The power of love in medicine
Updated: Mar 16, 2020
I work as an eye surgeon and every day I bear witness to the power of love.
I see it in the man who came in for routine cataract surgery, very overweight and with uncontrolled diabetes, and who came back for his check-up a year later 20 kg lighter, with sugars that were steadily controlled on medication, and beaming with joy.
I see it in the woman who had blepharoplasty surgery after a bad relationship breakup, and the sadness literally lifted off her with the surgery.
I see it in the woman who came in with a serious life-threatening illness that I picked up who came back a few months later to thank me for saving her life. She had stopped drinking, stopped smoking, had her hair cut nicely, was dressed well and looked ten years younger.
I see it in the people whose ‘degenerative’ conditions don’t degenerate, year after year after year, so that the old saying “you are going to need it done, sooner or later” does not always apply here.
I live and work in a small community and am blessed to have known some of my patients for nearly 20 years, not just as patients, but as fellow members of my community, as friends. Sometimes I care for whole families, and am privy to the joys and sorrows of their lives.
Every day I see miracles, and some of these are inspired by my living way – the way I choose to conduct myself, to live my life. For these people also see me.
They too have watched me for years, have witnessed the changes I have made in my way of life, have watched me lose weight and keep it off as I let go of excess eating and drinking and made more loving choices for myself. I look younger and lighter every year, and more and more joyful, and they notice the steady loving consistency I bring to work and that I am the same person, whether they see me at work, in the supermarket, or at the beach.
They notice that I do not judge them, that I am open to them, that I treat them as an equal, that I care about them, that I take time with them and give them space to come to understandings in their own time, that I speak to them in everyday English, that I empower them to care for their own health with my support. They tell me that they love me and they mean it. They know that I love them.
Yes, I love my patients. Unashamedly so. They are all dear to me and I treat them as I would treat members of my own family. For that is how I see them. That is how I see us all. This also means that I don’t hold back in speaking the truth if it needs to be said, and although confronting for people at times, it is said with such a deep care that they know that it is true. I have brought this understanding to my family, and I bring it to my patients too. For this is what love is – being ourselves in full, opening up to people and to life, not holding back the truth when it is there to be said and lived, treating every one as equals, and every part of life as equal.
And so living in this way, everyday miracles occur.
We do not always realise what a difference we make to people’s lives.
We have the power to shut people down, to make them feel small and stupid, to feel that they don’t know their own bodies, and don’t have the intelligence to make decision that affect their health and wellbeing. We have the power to patronise them, demean them, and dishearten them.
This has been the experience of many people at the hands of medical professionals, and their experience of the medical system.
We also have the power to inspire people, to arise them, to support them, to help them heal the hurts they have suffered at the hands of our colleagues and our systems, by showing them a different way, a way that is our natural way to be.
We can be ourselves and bring all of us to what we do – we can open ourselves up to our patients, feel the fact that they are our equals as people, and that we who hold the knowledge of their bodies can support them to understand their bodies for themselves, to reconnect to the wisdom that lives inside them, to know what feels true for them and to make truly intelligent choices about their health care and their lives. We can help them to understand illness and disease as it applies to them personally, but to do this, we need to know them as people first, and then as patients.
Much more important that what we say is the way we are with people, for we feel much more than what we hear and see. We cannot fool people with fancy words if our heart is not in them. It is so important to be honest and sincere, to say we don’t know if we don’t, to get a second opinion if needed, to take time and make space to explain things simply and clearly, to simply care and offer the service we would want to receive for ourselves, and to make that service personal, tailoring it to that person and where they are at, at that point in time.
Don’t get me wrong, what we do matters, but just by being us, miracles can occur, for who we are matters so much more than what we do.