When Faith Appears Like Dew

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Faith steals upon you like dew:
some days you wake and it is there.
And like dew, it gets burned off 
in the rising sun of anxieties,
ambitions, distractions.
~Christian Wiman from My Bright Abyss

 

 

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My faith,
refreshed in the light of morning,
can evaporate in the dry stress of the day.
May I turn my face up
each night, asking to be washed
in the mist of God’s dew,
my anxiety settled like dust.

 

 

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A Bleeding Heart

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Love your neighbor as yourself is part of the great commandment.

The other way to say it is, ‘Love yourself as your neighbor.’ Love yourself not in some egocentric, self-serving sense but love yourself the way you would love your friend in the sense of taking care of yourself, nourishing yourself, trying to understand, comfort, strengthen yourself.

Ministers in particular, people in the caring professions in general, are famous for neglecting their selves with the result that they are apt to become in their own way as helpless and crippled as the people they are trying to care for and thus no longer selves who can be of much use to anybody. 

It means pay mind to your own life, your own health and wholeness, both for your own sake and ultimately for the sake of those you love too. Take care of yourself so you can take care of them.

A bleeding heart is of no help to anybody if it bleeds to death.
~Frederick Buechner from Telling Secrets

 

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We are reminded every time we hear safety instructions on an airplane before a flight takes off: “in the event of a sudden pressure change in the cabin, oxygen masks will appear – remember to put your own on before helping others with their masks.”   

If we aren’t able to breathe ourselves, we won’t last long enough to be of assistance to anyone around us.  Too often,  sacrificing self-care threatens others’ well-being.

A headline appeared in my email from the American Psychiatric Association this morning: “Physicians Experience the Highest Suicide Rate of Any Profession” – there is rampant depression and burn-out among those who should know best how to recognize and respond to the danger signs — for women physicians, nearly 1 out of 5 are afflicted.   Yet the work load only seems to increase, not diminish, the legal and moral responsibility weighs more heavily, and the hours available for sleep and respite shrink.  In forty years of practicing medicine (my father liked to remind me “when are you going to stop ‘practicing’ and actually ‘do’ it?”),  the work has never gotten easier, only harder and heavier.

I see suicidal patients all day and am immensely grateful I’ve never been suicidal, thank God, but anxiety is embedded deep in my DNA from my non-physician fretful farmer ancestors.  Anxiety becomes the fuel and driver of the relentless physician journey on long lonely roads, spurring us to stay awake too many hours and travel too far when we should be closing our eyes and taking a break to breathe, just breathe.

However, we are trained to respond to anxiety from the first day in anatomy class:
“and while you, Miss Polis, are trying to think of the name of that blood vessel, your patient is exsanguinating in front of you– drip, drip, drip….”

Terror-stricken at the thought I was inadequate to the task of saving a life, it took years for me to realize the name of the vessel didn’t bloody matter as long as I knew instinctively to clamp it, compress it, or by the love of the Living God, transfuse my own blood from my bleeding heart into my patient’s.

I learned well those many years ago:

To save a life, I must preserve my own.

 

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Taking a Moment (or a day) to Rest

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As we drown in the overwhelm of modern day health care duties, most physicians I know, including myself, fail to follow their own advice. Far too many of us have become overly tired, irritable and resentful about our work load.  It is difficult to look forward to the dawn of the next work day.

Medical journals and blogs label this as “physician burn-out” but the reality is very few of us are so fried we want to abandon practicing medicine. Instead we are weary of being distracted by irrelevant busy work from what we spent long years training to do: helping people get well, stay well and be well, and when the time comes, die well.

Instead we are busy documenting-documenting-documenting for the benefit of insurance companies and to satisfy state and federal government regulations. Very little of this has anything to do with the well-being of the patient and only serves to lengthen our work days –interminably.

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Today I decided to take a rare mid-week day off at home to consider the advice we physicians all know but don’t always allow ourselves to follow:

1) Sleep. Plenty. Weekend and days-off naps are not only permitted but required. It’s one thing you can’t delegate someone else to do for you. It’s restorative and it’s necessary.

2) Don’t skip meals because you are too busy to chew. Ever. Especially if there is family involved.

3) Drink water throughout the work day.

4) Because of 3) go to the bathroom when it is time to go and not four or even eight hours later.

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5) Nurture the people (and other breathing beings) who love and care for you because you will need them when things get rough.

5) Exercise whenever possible. Take the stairs. Park on the far side of the lot. Dance on the way to the next exam room.

6) Believe in something more infinite than you are as you are absolutely finite and need to remember your limits.

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7) Weep if you need to, even in front of others. Holding it in hurts more.

8) Time off is sacred. When not on call, don’t take calls except from family and friends. No exceptions.

9) Learn how to say no gracefully and gratefully —try “not now but maybe sometime in the future and thanks for thinking of me”.

10) Celebrate being unscheduled and unplanned when not scheduled and planned.

11) Get away. Far away. Whenever possible. The back yard counts.

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12) Connect regularly with people and activities that have absolutely nothing to do with medicine and health care.

13) Cherish co-workers, mentors, coaches and teachers that can help you grow and refine your profession and your person.

14) Start your work day on time. End your work day a little before you think you ought to.

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15) Smile at people who are not expecting it, especially your co-workers. Smile at people who you don’t think warrant it. If you can’t get your lips to smile, smile with your eyes.

16) Take a day off from caring for others to care for yourself.  Even a hug from yourself counts as a hug.

17) Practice gratitude daily. Doctoring is the best work there is anywhere and be blessed by it even on the days you prefer to forget.

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