A recent email from my physician friend Dr. Ariel Malamud, a Gastroenterologist in a large metropolitan health system resonated powerfully with me, and I wanted to share it with you, with his kind permission.
He begins by describing how moved he was when, during his daughter’s lacrosse game after a player was injured, the members of both teams silently took a knee and focused on the injured player while she was tended to by the medics and referees. He goes on to say,
“…The practice of medicine has an important challenge: the physician must attend to the needs of the sick using acquired knowledge and experience and updated skills without lacking the sensitivity to kneel mentally for the hurt human being…
Many health systems promote this with inspirational conferences once in a while. There is a need to rather make it part of the institutional culture. And in order to accomplish this, an understanding partnership and trust are fundamental elements. The combination of science and art is in the very nature of medicine. It’s not a choice. This is not about producing tons of paper on measurement quality, earning a spot on the national percentile table of honors nor how many pages one’s medical record is or how long one’s waiting list is, it is about clinicians and administrators common effort to care for the sick.”
What a powerful idea – and never more timely. Yes, we should all be more focused on the “care” in healthcare; ready to kneel and honor the fallen and not divert our eyes from their pain. Our mindfulness and focus on the person, even for a moment, allows for a healing space to occur. It’s so easy to lose sight of this simple, essential truth when we’re tasked with so much that’s honestly so much less meaningful. The ever-larger avalanche of paperwork, the ever-smaller margins, the uncertainty that leaders and administrators must cope with daily as the healthcare landscape shifts around us – all of these are powerful distractions from the heart and soul of the work itself.
It takes more than inspirational conferences, framed homilies, or high-flown mission statements to keep the heart of what matters before our eyes. But that reality – our shared humanity, our sense of purpose, our desire to serve and to heal – is what brought us to this work in the first place. Let’s not let the bureaucratic demands, the regulatory quagmire, or the budgeting constraints we have to deal with overwhelm us.
Remember, hospice began on a wing and a prayer; it sprung from all that’s great about how we humans care for and about one another, with a shared respect for the experience of death and a wish to bring comfort to life’s close for those we served. We didn’t set out on that mission looking to win awards or accolades; if we did our jobs they came, but they were never the motivation. Our common experience was; our willingness to “take a knee” and focus unwavering on the humanity of the patient before us.
Let’s not lose sight of what really matters in the pursuit of what’s “important”.
Take a moment; take a knee.
Dr Ariel Malamud and Patti on a hike with the Alembic Institute group outside Santa Fe, NM