just thinking about it; and on the day I indeed did get a bit short of breath after I was introduced. Breathing heavily and sweating, I held up my hand and said this sometimes happens to me give me just a moment. I wiped my brow, took off my jacket, recovered in 30 seconds and went on uninterruptedly.
Spoke to 100 physicians, faculty, and students about Saving the Lives of Others (and Your Own), and talked about : what it means to be healthy and how to sustain ourselves in this epidemic of physician burnout; vulnerability and growth; the difference between a doctor and a healer; and the importance of being connected to something other than yourself to help you through the hard times.
I always leave time for Q&A before I make my closing remarks and as the universe would have it, the last questioner wanted to know how one encouraged terminally ill patients to come to everyday with joy. It was a great segue into my closing remarks and said…
You saw that I was a bit breathless and diaphoretic when I began because I have a serious cardiomyopathy and anything that triggers an adrenaline rush can take my breath away. I have acknowledged my vulnerability and fears to myself, but it’s been hard for me to acknowledge them publicly. I still see myself as a mellifluous, golden throated orator and have difficulty acknowledging my growing limitations. The ego is a powerful driver and the loss of control has always threatened me (even though I recognize that thinking I had control was always more illusory than real). But if I am talking about living in truth and harmony in mind body and spirit if you’re going to stay healthy, then I can hardly hide mine.
How do you engage patients who are facing terminal illness? You inspire them, spend time at their bedside, tell stories, put on a clown nose, talk about what happened over the weekend, remind them of their aliveness. Patient’s trust, admire and respect you, they look forward to seeing you, and will know you won’t abandon them. You may not cure their bodies, but you can heal their spirit…and remind yourself that the work you do is holy.
I thanked them for giving me this opportunity to share my truth, and when I finished I got a standing ovation; it lifted my spirit, filled my cup with gratitude and reminded me I’m going to keep doing this because it keeps me joyfully engaged in my life while I’m still living it.
Someone came up to me afterwards and offered me another job…count me in.