I went home. I flew in and out of Boston on my way to and from a
wedding in the Adirondack Park in northern New York. My parents
have 2 more weeks to pack before they move out of my childhood
home, a place they have lived for the past 30 years. While the home
itself is large and lovely, it is really the neighbors that make
that place home.
On Sunday night we had our neighborhood grandmother, Mrs. Chris,
over for apple pie to celebrate her 80-something birthday. She
brought the remainder of a box of chocolates to share and when I
asked if she had eaten the others for lunch, she giggled and
The Hartnetts, our other neighbors, also came over to sing happy
birthday and share dessert. You have to understand that all of this
transpired over the course of about 15 minutes; my parents realized
they had a pie to eat, Mrs. Chris popped her head in the door on
her evening walk, I called my best friend Annie (living momentarily
with her parents next door while she and her boyfriend wait for
their new apartment to be ready), and within 5 minutes she and her
family had walked the 100 yards from their front door to ours. And
we had a little party!
After pie, Annie's boyfriend Drew helped my brother with his
statistics homework, while Annie and I tried to come up with the
perfect caption for the photo of Mrs. Chris and the birthday
sparkler in her piece of pie.
This is the community I come from. It explains the high
expectations I have for Home, wherever that place turns out to be.
I know that Chicago is not my true Home, but while I am here, the
NUHS community is serving and supporting me better than I ever
imagined it would. I chat with my professors in the hallway and I
see them at our botanical garden, on the train, and walking around
campus. There is an online community too, on Facebook pages, where
my fellow students and our professors post links to relevant
articles and information about upcoming seminars, workshops,
presentations and club meetings.
The recent improvements on campus at the library and the ongoing
work in Janse are providing us with more places to congregate
during downtime and create community on campus. You might think
that 28 credits and all the work that goes into keeping current in
all those classes would leave us little time to engage with our
community, but it seems that all that work actually brings us
together. We commiserate, we struggle together, and we experience
success together. We are a small community of hard workers with
similar goals and morals when it comes to healthcare. Some of us
come from different states, some of us love Chicagoland, and some
of us feel lost in this expansive city, but no matter your
perspective on this place as Home, the NUHS community certainly
offers a supportive community if you are willing to engage.
OK readers, I did it! I decided. My parents were a reliable
sounding board in a conversation last week and while I trust my own
intuition and will follow it even in the face of resistance, being
reassured with parental support really sealed the deal. I plan to
start the massage program in September!
Trusting intuition is something we address in class from the
very first trimester. Mostly, we have these discussions in our
naturopathic theory classes, although this week in Homeopathy 1 we
started a topic on How To Take the Case, which is inseparable from
learning about becoming a true healer. "Taking the case" means
listening to our patients without any preconceptions; it means
forgetting ourselves, and dissolving the boundary between the self
and the world so as to note every important detail.
In discussing both homeopathic and naturopathic theory, our
professors have talked about mirror neurons, a term that defines how empathy
is evidenced in brain scans; the listener's brain lights up in
exactly the same places as the storyteller's brain does. Our goal
as doctors is to use our mirror neurons.
One of my peers asked about how, on the one hand, we dissolve
the boundary between ourselves and our patients' stories of
suffering, and on the other, maintain our own sanity and refrain
from shouldering the burdens of every sick patient that walks
through our doors.
It is a good question. How many mirror neurons can we afford to
use? Turns out, the answer is different for every doc. Of course we
knew that, everyone (every case, every patient) is different, after
One professor told us that he sits behind a desk, with the
patient opposite him; this provides a physical boundary to remind
him. Another professor spoke on how her spirituality and the
healing cannot be separated. Her spiritual practice involves
dissolving boundaries and finding compassion for every single
During several of these class discussions our professors have
sited an author named Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, a doctor known for
her work teaching other physicians how to heal from the heart. On
her blog, Remembering Your Power to Heal, Remen writes of
physicians: "Our habitual way of seeing things and even our
expertise can blind us to the meaning of even the simplest of our
daily interactions and relationships." This tendency towards
blindness is an obstacle to cultivating the healer in us, and comes
at least in part, from our training. One of Dr. Remen's tools for
learning to see through "new" eyes is to keep a "heart journal" in
which you answer three questions each day.
The Heart Journal
The first question is: "What surprised me today?"
The size of the nose ring on the
girl sitting next to us at the beach; it was huge but I figured she
probably loves it that way!
The second question is: "What moved me or touched my heart
On our way to the beach, Hanzi was
looking out the window and said, "That was cute!" I asked what, and
he told me that a little girl was leading her grandmother in an
investigation of something smooshed on the sidewalk.
And the third question is "What inspired me today?"
The camaraderie of the group of "Bears"
gathered at the beach, all bobbing together with their big bellies
in the chilly Lake Michigan water.
If this exercise is something Remen thinks we should do as
professional physicians, why not start practicing it now? In
addition to practicing things like taking blood pressure,
evaluating cervical range of motion, or taking a history from a
SIM-patient, we should probably be cultivating the healer through
exercises like this.
Hard to believe, but I did study at the beach. Here's the
Want to find a Chicago beach to visit? It's easy: CPDBeaches.com.
The skill set of a healer includes knowing how to find the
beauty in the midst of the suffering we are exposed to daily for
the duration of our professional lives. So, to my fellow students,
don't write in a journal every day if the time commitment freaks
you out, but at the very least, have these conversations with each
other. Try to talk about the heart-full things, rather than the
test you're dreading or the professor you can't stand. Look for the
things that inspire you, the things that touch your heart, and the
things that surprise you. Forgetting to cultivate our eye for these
things will, I suspect, prove a grave mistake whose consequences we
will learn when we go out into the real world and try to heal
So, I encourage you to notice the things that make you smile
more than the things that make you groan. You may even find less to
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