Moments of grief and beauty

In healthcare, I often quote, that we are privileged to see people at their best and worst of humanity.
We often spend a lot of time and energy expended on patients, but although they, and their medical conditions are very important; sometimes it is really their family and friends who impress upon me the most.

It is painful to see a loved one hurt, especially when there is nothing that you can do that will fix it. Especially when they feel that you are a cause of their pain and distress; that though things might hurt them, you are helping them for the best.

I see it in the father pinning his child down during yet another blood test. A blood test which we have to inform him, reveals no significant findings as to why his beloved little boy is walking ataxic, and less responsive than usual. There will be more tests to come. But he will still be rocking his baby, singing in his ear, whilst the tears run down their eyes.

I see it in the husband, standing patiently by his wife, refusing to remove her from hospital, holding the tissues out for her, just as he holds out his heart. His lips are pressed shut in an effort to stem all the words he wishes he could say; if only she might be able to truly listen. He watches her; curled in her fetal position, admitting to willing her life away. There is hurt when she tells him over honey carrots and pasta; “Wouldn’t your life be better without me?”. We only need see his face; to know; that he could not dream of a life without her; because she is in all his dreams. And the vow echoes through his veins; for better or worse; in sickness and in health; to cherish and love.

These moments of great grief, are beautiful in their own way; that though battered and worn, bruised and burned and tired; the heart still stands, beating out it’s call; that we can be there for those we love; even when it hurts. And that’s why, although medicine can be painfully sad; it is also one of the most beautiful things I have ever known.

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More than just good looking

In case conference this morning, we chuckled over a new patient brought in who decided to post pone her surgery so she could be treated by the doctor she wanted. Whilst this might not seem remarkable, the reason for her choice of surgeon was. He was not more experienced than the others. Neither was it that he was more personable or more successful. She demanded that he be her surgeon because he was better looking than the other surgeons! Despite the advice of others that the surgeon was a shoulder specialist whilst she had an ankle problem, the patient refused to back down.

Whilst we might be amused at the patient’s idiosyncratic behaviour and deem it silly, much of society has become preoccupied with appearances. I know women who starve, shop, primp and pamper to look and feel better about themselves. I know men who have spent long hours in the gym, addicted to the new physique they can achieve from working out just that little bit more.

Trying to look our best is not always wrong, but when we loose focus and perspective, it can be dangerous and deceiving to ourselves. The case isn’t as simple as that we do not appreciate inner beauty and character. It is more that we forget that this inner character is exceedingly more valuable than our outward appearance. It makes my heart ache to hear people comparing themselves to each other, when they feel inadequate or ugly. I look at so many of the people around me and think, “You are so beautiful, if only you could see it!”

One of my favourite psalms is Psalm 139 because it details how David knew how beautiful God thinks we are and the much effort He put into loving and creating us. Psalm 139 vs 13-18 says:
“13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. 17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! 18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you. “

It is good food for thought. Another good bit of thought is this: Have we noticed that the people that we know and love, seem to appear more beautiful to us as we grow to know them more and more? Looks may fade, but true beauty remains and shows through the years. Whilst some of us may pour time and money into the quest for a better outer appearance, have we thought about investing in our inner character and developing who we are?

I’d like to leave you with the words of one of my favourite actresses, Audrey Hepburn, who had much to say about achieving beauty inside and out:
“For attractive lips,
Speak words of kindness.
For lovely eyes,
Seek out the good in people.
For a slim figure,
Share your food with the hungry.
For beautiful hair,
Let a child run his/her fingers through it once a day.
For poise,
Walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone.
People, even more than things,
Have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed,
And redeemed; never throw out anyone.
Remember, if you ever need a helping hand,
You will find one at the end of each of your arms.
As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands;
One for helping yourself, and the other for helping others.”