So, if we are to improve today’s medicine, what does that look like in the day-to-day world, and how can we make it happen easily and spontaneously?
Well, the first thing is: Doctor, heal Thyself!
If you are burned out and in need of solace, there is no way you can comfort and be fully present with your patients.
You will have one ear to the patient and the other ear to the ground, listening to see if the hoof beats you hear are horses or zebras.
In a world where there is no time and no room for rest and self care for the one who is giving care, I say, “Yes! You simply must put yourself first.”
Your self-care should come before your family, your patients, your household duties, and volunteer work.
If you show up to any of these places with your cup half-full, you can only provide half of the spirit that the Universe, Source, God intends you to bring to the table every moment of every day.
As doctors, we are not accustomed to allowing ourselves to set our desires and our intentions above the rest.
But think of it this way: Let’s say you were in charge of an open-air fresh food market. Each day, you took pride in providing the members of the community their daily nutrients.
Would you just stock up Monday morning and hope the overripe bananas and the mushy tomatoes continue to supply the proper amount of nourishment by the time Wednesday and Thursday came around?
Would you accept stale bread on your shelves several days in a row?
Is this how you would serve your community, your family?
I don’t think so.
Instead, on Tuesday evening, you would sort and replenish the bins.
You would bake fresh cookies.
You would pluck the overripe bananas out of the display, and add to the peaches with newer, fresher fruit.
You would trim the wilted leaves off the fresh flowers and add clean water to the vases, with perhaps a pinch of sugar to nourish the flowers.
Each morning, you would survey your lot and bring forth the best that you had to offer.
Then, you would do it again the next day. And the next.
Of course you would!
So, how can you justify presenting yourself to your patients when you’ve neglected your basic self-care needs?
Why is it that we, as caregivers to the nth degree, feel it is reasonable and, in fact, desirable, to push down our needs, our feelings, our inner desires, as we push forward to help others?
And, how can our practice partners, our hospitals, our insurance companies and our government expect us to ignore our needs?
Do you hear your accountant complaining about getting a call at 2 a.m. from a worried client about their taxes? (OK, we may all be tempted to call our accountant at that hour of the day but would you really do so – – and, would they speak to you coherently with a solution?).
Do you hear your banker mention that they missed their 12-year-old daughter’s violin recital because a customer bounced a check?
Do you see your architect with puffy eyes and rumpled clothing at a morning meeting because he had to run by the construction site in the middle of the night to draw up a plan for a new building?
No. Regular people in the regular world know that the clock stops at 5 p.m. on Friday. Or at least by 6 p.m.
Regular people in the regular world know that silly questions or even serious questions should be held until the usual working hours.
Regular people in the regular world know that to get ready for Monday morning, a weekend is needed that includes not only grocery shopping, laundry, and errands, but replenishing the well of humanity that we are given each day.
Regular people never rush to the emergency room to remove a patient’s ruptured appendix.
They are not called to step up at any given hour and take charge of life or death situations.
That honor and privilege, while often intrusive and inconvenient, is offered solely to caregivers of the highest order.
Yes, our job is bigger. We are held accountable for hearts beating, for eyes seeing, for lungs breathing, for ears hearing.
We are held accountable for minds to be calmed, for tummies to be soothed, for skin to be smooth.
This is a precious, precious gift we have been given.
Sure, sometimes, many times, it doesn’t seem like a gift. It seems like a burden. It seems like this gift is interfering with our day.
But, hit that pause button for a minute. Consider for a moment when you feel most put upon, unappreciated, and exhausted?
For me, it is when I am at the end of my very short rope. When I have not spoken to my husband for more than five minutes in the last week. When my gas tank is near empty and there is nothing edible in my refrigerator and I am eating a frozen dinner heated in the microwave after I vowed I would take better care of myself, again.
Who is to blame for my short rope and neglected self-care? My patients? My partners? The insurance companies? The government?
I don’t think so.
I am the responsible party.
I must take ownership and responsibility for all of it. I am the one who ultimately decides what I am going to do, each hour, each day, each week.
And that is where it starts – – and stops.
We doctors need to acknowledge this, and support each other in creating easier, doable plans to start with one.
Start with yourself.
Start with one deep breath in and another deep breath out.
Start with saying No to over committing, over planning and over doing.
Start with Yes to your own unique needs and desires.
Start with Yes to serving yourself first.
Start honoring yourself first, so that you can be present without fatigue, resentment, or anger.
This is a lesson that every single person on the planet needs to learn, not just physicians.
We need to set the example. We are the teachers. We are the ones to make it happen.
And how can we teach it if we are not doing it ourselves?