Welcome back to another Wellness Wednesday! I would like to acknowledge and thank readers for the enormous outpouring of sentiment from my last message. It is clear that death and dying are quite emotional topics for many of us, and I am happy to have been able to provide a forum for people to express themselves. This month, I invite you to share your thoughts about this post in the comments section or via email.
Today, I would like to reflect on the following question: Have you ever given something your very best only to find out that your effort was not enough? For example, after putting your heart and soul into creating a delicious meal, spending hours planning and preparing it, you discover that no one likes it. Your family complains that it’s too salty or not salty enough, too spicy or too bland, undercooked or overcooked. After all your hard work, your meal is a total disaster.
That’s what happened when my husband, while we were still dating, first invited me to the parsonage where he lived for a home-cooked meal. He was so nervous that he ended up serving the bluefish he had prepared raw. To add insult to injury, in the middle of what was supposed to be a romantic dinner, his best friend showed up unannounced to “see how things were going.” We laugh at this dinner fiasco years later and thank God there was much more to him than his cooking
While this is a lighthearted story, there are far more serious situations in which diligent preparation and heartfelt anticipation of a positive outcome fail. I am reminded of my cousin who passed last year from throat cancer. She was a vegetarian, a health coach, never smoked and not overweight. When she had the typical signs and symptoms of throat cancer, she ignored them. She thought that there was no way she could have cancer because she had led such a healthy and spiritual life. By the time she came to grips with reality, it was too late, and she suffered greatly before her rapid demise.
I am also reminded of my beloved partner in medicine, Dr. Bozeman, who, too, was healthy and a faithful Christian who had yearly mammograms, only to find out that she had an aggressive breast cancer, which in the end took her life. I am thinking of the hardworking student who applies to college or grad school and does not get in to their first, second, or even third choice. The person who vows to love their beloved in sickness and in health only to find themselves in the middle of a divorce. The athlete who, even after long hours of disciplined practice, is still defeated.
As a physician, my main purpose is to provide both physical and mental care for the patients entrusted to me. I wake up every day praying that I hear what I need to hear, see what I need to see, and do what I need to do to help each patient. I pray before surgery; I pray for the patient and for everyone involved with her care, myself included. But that does not mean that things always turn out well. Some poor outcomes that occur are already acknowledged as a possibility, and others come as a true surprise. Most patients deal with poor outcomes with patience and understanding, but others can let anger and disappointment overwhelm them and they punish the physician through legal action. But what do you do when a medical team has done everything correctly and you are still faced with a negative outcome?
What I do know is that no one is perfect, that we strive for perfection in midst of our imperfection, and that none of us have been promised a life without challenges, pain, or disappointments. But no matter the outcome, all of us must keep giving it the best that we have. Keep leaning in and never lose hope. When we fall down, we get back up, dust off our hands and knees and keep on walking. That is really all that is required of us.
I leave you today with the Serenity Prayer, a helpful reminder to all of us to acknowledge that though challenges are an inevitable part of life, we are equipped to face them with serenity, courage, and wisdom:
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
(prayer attributed to Reinhold Neibuhr, 1892-1971)