#CareForTheHealers – “Guard Your Spirit”

Taking care of patients in this time is beyond stressful. I’m keeping my eye out for anything that might help support healers of all kinds. This was sent to me today and I found it profoundly helpful. Take 5 minutes to listen to this amazing professor, pastor and friend.

This video was made for the students of Illiff School of Theology by Dr. Cathie Kelsey. Although the specific examples she uses are from the Christian faith, the practice she teaches in this video can use text from any religious tradition, or no religion at all – perhaps a poem, a quote, or an inspiring song?

The Importance of Ritual in the time of #COVID19

If you are a healer (which I think is much better than ‘provider’, right?) you are going to work afraid, and you come home afraid… which is completely normal. Being brave doesn’t mean being fearless, it means doing what is needed despite the fear.

But in this fearful time and with the incredibly important work you are doing, it’s important that your home becomes a sanctuary, a safe place where you can let go of a little of the fear.

Let’s start with banishing #COVID19 from your home.

I know that the chances you have any virus in your house is slim to none, but let’s start with a (literally) clean slate. If you don’t have one of the commercial products known to be effective against COVID19, mix up a dilute Clorox solution (4 tsp bleach in a quart of water). Put it in a spray bottle, use a rag, but clean all the surfaces in your home. Be deliberate, be excessive, be sure that you’ve gotten all the surfaces that you might have touched.

Then the ritual

When you come home from work, the first thing you should see is a sign on the door you enter. It should be a reminder that you are loved, that you are appreciated for your bravery and your work … and that the first thing you should do is wash your hands!

Take off your shoes

If you have on the shoes you wore in the hospital, take them off in the garage before you go into the house. You may want to consider having a pair of shoes you leave at the hospital, but what ever pair is on your feet when you get home, leave them in the garage or at the door.

Wash your hands

Without touching anything in the house, go to the closest sink and wash away the day. 20 seconds. Soap. All the surfaces of your hand.

Turn on some music

Whatever inspires or soothes.

Take a shower

This really isn’t about decontamination, it’s more about ritual. Wash off the day – literally.

I’s important that your home feels safe to you when you come in from doing the hard work of caring for others.  Following this ritual (or your own variation) will help sustain you.

Stay safe friends, and keep looking for joy. #EyesOpen

#EyesOpen

Like you, I’m surrounded and sometimes overwhelmed with the fears and anxieties of the COVID19 pandemic. The world seems so very fragile and vulnerable right now. This morning was tougher than usual for some reason. So…. I got out of my chair, put on my shoes and went for a walk trying to look, with eyes open, for things to sustain me, connect me and provide solace.

Here’s what I heard on my walk …

A virtuoso mockingbird singing to the world (and, I assume, a few cute nearby mockingbirds), six different languages from people walking near me (I love Houston!)… friendly “hellos” from almost everyone I passed (all more than 6 feet away)…

Here’s what I saw on my walk…

A magnificent tree that I had never really noticed before… a family rescuing a caterpillar from the street with a stick… small purple flowers in the grass… kids on bikes… a butterfly garden in a “pocket” prairie…

Here’s what I learned …

Fear is gone when gratitude is present. They can’t be present at the same time.

It’s therapeutic to spend a little time with your #EyesOpen, preferably outside.

If you are a healer, thank you for what you are doing and stay safe. I’ll hold you in the light.

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas….

Did you ever wonder why Christmas is on December 25th? … or why we decorate pine trees if Jesus was born in the Middle East? To make the long story short (while begging forgiveness from my theology professors for the oversimplification), it has to do with the Roman Empire adopting Christianity as the state religion in the 4th century. When the Romans moved to conquer what is now England and Germany, the people they were conquering were more than a little reluctant to give up their celebration of the solstice and their understanding of the wonder of trees…. so the two religions “merged”, allowing these symbols to become part of the Christian tradition.

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And what about the 12 days of Christmas? Christmas (the religious holiday, not the shopping season) starts on December 25th and ends twelve days later on January 6th (Epiphany)… hence 12 days.

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As I thought about the holiday season, and the 12 days of Christmas, I came up with a different idea to celebrate this season… What if we all started a new tradition of donating a small amount to worthy groups for twelve days?  

I’ve listed twelve of my favorite charities below, but feel free to come up with your own. Even if you donate a few dollars to each one, you are celebrating the season of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza and the Solstice in a powerful way.

