- When fear and exhaustion are in the air, taking care of our inner state is vital.
- You can change your inner state effectively and safely in one minute.
- Lessons can be learned about self-care in the hectic midst of health care.
It was a Monday morning, and everyone in the hospital was in Monday-morning mode. The ward was full, and six patients were waiting in the emergency unit for admission. Stress levels were running high; we needed to discharge six or eight patients to make space for the new ones. The nurses were all running around busily. The residents were feeling overwhelmed, having to absorb information about new patients they had never met.
Then one of the residents called me to attend to a difficult patient: a small child, very sick. The father was very upset, he did not feel heard, and did not feel that the medical issues of his child were really being acknowledged. They were back in the hospital for the fourth time in three weeks with a series of different issues. He was behaving very aggressively with the nurses, so they called me. “This man needs a senior physician to put him in his place,” said the nurse, “and to set the record straight. We are doing all that we can.”
I remembered my initial calling to be a doctor. I remembered why I was here. I remembered everything that I had learned about love, at home with my family. I asked the nurse to excuse me, as I stepped aside for a moment from the bustle of the hospital. I closed my eyes and deliberately remembered something that had happened the night before: I had come home, opened the door, and my little daughter Naima ran toward me, jumped up into my arms, so happy that I was home from work. “Daddy… ! Daddy…!” She was wearing little leggings with roses printed on them and a little dress on top. Her hair was gathered on each side in plaits, like Pippi Longstocking, and they were flapping like wings as she ran towards me. She raised her arms up for me and yelled, “My best Daddy is home!” She hugged me very firmly, and made deep gurgling sounds, “Hmmmm…hmmmm…hmmm…”
I missed you so much, my best Daddy. You are the best of all Daddies.
I missed you too. You are the best of all Naimas.
You are my favoritest daddy in the whole world.
You are my favoritest Naima in the whole world.
Then there were no words anymore. We were just holding each other, and feeling this love, for several minutes.
I opened my eyes again, in the hospital. It had only taken one or two minutes to activate that feeling. I stepped into the room, which was quite chaotic. The father was in a panic, pacing around. The child looked very uncomfortable, lying awkwardly on the bed. I walked toward the father, very slowly, still carrying the feeling in my chest from this memory. I moved toward him and immediately saw through the layer of worry and aggression to see him as a loving, concerned man, who had understandable worry about his child.
He sensed this immediately. Now he was not being met by an official from the hospital, but by another father, another man who also cherishes his child. His whole behavior changed. He could feel that this was a different kind of energy walking into the room. It took him a couple of minutes to change gears. I saw the exhaustion and loneliness in his eyes. At the beginning, his mind was still running at a million thoughts a minute: This thing is happening…and this thing is happening, and this is happening, and no one is listening to me.
I listened. That is all I did. I did my best to radiate and to send him the love that I had generated in my chest from the memory with my own daughter. Slowly, the speed of his talking slowed down. There were more gaps between the sentences. For five minutes, I didn’t say anything. Then, finally, I simply said, “I can completely understand your concern. I am totally with you. Let’s look at this together, and find a solution. What is it that you need the most right now? What is it that you believe is really going on? What are your greatest fears?”
This young father felt deeply heard and seen, and he was quiet. We sat down together. I suggested that he take his child into his arms as we spoke. His child also became quiet, more comfortable. We didn’t talk about any of the things that he thought the residents or the nurses had done wrong. I just listened to him, and we focused on his needs. Then we made a plan and followed through.
The whole situation had changed, simply by remembering a moment of love and by activating this feeling—by bringing some of the gold dust from my home life into the hospital and carrying that gently in my heart.
If you are a doctor, or a nurse, or if you work with people in any capacity at all, and you wish to bring them the intelligence of your heart as well as the skills you have been trained in, you can easily duplicate this experience. Since that day, the practice has evolved, and I have passed it on to students and colleagues. I’d love to pass it on to you today.
When you find yourself in a highly stressful, rushed environment and you are about to step into a consulting room to work with a patient or client:
Step 1: Just stop for a second and close your eyes. This may seem counterproductive. Prepare to be surprised.
Step 2: Take a deep breath in as you slowly count to four. Then, breathe out for a slow count of eight. This is a powerful ratio to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. One or two of these breaths will do wonders.
Step 3: As you keep breathing in this rhythm, activate the feeling of a cherished memory when you were in a loving exchange with someone, or when you felt a deep connection or oneness with nature. Make this feeling as strong as you can.
Step 4: Open your eyes, step into the consulting room, and see what happens.