Thursday, January 15, 2009

Keeping the Heart Open

Today I received the pathology report on a woman diagnosed with a particularly aggressive variety of breast cancer. When I called her, she didn't cry or fuss or any of the things I would have done. She thanked me for the pain relievers I'd given her earlier today and said she was just glad to know what was happening to her. After we finished speaking I went to the office of a colleague, a woman with many more years of experience than me who had helped me with the case. I sat down and cried.

I suppose after enough time in medicine this sort of thing will stop being so painful. But I hope that I don't stop feeling. Pema Chodron's book "The Places That Scare You" says that its easy to shut our hearts down in the face of discomfort (dis-ease), become hardened and cut off from the source of love. The more difficult path, and more rewarding, is to sit with dis-ease, observe it, and allow it to move through us and past us on its own. She talks about the boddhichittra, having a tender place like an open wound where compassion originates. Gratitude for the experience.

I'm grateful that most of my work is not so emotionally wrenching. It's wonderful to live in a state, for all its shortcomings, that provides healthcare for women with cancer. I'm happy that my patient still has options. I'm grateful for the support of my colleagues and for the grace with which my patient is moving forward.

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