Friday, May 17, 2013

Two humbling experiences

I have been very humbled by two experiences I have had in the last month or so, one as I left China, and the other on my return.  Both are heart-warming reminders to me of how fortunate I am to do what I do. 

My Chinese experience came on the last day of my stay in Nanning.  My host, Liu Lihong, wanted to find out how each of the 60 students who had attended our two weeks of seminars had found them.  So we asked each one in turn to tell us.  What astounded me, and I hope pleased Liu Lihong, was the group’s unanimous expression of overwhelming delight in what they had learnt and how amazed they were at the compassion and understanding we showed the many patients whose treatments they observed.  This was a facet of practice apparently totally new to them, and opened a fresh window for them onto the importance of developing a warm patient/practitioner relationship.   

My other example, from the other side of the world here in London, illustrates just this important aspect of our practice.  It comes in an email from the practitioner who has been telling me of her experience in treating a terminally ill cancer patient over the last few months of his life, and how profound an effect this has had on her (see my two previous blogs on 27 Feb and 25 March).

Although she was sad to have to report her patient’s death, she sees her time with him in the most positive light.  With her permission, I give below her description of what the experience has meant to her:

The past months since his diagnosis in January this year have been a real roller coaster for him, both physically and emotionally. Things took a dramatic turn for the worse last Wednesday and I feel so relieved that his suffering and strife were not prolonged further and that he is now truly at peace.

I feel very privileged to have been invited into this person's life. His very obvious Wood CF was very refreshing to me, though not without its challenges to his nearest and dearest.  His thirst for information about his treatments and acupuncture as a whole was a delight and not at all threatening to me - he was extremely open to the whole Chinese medicine ethos and it could be said that he was rather unorthodox in his beliefs and actions, and extremely proud of the fact he was too!

His openness, honesty and need for straight talking could have easily come across as slightly abrasive, but for me it made the whole subject of cancer and death very accessible. At a time when some would feel the need to avoid or skirt around what is a very difficult subject, I felt able to talk candidly to him without fear of overstepping the mark or holding back, in order to say what needed to be said.

You have often said, Nora, how you learn so much from your patients. My relationship with this patient has been a very emotional, memorable and powerful lesson - but most of all, very humbling indeed.”

As with my patient Martine, about whom I wrote in the last chapter of my Pattern of Things, experiences such as those this practitioner had to learn to deal with touch us at the deepest level.  They leave us much changed, and by this change open us up to greater understanding of the needs of our patients. 

Both these experiences, from different parts of the world, remind me once again of the common thread which runs through all of us.  Whatever tribe, race, country or continent we come from, the five great fingers of the elements hold each of us in their grasp, shaping the deepest aspects of ourselves and giving us a common humanity.

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