So, to recap the Hope Series thus far, I’d gone from one episode of burnout, to one serendipitous meeting with a professor of hope, to one full-clinic hope retreat. The results: a unanimous vote to become a clinic that provided inspiration, not just information. We’d work to become exemplars of hope, and in so doing, aim to guide our patients to a more optimistic path.
Specifically, we settled on a two-pronged approach. First came another retreat to grow our own understanding of hope’s power as a therapeutic tool. (Both Ronna and the head psychologist from the Hope Foundation, Wendy Edey, served as our teachers.) Then a few of us went one step further, and enrolled in a Hope Foundation course aimed at people in the helping professions.
Next we hired an interior decorator to guide the physical remodelling. As you will see, our office was typical of a family medicine teaching center – institutional, cold, the emphasis on functionality. But with the blessing and financial support of the Caritas Hospitals Foundation, our facility underwent a make-over.
Each exam room, for instance, was decorated around a theme that tied into the attending physician’s hope, and on the door was an explanation about the motif’s personal significance. The walls had additional hope quotations, either painted on or incorporated into the artwork.
The staff redecorated their own workstations, too, often with startling results. We had faux windows that overlooked tropical beaches in the hallway, a wolf-themed room, a corner office decorated with herbs; and probably one of the most exclaimed-over changes: a gorgeous new waiting room with live plants, a fountain, and soothing music.
I do want to emphasize the alterations weren’t just external. At least not for me. Hope became an essential tool in my doctor’s kit, particularly for those patients who were in physical or emotional distress, and who understood the necessity for change in their lives, yet seemed unable to take the next step. Then there were the patients who had already exhausted everything medicine had to give, but who still suffered.
In these cases, if a hope deficiency contributed in any way to their illness – and in most every case it did – I now had something new to contribute. And if they needed more than I could handle, the Hope Foundation provided counselling as required.
The results were astonishing.
For example, I had a patient with chronic pain whose ability to function skyrocketed. As she improved, our relationship shifted dramatically – she, now thrilled to show off her progress; I, no longer feeling the sting of failure. For the first time we were willing partners in her care.
Another patient who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder began to leave the house. After twenty-five years of being a shut-in, folks!
I had a patient cry tears of joy during her first visit with me. Never before, she said, had she experienced a sense of safety inside a doctors’ office. There were babies playing on the floor in our living room, people that chatted and laughed while they waited for their appointments.
Meanwhile, others took note of the changes. We made three local TV stations’ news, were written up in three papers, including The National Post. An article I’d written on hope and caregivers was accepted for publication in a medical journal. It was a wondrous time. It seemed that Christmas arrived and lingered for months.
Then the CEO of our hospital came for a tour and things really got interesting. At his behest, Ronna, Wendy and I presented to the Caritas Board of Directors. The result? The birth of the Caritas Hope Committee, which went on to influence the decor of three local hospitals and the training provided to employees to this day… And so it went.
Amidst all this abundance, came one special visitor. He was a gifted palliative care physician who had earned my admiration during a rough period five years prior, when he consulted on D.L.’s case. She was a young woman in my care who suffered deeply while dying of cancer, and I had been traumatized by that experience. Indeed, I would go so far as to say it was a source of ongoing shame.
I had lumped this doctor into the category of people who must think me incompetent. (Because what other label would apply when you’re the physician responsible for a fellow human being’s care, and they suffer while on your watch?) But because of hope language, because I was ready to take some risks now, he and I finally talked.
You probably know where this is going. Aren’t we all, really, our own worst critic? Yes, he’d been overwhelmed during DL’s case too. Like me, he yearned for something to help the next D.L. to appear on the scene.
I like to think I witnessed the birth of a miracle as I watched his eyes travel over our new carpet, the fresh paint, the smiling faces and brightened eyes. Because do you know what that man went on to do?
He became the director of a palliative care unit. One that does hope research and publishes it in world-renowned medical journals; a place that enshrines the preservation of hope as a task for students and staff alike.
Think about it, guys. This is a teaching facility. In his one small corner of the world, doctors and nurses of the future are judged on their ability to nurture another’s hope and encouraged to keep their own hope flame well-tended.
So if you care to open the PowerPoint presentation below, understand that these grainy photos are merely symbolic. From the blackest personal moments can emerge powerful social change.
And D.L., if by some cosmic trickery you’re able to see this post, please know it was written in your memory. You might have made my life living hell for a while, babe, but it turned out good.
No. I’d venture to say it turned out great.