Give yourself the same kindness and compassion that you give to others.
“My family says my heart is big enough to hold the whole world, but the cardiologist says my heart is weak and failing,” my patient said with sorrow. “I’m just a speck in the universe, a small particle.” As we hold space for patients to share their illness narrative, they may share insightful wisdom with us.
I asked what his source of strength was. He shared his mantra. “Life is short. Don’t rush, live in the moment as if this is the only moment.” I smiled as I took in these words. He continued, “I’m ready when my time comes and I know once I close my eyes and my soul leaves this body, there will be no more need for milrinone.” He looked at the intravenous medication bag hanging on the medicine pole.
His children, both doctors, were crying in the room. They tried to reason with the cardiologist to increase the dose of milrinone. “There must be something that can be done,” they said.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” the cardiologist calmly responded. “At a dose higher than this, his heart can stop, it can put his heart in arrhythmia.”
“It’s time for me to go. Medicine has its limits, and my body is no longer responding to what science can offer. I just want to be with you and my grandchildren. Please just be my children and not doctors.”
The very next day when my son got sick, I thought about my patient’s words and let my identity of mother surface. I took the day off. I remembered that life is short. I kissed my son’s forehead and tucked him to bed. I decided that I’d make us waffles when he woke up.
When I felt guilty about missing work, I practiced self-compassion. Here’s how I practiced:
Awareness: Be aware of the moment of difficulty. Notice your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations.
Recognize: Recognize that all human beings go through difficulty. Everyone goes through hard times. You are not alone in this experience.
Kindness: Give yourself the kindness and compassion you give to loved ones.
Instead of self-criticism that says, “What’s wrong with me?” self-compassion encourages exploration of the question, “What do I need right now?” I returned to kitchen to warm up the frozen waffles on the skillet. They turned golden and crispy as I brewed myself more coffee. I sat in my day room looking through the glass French doors at the magnolia tree in my front yard. With self-compassion, I took a bite of the crunchy waffle and let the sweetness dissolve in my mouth. I thought about my patient’s words: I am a speck in the universe. With gratitude I acknowledged the joy of being alive.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.