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.]]