Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A different kind of doctor

I'm excited to attend the book launch of The Memory Clinic tomorrow night.

This is the book I referenced in my post yesterday about loving kindness. It's by Dr. Tiffany Chow, a neuroscientist at the Baycrest Rotman Research Institute in Toronto who works closely with people with dementia and their families in The Ross Memory Clinic.

It struck me reading her stories that Dr. Chow is able to be truly present with her patients and their families through their darkest, most vulnerable moments.

She writes about how this ability to sit with people, when there is no remedy to offer, challenges physicians:

"Sometimes we can't just listen, out of aversion to tragedy. Aversion makes us want to turn away from the painful story. Some people who cannot listen with compassion are often reminded, "It's not all about you!!" This is an important point for physicians to remind ourselves, because the way the medical system is structured does revolve around us, especially in Canada where there is a doctor shortage. It does look like it's all about us. The patient waits for an appointment to see us. We went through a lot of training to be repositories for knowledge, and patients come to us with questions. It's easy to romanticize the scenario into families climbing the mountain to reach us and hear our wisdom at the summit. It runs counter to most physicians' worldviews to admit that they don't have a cure or better news."

Earlier she writes: "Sometimes a patient's family doesn't want me to problem solve; that is a distraction from compassionately acknowledging their situation...Stillness can bring kindness and peace to those nearby."

Based on a visit to Alaska where Dr. Chow explored Haida Indian culture, she shares an alternative vision of how doctors can work through their own issues to get to this place:

"In one gorgeous explanation of how a Haida shaman would diagnose a villager's problems, the shaman would paddle her canoe out to the kelp forest, in preparation for a swim to the sea bottom. Once at the bottom, she would request a visit with the Sea-Witch, whose hair, like the longest strands of kelp extending to the ocean's surface, was invariably tangled. The shaman would soothe the Sea-Witch by combing and untangling this impossible hair, and the Sea-Witch, lulled into cooperation, would divulge the reason and cure for the ailment up on land. The lesson was that helping others would require thoughtful observation, journeys of discovery, and an ability to brave unpleasant or downright frightful situations. In a medical context, this can translate to working through the aversive reaction in order to make oneself fully present and available to someone in need."

I think these concepts are equally valuable for rehab professionals working with children with disabilities and their families. Louise


Amazing, refreshing, concept-shattering perspective presented here.