I’m Thinking of You

 

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My husband never talks about his patients with me. (He’s the poster boy for the HIPAA law.) But when a call from the hospital comes in at night, sometimes I am privy to his side of the conversation. I might hear snippets such as the person’s age, or what tests they need to have done. I’ve learned which key words will lead to me sleeping alone that night (ruptured, perforation) and which will keep him snuggled next to me (elective, antibiotics).

Within thirty seconds of the phone call ending, my husband will be back to sleep. It’s a self-preserving skill he learned in residency.  But for me, it’s not that easy. Now I’m up. And now I’m thinking about this person who I know nothing about, beyond the fact that they are, say, 66-years-old and have a high fever and need an ERCP, whatever that is. Now that I know about them, and I’m awake, I do what I can for them. Which isn’t much, but I hold them in my mind, and I wish them well. I like to envision a little bit of the comfort I’m sending to them actually finding it’s way to the ER, or the ICU, or their room. It’s improbable, but it’s possible. So I go there.

Many, many nights, phone calls or not, I hold my husband’s hands in mine and offer a straight-up prayer. First it’s a thank you for all the times his hands have been safely guided to help in the past, then it’s a prayer for continued guidance and strength in the future. If my husband knew any of this, he’d be doing an eye-roll/gagging noise combination. He’s a man of hard logic and science. We’re quite a pair.

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Sometimes, one is on the receiving end of good thoughts. Two years ago this weekend, Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, CT experienced the unthinkable. The news trickled first into our local consciousness and then onto the national and international stage. And while I struggled with shock and fear and that sickening too close-to-home feeling, something strangely comforting started happening.

First, a phone call from my sister, 3,000 miles and two time zones away. When her first patient of the day asked, “Isn’t it terrible about what happened at that school in CT?” her stomach dropped, and she thought of me. Then a steady stream of friends, from all over the country, from all phases of my life, started checking in.

I heard the news, and I thought of you. Are you okay? Are the kids okay? 

I heard from people I hadn’t been in touch with for years, from close friends, and from Christmas-card-only friends. All wished me well and expressed relief that today, this time, the tragedy was not ours. In the weeks that followed, sadness would wash over me in waves. But the comfort of being thought of and wished well by so many always pulled me to a safe shore.

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We can never know how many people are thinking of us, maybe right now, and wishing us well. It doesn’t take an anniversary for me to think of the Newtown families. A face, a name, or an image will come to mind, and in that moment I’ll wish them love and comfort. Imagine, for every time someone pops into your mind, or you hold someone in prayer, meditation, or good light, someone else could be doing the same for you!

Maybe the husband or wife of the doctor you visited last week is at home, doing chores, and sending you strong, positive vibes. And if you’re reading this, consider yourself pinged with positivity, because at this moment I could very well be thinking of you, and wishing you all good things, including….

best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday season.

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The Power of “I’m Sorry”


My children are 8 and 10, and sibling squabbles are commonplace around here. Arguments are usually based on the territorial instincts of the North American pre-teen (get out of my room, don’t touch my stuff)  and on their desire to assert their position as Alpha Child (I call the: TV, computer, last brownie…).

That’s why it is such a delight for me to hear the words “I’m sorry” coming from my kids’ mouths, especially with no intervention or threats from me.

I almost fell off my mom perch when I heard my son tell my daughter, “I’m sorry you lost your necklace, I know it was special to you.”   I was equally pleased to hear her tell him, “I’m sorry I yelled at you. I was frustrated.”

The latter example comes directly from my repeated efforts to model for them how to admit when you are wrong, and the power of an apology.  Sometimes I return to things days later, for example, “a few nights ago I overreacted when I told you…[insert ridiculous and unenforceable parenting threat], and I’m sorry about that.  I think it would be more reasonable if [realistic consequence] was your punishment instead.”

The point is, I want them to know that if something is gnawing at you, and you feel bad about it, it is never too late to try to make it right.  It can mean a lot to the person you are apologizing to, and can be incredibly freeing for the person making the apology.

A few months ago I spoke about navigating relationships with friends who have special needs children (Unique Voices), and I talked about being sorry for all the times I’ve gotten it wrong.  I got to follow up with my friend Brad Mook, who is the parent of a child with special needs.  I asked him specifically, “what should I do when I know I’ve put my foot in my mouth?  How can I make it right when I know my words or actions have hurt someone?”

His advice was simple: “Sorry goes a long way.”  Then he shared the story of a nurse who once looked at his daughter Ellie (who was born with a rare chromosomal abnormality) and said, “She’s not that odd.”  It was hurtful to the core.  Being the awesome people that they are, the Mook family has turned her comment into an inside joke, with mom Colleen sometimes joking with Ellie, “you’re not that odd…”  (See Colleen’s Open Letter to Ellie).

Brad’s point was, if that nurse had returned later in the day and said, “I’m so sorry for making that insensitive remark.  I don’t know what I was thinking!”, she would have a whole different place in their memory.  She would be the nurse who mis-spoke, but then learned from her mistake.

In fact, that’s just what happened with another friend of Brad’s, who offhandedly used the term “retarded” in a Facebook post.  After he expressed how hurtful that word can be, the person apologized profusely, learned, grew, and they both moved on.  This illustrates another important point:  it’s sometimes just as important to accept sincere apologies as it is to give them.

Saying I’m sorry can be an important first step in  starting a dialogue of healing and growth.  Here is an amazing example of the power those words can hold:

This photo captured the moment a man participating in a Gay Pride parade hugged a member of a Christian group that had come to the parade carrying signs that apologized for the way the church has treated homosexuals:

Now that’s an apology!!  As for me, I’ve never held up a sign in public, but I have apologized on email, in person, on the phone, and via snail mail.  I’ve apologized immediately, and years after the fact.  No matter how I do it, it always makes me feel better.  I don’t expect to be forgiven instantly, or even at all.  But I do expect myself to do better, and saying I’m Sorry is my promise that I’m working on it.