  1. Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontiers). This amazing group takes medical care into parts of the world where no one else will go. Their entire charter is worth reading, but they live by “observing neutrality and impartiality in the name of universal medical ethics and the right to humanitarian assistance.”
  2. Your local food bank. Whatever preconceived notion you might have about hunger in America is almost surely wrong. So many families, Seniors and disabled folx rely on food banks. Make this year a time to learn more about hunger in America and donate to feed your neighbors.
  3. A local animal shelter. Kindness to animals is the mark of a compassionate heart.
  4. Neighborhood initiatives. Regardless of your own religious background, or lack thereof, mosques, churches, temples, and synagogues seek to help those in need. Find the places of worship in your neighborhood,  look online to see what good works they are doing, and donate to help them. Better yet, take your donation in person to meet your neighbor and thank them for their work.
  5. Donate to help fight discrimination and oppression. There are so many important groups working for justice, a particularly important mission during this time of conflict and division. Consider donating to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Human Rights Campaign, RAICES, Human Rights Watch, the ACLU or other groups focusing on justice for all.
  6. Action Against Hunger.  This group spends 94% of the money they raise in 47 countries to “take decisive action against the causes and effects of hunger.”
  7. The National Alliance to End Homelessness. You can also donate to local shelters for the homeless, or programs like Healthcare for the Homeless in your town or city.
  8. Prevent Child Abuse America. As someone who works with abused children, I would also encourage you to donate to the chaplain program at your local children’s hospital. The chaplains see the specific needs of these children – but more often than not don’t have resources to provide meal vouchers, toys or clothes to help a family during these moments of tragedy and pain.
  9. Consider donating to a group that is working to stop climate change, or other groups that advocate for and protect our natural resources such as the American Bird Conservancy or the Nature Conservancy.
  10. Make sure an isolated senior has a visitor and food by donating to Meals on Wheels.
  11. Time. If you don’t have money to donate, make a commitment to volunteer with a local group to help others. “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.” ~Winston Churchill
  12. I am personally involved with FAM Houston (consider this my COI declaration!), a group that inspires me through their mission of “working for justice by building empowered community among refugees, immigrants, and local Houstonians.” Through building friendships and creating community they show that any light, no matter how small, is a miracle of love. If you are in need of a worthy group for your twelfth day of Christmas donation, please consider them!

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Last minute holiday gifts for busy people in your life

There’s still time!

If you have a medical student, resident, physician or anyone who is super busy in your family, here are few last minute gift ideas for you….

A Letter

I’m starting with this one because even though it’s obvious, we forget the power of stories in our lives to heal and support each other. Consider writing a long letter with stories about how they inspire you, when they decided on their career, funny events, etc.  Stress joy, humor… and gratitude.

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Spotify and/or Pandora without commercials

Many of us study with music, and most of us work (at least sometimes) with music in the background. These two platforms are currently the most used in the hospital. Being able to listen to the music of your choice without commercials is a great gift!

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InstantPot

Of all the cooking appliances and gifts, this one is the best for people who want to eat well but don’t have a lot of time. Even if you have to wrap the “IOU” (i.e. a picture of the InstantPot), it will be a very appreciated gift!

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A clean home

No one likes to clean their home, but all of us need this!  Even if it’s a deep clean every 3 months for a year, this is a great gift for anyone. Although there are professional services you can find, consider contacting local places of worship or non-profit organizations who may know responsible individuals who need the work.

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A subscription to Headspace

This one might seem a little strange, but you’ll have to trust me. For anyone who is “too busy” this is an easy way to really stop – even for 10 minutes a day – and “refuel”. BTW, get yourself a subscription (or at least try the first 10 lessons which are free). You’re welcome 🙂

Link to Andy Puddicombe’s TED talk (the founder of Headspace)

Other ideas for gift certificates

  • A healthy grocery store
  • A smoothie or juice shop
  • Their favorite restaurant(s)
  • Car wash
  • Starbucks (or even better, a local coffee shop near them)
  • Prepared healthy meals from one of the many companies that do this now
  • Membership to the YMCA or a gym near them
  • A new bicycle? (we never get too old to love this!)
  • “Date night” certificates for movies, plays or music and a meal
  • A favorite museum

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Shopping for the Week (and Your Soul)

Whenever I can, I go to our local farmers’ market on Saturday morning to buy food for the week. There is the obvious benefit that the food is organic, healthy and fresh, but there are some other benefits you might not have thought about. First, there is something special about eating with the seasons. Right now is peach season and they are amazing… but they will be gone in a few weeks, to be replaced in the fall and winter with citrus fruits. Secondly, you learn the names of the people who raise your food – and they will recognize you after a few weeks of shopping with them. The farmers’ market becomes a social connection, created through food, that Is sustaining in a different way. Finally, the experience of the market itself is so different from the stress of the work week – bright colors, happy people, music, food trucks, etc.

