Healing Moments and Memories

Premier Pulse     September 2018

Belcastro_350x350By Marc Belcastro, DO, chief medical officer, Premier Health Southern Region

There is no denying that the practice of medicine continues to challenge physicians with declining reimbursements, increased regulation, electronic medical records, rapid change, and work force shortages. It is not difficult to find literature on physician burnout, resiliency, and wellness. While we are working on some broader initiatives to address physician well-being and morale, you still have to wake up each day, head to hospitals, and care for patients. How can you find small moments of meaning in your work?

As I pondered this question, I reflected on what helped sustain me after 30 years of neonatal intensive care, where profound joy is often followed the next moment by profound tragedy. I call them healing moments and memories.

In the last month, I received three different messages from previous patients that led to this article. The first was a photograph that came to my phone. The photo was an 8-year-old girl seated on a horse in full equestrian gear. After a few moments, I recalled sitting in the room with her family eight years ago as they held her twin brother in the last few moments of his life. I distinctly remember her father’s sobs. I only sat with them, saying no words. This was a healing moment for them and they have never forgotten the memory of me silently sitting with them.

Next was a notification through messenger, via Facebook. I am not “friends” with this mother on Facebook, however, she saw my name as a friend of a friend. Her message was that 11 and 13 years ago, I was able to reassure them through terrifying times with both of their children who were born prematurely. It is not my medical decisions she recalls, but, in her words, sitting down for a moment and speaking with calm and kindness. I did not recall this family; however, this is the healing moment that she remembers.

The final message came from the family of a young lady who has grown up with tremendous physical challenges. She recently turned 30 and completed a master’s degree program. They also thanked me via Facebook. Their memory was of me encouraging them to stay in the fight despite the challenges they faced as their dreams were altered by NICU complications.

We should never underestimate the power of our words or the power of the absence of words. We should embrace the healing that follows a kind or reassuring word, a hand on the shoulder, or a moment seated beside our patients and families. We may not remember them, but each patient will remember the healing moments and memories we give them. These then become healing moments and memories to ease the negative impact of our daily challenges and struggles. I hope that these small examples help you create a healing moment and memory today. 

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