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Learning From Patients

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As an Acupuncturist I’m required, each year, to continue my education by completing several hours of post-graduate training — courses and workshops on acupuncture and other health related subjects. I usually enjoy these opportunities to travel, study, and meet with colleagues, but the truth is, most of my “continuing education” occurs each day in the clinic. Every day I learn something new from my patients — by caring for them, and listening to their stories about health, and their lives overall.

As way of honouring and appreciating all that I learn, I’m dedicating the next few blog posts to just that — things my patients teach me.

One of the greatest teachings I experience every day in the clinic is empathy. Each day, listening to the stories of my patients, I am reminded of how similar we all are. We all experience the same joy and sorrow, triumphs and tribulations, pain and suffering. This may sound cliche, but the daily experience of working in the clinic is a powerful reminder of our inter-connectedness. Feeling that connection allows me to connect deeper with my patients and their healing journey. When I walk out of the clinic, I find that my empathy has opened a bit more, allowing me to feel compassion towards those that I might otherwise feel annoyed or impatient with.

This reminds me of an experience I had in the hospital several years ago. I was recovering from emergency surgery and had to stay a few nights in the hospital in a shared room with several other patients. One particular patient, laying across from me, was in pretty rough shape. Every day his entire family would crowd in to our tiny room, surrounding his bed. They were a long way from home, so each day they set up camp around the bed, turning what would normally be a quiet space, into a family reunion! I found myself getting increasingly annoyed by their presence, longing for silence. During the second day I was ready to explode as they all shuffled into the room, and then, something shifted in me. In a moment I was able to see the love that each of them had for their loved one, and at the same time, see how my own thinking was the primary source of my suffering. In an instant the tension in my body melted. My perception shifted from annoyance to love.

When you feel upset or annoyed by someone, try connecting with the part that annoys you. Remember that they too have joys and sorrows, that they too are really just like you.

Seems like we could use a lot more of that in our world right now!