Balance 2.0?

So, a wannabe author/writer walks in to a writer’s conference…

Sounds like the beginning of a not very funny joke.  But, that was me earlier this month as I attended the Harvard’s Writing, Publishing and Social Media Conference for Healthcare Professionals.  Quite a busy three days. Started at 7AM and  finished after 8PM. A lot to learn and absorb: Improving writing style, understanding the publishing and self-publishing landscape, using social media effectively and with purpose.  During the three days, met some great people that I now know in IRL (in real life).

There were so many take aways but a few things did strike a chord and stand out.

  1. This blog is “static.” Once or twice a month I write something. Probably a little too long and a little too moody (more on that in a minute). Right now, it’s really a one-way communication between myself and you the reader. I would like there to be more engagement and build on what I have started. I would like to provide more content that hopefully YOU the reader find either useful and interesting or entertaining.

 

  1. So I am asking you, the reader, what more you would like to see? How can I  make this more of a two-way conversation? I am looking to post:

 

  • Shorter thoughts and musings on life and themes such as burnout.
  • Write on End of life issues / advance care planning / introduce thought leaders and game changers in this space
  • Timely topics of the day.
  • Interesting book reviews or articles in paper or journals on critical care, end of life care, burnout.
  • Guest bloggers with strong clear voices on interesting and important topics.

 

  1. The last part that threw me for a loop was how morose or weighty my writing must feel to most people. I often dismiss as a joke, when my long-time friends send me a text checking in to make sure I am ok after a typical post. During the conference, it was commented on that IRL I seem different than the “voice” that comes across on the blog (ie: I have a sense of humor, funny/sarcastic and quite social instead of morose, melancholy, moody or morose)

So, to be brief, my BLOG and website is a work in progress (similar to my life in general). But I hope to grow it into something more.  So maybe call it Balance Redux, or Balance 2.0

Come to think of it, lets get this conversation started.  Thoughts on a new name? Anyone….

“Doctor…She wants a chance. She wants to live!”

“Doctor…She wants a chance. She wants to live!”

How often have I heard those words? Or some version of them? The location of the conversations varies. I might be standing outside the curtain of an emergency room bay or sitting on a worn chair inside a cramped waiting room adjacent to the ICU. Possibly on the phone in the dark of my bedroom at some pre-dawn hour. Those words, coming from the mouth of a spouse, a child, or a sibling are usually imploring and pleading and occasionally defiant and demanding. But always beneath the surface, at its origin, is fear.

Critical illness, almost by definition, does not come on slowly. Occasionally it starts as a quiet whisper, allowing time for patients and families to absorb and adjust. But all too often, it presents as a roar. Infection takes hold and explodes. A vessel once open becomes completely blocked. A beating heart suddenly arrests. An aneurysm ruptures and bleeds into the brain or belly. An accident or trauma, completely unforeseen, literally crashes into a life.

The brutal and cruel physiological disruption these insults cause a patient are usually obvious to both the care team and the family. But the additional traumas to the family and friends left to make decisions in the wake of critical illnesses are more subtle.

Some choices can be relatively simple, like placing large IV’s or draining a collection of infected fluid. But what about issues of life sustaining or death preventing treatments such as ventilators for breathing, powerful infusions of medicines to make the heart beat quicker and squeeze stronger, a machine outside the body to filter and clean the blood the kidney cannot, or chest compressions and electric shocks when the heart completely stops? These decisions are literally of life and death. And as physicians look to surrogates to help guide our interventions, we often ask, “What would the patient want?”

“Doctor…She wants a chance. She would want to live!”

And there lies the dilemma.

A chance to live. It seems like a straightforward statement.

Critical care is an amazing field. With appropriate aggressive intervention we are often able to halt the progression of and stabilize dangerously low blood pressure or oxygen levels. We can cool a patient’s core body temperature to protect injury to the brain, perform emergency surgery to repair leaks in large arteries or perforations of parts of the bowel.

But what does it mean to say we want to live?

Is it just a heart that beats? Lungs filling with air while lying in bed? Skin warm and damp on hospital sheets? Liquid calories delivered to the stomach by a plastic tube? A hand held by family sitting at the bedside? Light filtering through a window, giving just a glimpse of what lies on the other side?

Or is it a heart able to soar with love or ache from loss? To breath in air while laughing or crying? Sweat dripping from a brow, stinging the eyes, while working hard in the yard on a hot and humid summer day? A stomach full, from one too many pieces of Chicago style pizza, or a brain buzzing from that first morning cup of coffee? To be able to hug or be hugged and feel the warmth of an embrace on the surface of your skin and on your spirit?

And there are an infinite number of possibilities between these two extremes. Our interventions are often good at preventing death. But not always as effective at helping us live. And what is living? To you? To me? In my thirties with young children still to raised? In my seventies with grandkids to watch grow? What is enough quality in life to lift our hearts up high, when our bodies are still tethered to the bed?

Most of us only glance at these questions. To see them obliquely. Set them aside to deal with tomorrow. And the sequence of routines in our day to day lives help us do that, beginning with the starting gun of the morning alarm. The routine drive to work where we put in our time. Then the race to a soccer practice or baseball game and dinner on the go. Help with homework, pay some bills, read some emails, off to bed and then repeat. On our way to the next job, the next raise, the next game, the next tournament. All with our distracting smart phones in hand. To photograph, to read and reply, to text and tweet.

These questions about what makes life worth living are complicated. Not only do they make us recognize our own mortality, they also force us to confront the lack of mindfulness in our day to day lives. To separate patterns and routines from what is purposeful and meaningful.

By answering these questions directly, we can create two powerful gifts. The first is for our families, loved ones and surrogates. Having discussions with them ahead of time decreases their burden, by providing a better understanding of what it is that makes life worth living. So they may be more prepared to speak for us, if and when we cannot.

The second gift is to ourselves. Not for the future, but for the here and now. As we recognize what gives us purpose and meaning in moments of mindfulness, we learn what we want to do, not what we feel obliged to do. And in doing so, we then learn what truly makes our hearts soar.