My last patient of the day was an elderly woman with metastatic lung cancer. She was a non-smoker who had been battling this terrible disease for more than a year. I was running 30 minutes behind. I had a packed afternoon with difficult cases and patients who required more of my time and care. I peeked into her room, said hello, and apologized for running late. Ms. B. greeted me with her kind, gentle smile as she always did and said, “I am not in a rush. Take your time Dr. T.”
“Take your time”. Her words rang through my mind as I completed the visit with the patient before her and stayed with me through the rest of my day. Here was a woman with very little time left on this earth, telling me to take my time and that she was not in a rush.
However, as physicians, that is what we do. We physician mothers are especially adept at rushing though our days — rushing to get the kids out the door to make it to school on time; rushing to make it to the office or hospital; rushing through cases and patients; rushing through our charts and documentation; rushing to get home and make dinner; rushing through bedtime stories and conversations with our spouses, friends, children, and loved ones.
That day, I realized we were all on the same bus and that none of us were going to make out of this life alive. The destination was the same for all of us, yet so many of us rush through our days and miss the precious moments. So, I decided to do exactly that — slow down and take my time in everything I do. The next morning, I woke up just a few minutes early, went in and snuggled with my 6-year-old in bed and kissed her warm cheeks. I made her breakfast and we ate together as she told me about the dream she had had last night about a giggling puppy. We sang in the car together cheerfully as I pulled to her school and spent a few minutes talking with her teacher about her dad who was in a hospital in Nashville. I gave my daughter extra hugs that morning, picking her up in the air and holding her tight for almost two minutes. It felt good. It felt great. My heart was full. This is what they mean when they say “enjoy your day,” and enjoy I did.
The morning clinic was hectic. I had a couple of my challenging patients waiting for me when I walked by the busy waiting room. My instinct was to revert back and just rush through to get through the day. Again, Ms. B’s words rang in my mind and her gentle face came to my consciousness: “Don’t rush.” My instinct was telling me otherwise, but instead I slowed down, took a deep breath and entered the first room. I greeted the patient and asked her about her morning and just listened, without saying a word for the next 60 seconds. She told me so much. We connected with heart and I slowed down as she told me about her symptoms and her life stressors, and how excited she was to fly out next month to visit her granddaughter.
I could feel my heart slowing down as I relaxed into the visit and simply took the time to enjoy my patient. This was a sacred time with her. I felt privileged that she entrusted me with intimate details of her life and family. It was heart-warming and delightful.
As the morning passed on and each patient came and went, I felt my heart fill up with joy with every passing patient. I was still on time, maybe running just a few minutes late, but in slowing down myself, time itself had slowed down. I spent a few quick minutes documenting my work and off went to lunch. As I walked outside, I felt the warm sun gently kiss my face. I walked to a nearby café, got my lunch and settled slowly to enjoy my meal. I consciously made an effort to enjoy each bite. It was delicious. What a marvelous day! What an amazing opportunity to serve as a physician and be able to do the work I do. Overwhelming gratitude flooded my mind and heart. My heart was full. My mind was content.
“Nature never rushes, yet everything gets done,” writes Donald Hicks in Look Into the Stillness. In rushing, we miss the very essence of life, losing the opportunity to fully be present in the moment and feel its joy fully. Slowing down helps us squeeze the nectar out of life, one drop at a time, slowing time itself as we forge into our inescapable final destination.