Friday: “Fulfilling our Sacred Trust” Or, How to be Spiritually Filled and Drained at the Same Time!
Let me start by saying that over the years, I’ve participated in many conferences, retreats and uber spiritual events designed to inspire and spiritually reinvigorate participants. The good news/bad news stemming from these experiences is that I have developed a high “jaded” bar that an event must clear in order to really get my attention and touch me in a genuine, non-manipulative way. I’m a tough nut to crack. Understanding that back drop and filter, my response to Friday’s program was even more remarkable. Simply put, I was blown away by Friday morning’s team of presenters, first a pairing of Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen and Dr. Kristen Swanson, and then by Marcus Engel, a man who almost lost his life, went through years of hospitalizations and procedures and has come through it to be a voice of the patient for all of us.
Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen and Dr. Kristen Swanson: A Spiritual Dream Team
“What if I’m exactly what is needed at this time?” That was the central, transformative question posed by Dr. Remen, who suggested we ask that of ourselves as we enter a patient’s room, anticipate a difficult meeting, prepare for a procedure, or brace ourselves for a challenging situation. What would our attitude and approach be if we knew that we were exactly what was called for in that situation? Dr. Remen’s story of the new nurse standing in frozen terror in the corner of a patient’s room as his heart flat lined and doctors and nurses frantically worked to restart his heart; her feelings of failure and her subsequent return to the revived patient’s room the next day, her last visit before she was determined to quit nursing; their simple conversation in which he told her that through her raw, heart-felt caring, she “held” him in the room and tethered him to this life as he hovered above the scene. It simply set my heart on fire and still brings tears to my eyes in the retelling and remembering.
Dr. Remen’s stories and quotes were strung together like precious gems, each one with a brilliance, a unique sparkle that when looked at as a whole necklace was almost blinding in its beauty. Here are a few quotes that touched me…
“Reclaiming our relationship is central to our work. Healing is the recovery of the heart, soul, meaning and gratitude.”
“Our real power to make a change is in our own wholeness. We heal with our wholeness.”
“Being a human being is not being unprofessional. Our own wounds make us compassionate. Because we are all wounded, no wounded person should feel ashamed. “
“As a doctor, I was trained to see the world, the patient as broken. My job was to fix them. I’ve gone back to an older way of seeing the world and that has to do with relationship. ‘Tikkun Olam’ is a Jewish concept of healing the world. It states that all of us are healers, able to heal the world and be of service.”
“Simple gestures affect others profoundly.” (This was illustrated by Dr. Remen’s story of the physician who had treated her father and known him for many years. Upon her father’s passing away, this doctor had written a letter to her mother stating how much Dr. Remen’s father had loved his wife and daughter and what an exemplary physician he had been. Dr. Remen had found this lovingly tattered letter in her mother’s purse, which her mother had carried with her for eight years following her father’s death.)
“All life needs is for you to care for it day by day by day. The ways we do this is very old and hasn’t changed.”
“Our work is a work of service, a special kind of love.”
Dr. Kristin Swanson, RN, PhD, FAAN, an icon and leader in our field, followed with the perfect counterpoint to Dr. Remen’s talk with a discussion of “Human Health Ecology.” Her message of Organizational Mindfulness and Servant Leadership was reinforced by a story of nurses who went to Iraq thinking they were going to care for U.S. soldiers and ended up treating prisoners. “Their competence gave them a job; their compassion gave them a meaning.”
Dr. Swanson defined caring and healing as believing in another person and their capacity to come through a challenging experience. Following both presentations, Dr. Remen and Dr. Swanson fed back their impressions of one another’s talks; an innovative, “real time” way to generate discussion and develop thoughts following what is normally a one-sided delivery of information. This was followed by a long line of people from the audience wishing to share their reactions and stories. Some of the gems that came from this dialogue were:
“Bring your gifts to where they are used best.”
(Dr. Remen) “I took much criticism as a young doctor for not maintaining this distance, not having the detachment that I was told I needed to have clear vision and decision making. I found that it takes a tremendous amount of courage simply to love.”
“Of the 2,000 students who’ve taken our medical education program (run by Dr. Remen), the most important thing they learned was that they are enough.”
Marcus Engel: Transforming Tragedy into Meaning
Marcus Engel suffered a life-altering, almost life-ending tragedy when he was an unwitting passenger in a drunk driving auto accident. As a young man in his late teens, early 20s, Marcus had to learn how to live without the use of his sight, and with the many transfiguring surgeries required to rebuild his face where every bone had been broken or crushed. He was able to combine wit with tragedy and morph both into an amazingly powerful series of lessons relevant to all of us as health care providers and as human beings. Here are some quotes to give you a flavor for his talk:
“Sometimes your patients have no place to put their anger but on you.”
“Everybody has a backstory and deserves a little piece of grace.”
“Complimenting your coworkers (eg other nurses, health care providers) in front of patients has a huge impact on building a patient’s confidence in their caregivers.”
“I’m here are the two most comforting words a health care professional can say to a patient.”
Yes, Friday was the perfect soul-filling capstone of this 3-1/2 day symposium; balancing heart with learning, deepening insights from posters, new friends and familiar colleagues, and reinvigorating our commitment to practice relationship-based care. I don’t think I was the only one who left walking on air….
Co-author and Publisher,
Healing with Heart: Inspirations for Health Care Professionals
WINNER: American Journal of Nursing 2008 Book of the Year Award in the Leadership and Management category