The Doctor, the Nurse, and the Healer

Reflections at Longwood Gardens. Pennsylvania. 2012

Reflections at Longwood Gardens. Pennsylvania. 2012

I was unexpectedly summoned to the hospital last week when my Frenchman was injured in a bicycle accident.

I’m stubborn when it comes to hospitals, viewing them as sterile environments of vast energetic stress and desensitization with only occasional bright beams of hope and healing. Which is both fair and unfair.

Whilst there we were treated to the following stereotype: the Arrogant Doctor. The one who talks down to patients, interrupts them, belittles them, treats them like a thing and not a person (or at the very least like a naughty and not-too-bright child) and who uses big words in an attempt to showcase knowledge. This caricature was so much on display that I almost laughed.

Aye, but I kept a straight face as it was my turn to be Translator and I had to listen keenly in the moment, although everything was a catalogue and display of external knowledge. And I found myself becoming increasingly disturbed on the part of the Frenchman.

It was immensely painful to be in the Doctor’s presence.

That kind of energy affects healing.

As an unwilling doctor of philosophy and ancient languages and cultures, I started thinking about what it means to be a doctor in philological terms.

Doctor is related to the Latin docere, “to learn”. A doctor (again a Latin word) is “a teacher”. Somewhere down the road, the Latin gets all mixed up with Old French and we then get the English meaning of a learned person.

You can bear all the degrees of learning in the world, and not be able to teach.

You can know a thousand medicinal things but not how to heal.

Upon arrival, a Nurse noticed us sitting there stunned and stopped to check on us. Every word out of her mouth was like balm. As she made me a cup of tea, making gentle jests about the amount of sugar, and tended with pure gentleness to my equally shocked Beloved, I sat in awe of accidents and the lessons they usher into our lives. Everything feeling and intuition and internal knowledge.

One word and one wordless act from this Nurse were a thousand times more powerful than one second with the Doctor.

It was immensely pleasurable to be in the Nurse’s presence.

That kind of energy effects healing.

The word healing is apparently related to the Old English verb hælan: “to make whole.”

Compassion is utterly needed in healing as part of the holistic. Your body might mend in the hospital, but your mind or heart might always carry away the impression of being treated as less than a person in already trying circumstances.

The lesson continued throughout the day. Later that afternoon, after carrying a tray of cookies and herbal teas up to the Frenchman, I sat down on the stairs to think and then fell into feeling; it suddenly occurred to me that of the two of us, he’s more like the Nurse, although those accentuations shift back and forth. He just knows better how to think and follow through with his heart and I think too much sometimes with my head.

A union of the Doctor and Nurse types that we had encountered would be a divine balance of external and internal knowing. How do we get both in one person, how do each of us become whole?

We wondered aloud later in the day just what it is that seems to tarnish certain qualities in doctors. I didn’t feel it was merely a matter of fatigue, desensitization, the system, or the various reasons for which a person is drawn to become a doctor.

Of this Doctor and this Nurse, only one of them carried and translated the internal learnedness of healing: compassion.

And yet, can compassion be taught? Is it an art?

I believe this is one reason for the rise of alternative therapies: embedded in touch is something very like kindness and connection, that quality so often missing in modern medicine. Energetic “medicine” offers what we keep losing in our modern lives but which is around us constantly: the basic quality of love.

This musing is certainly not to condemn all doctors nor to praise all nurses, but to invite discussion as to what it means to be a healer, and to ask again what it is about the practice of medicine that leaves so many people half-healed.

[[For a fascinating exploration of empathy from a doctor’s perspective, see A Better NHS.]]

 What is your experience with a Healer or the lack of one? Share below if you feel inclined.

4 thoughts on “The Doctor, the Nurse, and the Healer

  1. Thank you so much for this wonderful article.

    Fortunately, it appears that he is recovering and you have benefitted from the experience by writing about it in your article. Thank you for including me in your distribution of the Art Healing Science. I look forward to future articles!

    BTW, B. taught me long ago, the best way to deal with doctors is to ask them their full name and then only call them by their first name, intentionally keeping the Doctor off. That brings them down to your level. In your case (and mine), if they insist on having you call them doctor, that’s when you insist on them calling you doctor as well. It’s fun to watch their expressions and arrogance change! And so Mother Hen has spoken!

    Love and cheers to you both. Healing thoughts have been traveling across the miles and, hopefully, they have reached him.

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  2. Many thanks, dear Mother Hen! In this case, said Doctor did not even bother to introduce himself. B.’s lesson reminds me how profoundly interesting it is that titles create false boundaries and power dynamics between people.

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  3. I am currently taking classes to become a Nurse Practitioner. My emphasis of study is in holism. The current discussion in class is discussing the difference between “healing” and “curing.” When you treat a disease or a diagnosis you may win or you may loose. When you treat a whole person-mind, body, and spirit- you win regardless of the outcome. As a longstanding critical care nurse I will agree that there are days when its difficult to continue to be compassionate. True compassion comes from a place of empathy that can be emotionally draining. However, when you can really reach out and connect with your patient and their family…that is a beautiful moment.

    Thanks for a lovely post- KN

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    • Thank you for sharing your valuable insight with us, KN. This is especially so because your approach is emphasizing holism and yet you can also candidly admit that some days it truly is difficult to maintain compassion. Like you (and as a HSP), I find that empathy can indeed be draining. At the same time, I am having a fascinating and ongoing disagreement with a French friend of ours who is working with the dying. She does not find compassion draining in the least! Part of my problem in understanding her perspective is a barrier built of language, experience, and personality, and I continue to search avidly for how to balance the extraordinary gift of compassion with wellbeing. All bright wishes for your studies.

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