Updated: Mar 7, 2022
In blog article Too Late, I told the story of my business mentor whom I called Angela to protect her privacy. She taught me many enduring lessons which I carry with me to this day.
Any parent of adult children knows that they can’t help but learn the lessons you aren’t explicitly teaching. In other words, from before they have words, our children are hard-wired to be observing and copying us. As they get older, they may become discerning about what they choose to copy or not, but they are still watching us. What we do and how we are in the world.
Any doctor knows that doctors are some of the worst patients out there. For years we have blamed it on the culture of medicine that typically doesn’t value self care or work-life balance, but it’s time that we each take individual responsibility for the choices we make. The good news is that I’m seeing a sea change out there.
My son Ian is currently an intern in Pediatrics, and his program seems to be working hard to create sustainable work habits and environment for its trainees.
We owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to make the most of this precious gift of life we have been given.
For many years as a primary care doctor, I felt so hypocritical telling patients how to eat and exercise. It was like, “Do what I say, not what I do,” for years. And ironically I learned self care not from any medical training, but rather by the example of my integrative medicine colleagues. My TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) colleagues always drank warm water, never iced water. Osteopath colleagues were inevitably fit and naturopathy colleagues mindful of food choices.
Like many of us who work in healthcare, Angela was always putting the needs of others ahead of her own. She knew that her blood pressure ran high, but she always said she would take care of herself after she retired. She looked forward to that early retirement that was her reward for long service with the state institution. But her reward was to last no more than a year.
None of us could have known that Angela was destined for an unusual kind of inflammatory brain condition that paralyzed her and robbed her of speech in the weeks before she eventually succumbed. She had been deferring self care and gratification for decades, meaning to enjoy herself when she had earned a well-deserved rest.
But who can know what the future holds? After all these years as a primary care doctor, I’m convinced that chronic stress is a major contributor to major illness, but unfortunately the warning signs often come too late.
We don’t earn our rest or self care. We deserve it now. We are worthy now, without having to do anything else to earn it. We owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to take care of ourselves, to make the most of this precious gift of life we have been given, and we can only do so with our health intact.