August Book Review!
Ever read a book that changed your priorities?
Warning! My priorities were changed by the ideas and stories of this book. You might find yourself questioning many of your own currently tightly held goals and aspirations. Proceed with caution
As I write this, we are just 6 months short of three years of living in a global pandemic. Is there anything more critical for those of us accountable for our next generation of healers than to empower more connected lives?
That was not exactly my priority as I browsed the shelves at our local bookstore. But when I picked up Together, The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World by Vivek H Murthy, MD and chanced to read a little about a group that was using a rented building to create places for men to gather and build things, I chuckled at the image and thought of a few patients who would benefit from such a program.
I drove away, then stopped and turned back because there were a lot of my patients that would benefit from that type of program- and a lot of my colleagues, learners, friends and family members. If “man sheds” were a therapeutic idea, what other innovative ideas for helping people reconnect might be in that book?
When I drove back to pick up this book, I didn’t realize that it had been written by the 19th Surgeon General of the United States or that his 4-year term had been ended early with the election of Donald Trump or that President Biden has brought him back as the 21St Surgeon General as of March 2021. Not only was I intrigued by this book enough to make a special trip back to get it, but I have continued to be obsessed by Dr. Vivek Muthy’s thoughtful unmasking of the “loneliness pandemic” and the vulnerability and courage of the stories that he shares about people who are working to create more connected lives.
If that feels overwhelming to you, stop reading this and go find the April 2014 AAMC piece by Dr. Davoren Chick and others on the Bio-Psychosocial care of uninsured, homeless, underserved and at-risk populations. Better yet, go watch Dr. Chick’s presentation for the AIAMC Webinar on Education Post-Covid: Virtual Learning, Workforce Needs, and Integration of Healthcare Ethics. This compelling webinar is part of the AIAMC’s 2022 webinar series and its “Lessons Learned from Unexpected Disruptions” track. Dr. Chick reminds us that we are not alone in caring for our most vulnerable patients, that we are part of a team.
Team, ah, that’s right. We practice, teach, and learn as part of a community. At least we used to before the flood of patients raised our high-water marks beyond the usual boundaries of time, effort and medical infrastructure.
Have you noticed that our high-water marks have been changed forever? That the flow of our work is now in different channels. Living in Red Lodge, Montana, a community that recently experienced a “500 year” flood, my thoughts are with the communities in Kentucky who have also been deluged.
While it was concern for my patients and curiosity about that “men’s shed” idea that drew me into the book, that was only the beginning. In some ways, I feel swallowed and made whole again by this amazingly timely book is entitled: Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes-Lonely World.
Take the section on befriending ourselves. When we feel socially isolated, and people do not seem to know us, it is easy to lose ourselves. We, all of us, leaders, healers, patients, learners and educators can become blind to each other’s many talents as well as lose our ability to recognize loneliness as the cause of so much of our suffering. What Dr. Muthy describes as the “fog of loneliness” can be triggered by an abrupt change in environment such as that faced by most of our interns.
· Are we prepared to orientate them positively with the additional support needed for these times of rapid change?
· Are we addressing the negative consequences of ingrained competition including negative self-talk?
· Do we support the residents who know all the clinical trials and ignore the ones who “just make people feel better?”
· How do we teach the residents the importance of caring for themselves, of recognizing fatigue for example, if we have not discovered that we too need to prioritize our own human needs?
Are you making quick judgements about others? Of course, you are. I am also guilty of judging. But we are also too quick to judge ourselves as well. It is only when we learn to befriend ourselves; prioritize self-knowledge, self-compassion, and self-acceptance; incorporate moments of pause for reflection that we can reconnect with our selves. This reconnection to our own selves is critical to reconnecting with others.
Pause My Friend
It is only when the heart relaxes in diastole that the arteries to the heart fill with oxygenated blood, Dr. Muthy reminds us. Pausing sustains the heart.
Warning – This Book May Change Your Life Too!
This brings us back to the warning that started this discussion. While reading and reflecting on Dr Murthy’s key strategies, I found myself reflecting on the importance of spending time with people you love. Because of my work, my husband and I were living 60 miles apart as I work in Billings as DIO and see patients there three days a week while he continued to work and coach track in Red Lodge.
As a direct result of this reflection, we sold the property we had purchased in Billings and now I am able to have coffee with my husband every morning and on nice days we run our dogs in the local forest. At work, we have moved our monthly Office of Medical Education to a local park where we share ideas and coffee and imagine a future where we are able to provide educational opportunities across our rural and underserved area. We have invited all our residents; Medical, Pharmacy; Dental, to our upcoming BBQ and included leaders from across Wyoming and Montana to build our community. And our Internal Medicine Residency together with our amazing new Director of Primary Care has created a Native American Emersion Day where Residents will spend a week learning from our neighbors in our Tribal communities.
I think I will let you go discover the hidden power of the “men’s shed adoption program” and other innovative community building tools in your own solitude. Without distraction or disturbance, check out the book, Together by Vivek H. Murthy.
You have been warned.
Some of Murthy’s Key Strategies
1. Spend time each day with those you love. Devote at least 15 minutes each day to connecting with those you most care about. Focus on each other.
2. Forget about multitasking and give the other person the gift of your full attention, making eye contact, if possible, and genuinely listening.
3. Embrace solitude. The first step toward building stronger connections with others is to build a stronger connection with oneself. Meditation, prayer, art, music, and time spent outdoors can all be sources of solitary comfort and joy.
4. Help and be helped. Service is a form of human connection that reminds us of our value and purpose in life. Checking on a neighbor, seeking advice, even just offering a smile to a stranger six feet away, all can make us stronger.
Virginia “Ginny” Mohl, MD, PhD, is the DIO and Medical Director of Education, Billings Clinic and Co-Chair AIAMC NI VIII on Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion (JEDI)
Chick D, Bigelow A, Seagull FJ, Rye H, Davis P, Williams B. Caring With Compassion, domain 2: bio-psychosocial care of uninsured, homeless, underserved, and at-risk populations. MedEdPORTAL. 2014. https://doi.org/10.15766/mep_2374-8265.9755