Now what exactly did I buy? When I get home, I put all of the food out on my kitchen counter and take a photo. The task of taking the photo is just fun for me (I love the colors and how beautiful it looks) but, to be honest, I started doing this so I could remember what I bought. So the next thing I do is make a list from the photo.

First one home starts cooking! I use a program called Paprika 3 to plan the week. It includes a browser to look for recipes, a weekly planner to list when I’m (tentatively) planning to cook each recipe, and a shopping list. Even better, the app is shared with my significant other so we both have all the info.

Link to this website

So, what are we cooking this week? After trying different combos in the browser such as “okra and sweet peppers recipe” or “papalo recipe”, here is what our menu looks like for this week. There is never a week that we follow the menu exactly – and I think that’s really important. This is the destination, but not the journey! We swap evenings, trade lunches for dinners, whatever works for the week. Note also, that since we aren’t on call this weekend, we are cooking a lot on Sunday to have leftovers during the week.

Need anything else? I make a separate shopping list for the missing items in the recipes (if they aren’t in the pantry already) and go to pick them up at a nearby grocery store.

If it’s going to be a busy week, we get ready. Most of cooking is the preparation, right?  When you walk in the door exhausted at 7:30, it’s hard to have enough energy to cook. That magically changes if everything is already cut up and ready to throw in the bowl or pan. We’ll make stock from all the leftover vegetables peels and ends and spend some time cutting things up to have them ready.

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I hope this helps! It’s true for anyone who is busy, but medical students and residents have a particularly hard time finding the time to eat well. Give this plan a try… it will not only give your body the kind of food it craves (and needs)… you’ll be surprised at how it refuels you in other ways, too.

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What Medicine Needs to Know About Social Location

I want to share a concept I recently learned …

But first, a story.

A few days ago I was talking with a male colleague who is a leader in his department.  He is a good friend, so we often talk about a variety of things. He brought up the issue of equity in his department. He told me (and I wasn’t surprised) that he was working hard to make sure that there was salary equity for the women in the group. I asked him if they knew he was doing that.  He responded, after a pause, that only he and his second in command knew.

“You need to tell them.”

He paused and said, “That’s a really good idea. I didn’t think of it.”

So let’s talk about social location.

Each of us has a “social location” that is a composite of our social identities e.g. gender, race, sexual identity, etc.  There is usually a perceived (and totally constructed) “hierarchy” of these social identities. In the United States, at this moment, it’s pretty clear that the “dominant” social location would be: White, Male, Heterosexual, Cis-gendered and Able-bodied (I’m leaving it there without adding other social identities such as immigrant status, age, education… etc. etc.)

Here’s the main point I want to make.  If you are in the “dominant” social location (i.e. White, Male, Heterosexual, Cis-Gendered and/or Able-bodied), you most likely cannot “see” the location of others that are not “dominant”… even though you think there is no way you are less than supportive of people that aren’t like you.

Huh? 

David Foster Wallace probably describes this phenomenon best in his amazing commencement address “This is Water”.

“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

Let me give you some specific examples from the world of medicine…

  • When a Lantinx colleague walks into Grand Rounds and notices they are one of three people of color who are there, their response is probably very different than mine.  Being white is never something I’m aware of when I’m sitting in Grand Rounds.
  • When we, as leaders, only acknowledge Christian holidays on our calendars, and even worse, when we schedule important classes, tests, or events on Yom Kippur, Eid al-Fitr, or Dewali, we are not discriminating intentionally, but we are acting from a place of not “seeing” students and residents who are not Christian.

I think that’s why my friend didn’t realize how important it would be to let the women in his group know that he had their back. I also think it explains the genuine confusion of many leaders in medicine who truly believe they are equitable and fair … and who are then at a complete loss when they learn they somehow “stumbled” into acting in a way that differed from that perception.  

Here’s another wonderful fact. Once you learn about “the water” (i.e. social location) it will change everything…for the better. Because – once you see it you can’t ever go back.

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“Try to learn to let what is unfair teach you.”

David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest