Thank You, My Patients

November Gratitude Shorts, Day 23 (I think they will all be late now…)

Though my formal medical training ended in 2002, my real education has continued in earnest since then.  I spent 7 years in my first practice, 5 years in the second, and I have been in my current situation about 18 months.  I have known thousands of patients in that time, some very closely, as well as their families.  It is perhaps the greatest privilege I can imagine, to be allowed so intimately into the lives of so many.

The best part comes after I have had enough encounters and important conversations to say that I truly know a patient.  When I can predict their responses to diagnoses or preferences for treatment; when I can tell by just looking how they feel physically, emotionally—that is when I know a true relationship is established.  Sometimes it’s built over many years of regular visits.  For others the interval is short, because they are dealing with some acute, distressing event or circumstance.  Coming through serious illness with a person bonds you like nothing else.  Sometimes it’s subtle, too.  You come in for a cold, but you never get sick, this time it got you and brought you down hard.  That’s a chance for me to ask some important questions.  What’s going on in your life today?  I never know what lies on the other side of that question, and it’s a tremendous opportunity for connection.

Or, our initial encounter (or two, or three) leaves me feeling tense and frustrated.  I start making up stories about you that may or may not be true.  The next time, we get to a point in the conversation where we can open up to each other about the relationship, and talk it out, figure out the best way forward.  Maybe we come to some new mutual understanding and everything changes for the better—these are the patients who teach me the most.  Other times we agree to part ways, and that’s okay too.  Not everybody is meant to be together.

Either way, there is no substitute for time and face to face meetings.  Every relationship is a two-way street, and my patients teach me every day about withholding judgment, staying curious, asking for their story, and telling the story that I make up.  They teach me to monitor my assumptions, ask more questions, and explain my rationale clearly.  They hold me accountable for my words and actions, as I hold them, too.

They make me a better person, every one.

My Friend Yakini

November Gratitude Shorts, Day 22 (Late again!)

I give thanks for my friend Yakini.

Yakini ran the home daycare where both of my children spent their first two years. She and her family are our extended family, and boy, are we lucky. Grandma, Yakini, her husband Coffey, and their kids all participated in the care of the babies and toddlers, and all loved them.

In the beginning I called twice a day to check up, because my son had severe food allergies and eczema.  He would wound himself scratching every day after his nap. I had to make mitts that buttoned to his onesie sleeves, that the daycare had to put on and take off every day. One woman who worked at the daycare finally told me, “We take good care of your son.”  I said I know, I just worry. She said, “I know you worry, but you need to get a grip!”

My husband got nervous that the daycare would fire us for my high maintenance nagging. My mouth went dry when Yakini called that night to talk. This is it, I thought, we have to find a new place. But she didn’t fire us. She said she called to validate my behavior. She wanted to know what I needed to be free from worry and trust that my kid would be okay in her care. A sacred contract, she called it. We talked only a few minutes and I never had to check up again. That was over ten years ago.

Since then I have watched Yakini raise her own two children with high expectations, fierce love, and unwavering discipline. She does it all leading by example first. She studies the literature in child development, she knows the science of relationships. And then she puts all that information through her own core values filter, and determines for herself whether the expert opinions apply to her family. And if not, she keeps seeking, stays on the path, follows what she knows to be right, always guided by love first.

She posted a video of President Obama’s 11 ‘blackest moments’ on her Facebook page recently. Yakini and her family are black. And I have always felt her to be a sister. I shared the video and wrote, “Thank you for sharing, Yakini!! I’m not black, have no idea what it means to be black. But I love every one of these moments. I think that means something good.”

I think it simply means that I have had the privilege of knowing an incredible woman from an incredible family, to whom I relate because we share values and ideals about our world. Lucky me.