Finding the Center
September 28, 2021
by Al Weir, MD
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4, ESV).
My clinic morning was surreal. Every oncology patient I saw was doing well. Every cancer was responding to therapy. All felt good. I had never batted 1,000 like this before. And then, one 88-year-old patient (doing very well with his cancer) told me, “My grandson was killed in an accident last week. He was driving home from work, and they think maybe he was stung by a wasp. He’s allergic to wasps.”
Sometimes we as healthcare professionals think we are the center of our patients’ universes. We are not. Our job is to do extremely important things for folks, so that we may get them to the centers of their universe.
For most patients, the center of the universe is family, church, friends, profession or faith. We should be aware of these foci of maximum importance. Not only does such awareness help our patients know that their clinician cares, but understanding these areas of personal significance may alter the way we do our job. What we do needs to be oriented toward each patient’s life goals. Each patient we see gets to choose what he or she lives for. Do we know our patients’ goals in life so we can direct our management properly?
Sometimes the center of everyone’s universe cracks or explodes, as it did for the family of this poor grandfather. Are we aware, aware enough? Are we ready to comfort and adjust our plans to fit their new life circumstances? Are we close enough relationally that we might offer hope in the only Universe Center who will never crack or explode?
Most recently, I have committed to the practice, “Listen one, offer one.” It goes like this: “Let me hear a bit of your life story today, and I will then tell you a bit of mine.” The challenge now is for intentionality to become consistent practice. My goal is to draw close enough to each patient’s center of life that I will always be ready to comfort and to share.
Help me take the time and say the words that illuminate the life goals of those for whom I care.