In the spirit of Thanksgiving weekend, I wanted to take a moment to express gratitude with the work I do. Sometimes I am moved by the moment, and gratitude comes naturally in a situation. Other times, I need to actively point out to myself positive aspects in order to feel grateful.
Keeping in mind the obligations of my current job (including time spent at home each week looking up patient charts, typing patient notes, and attending Webex meetings), I maintain focus on the aspects of my work that feel meaningful to me. I feel grateful that I can feel useful, helping fellow human beings and giving back to my community by providing expertise, whether it be with active listening, explaining a complicated medical situation in a way that helps someone understand what is going on with their body, asking questions people may not have considered as they consider future paths, or providing medical treatment, guidance, education, and support in whatever manner someone needs it.
And often, I feel I receive as much as I provide.
I currently see patients in their homes for palliative care visits (see Post 1: What Exactly Does a Palliative Care Specialist Do?), and I get to become familiar with the different neighborhoods of my city as I traverse through different zip codes. I get to witness glimpses of how people live their day to day lives in their homes, whether it be a mobile home, an apartment, a duplex, an assisted living facility, a foster home, or residential home. I have learned there are many ways to be welcomed into a home, numerous furniture arrangements for a sitting room, multiple personal systems for keeping track of pill bottles and medications, and countless (sometimes alarming) ways people adapt to living with declining strength and mobility through compromise, ingenuity, and/or resiliency.
I am sometimes stunned and humbled by how open people will be to a stranger just because of the badge on her shirt. Private thoughts people keep from their children, deep feelings that leak out as tears or clenched fists, and stories long buried come to light. I am reminded again and again that assumptions are rarely correct. I am grateful that all these people have taught me how to listen and empathize without judgment (and I acknowledge there is always room for improvement). I am grateful that I am better with showing up and being present with my loved ones through practice with my patients.
I see how money, connections, and image still cannot save us from eventual decline. I hear how people ultimately just want to be home - however, wherever, or with whomever they define "home" - and know that their family is okay. I have learned to reconsider my definition of "success" for my children. Would I define a child being a "success" only if they attended prestigious universities and obtained titles as they pursued career advancements? Would I consider a child being "successful" if they had the means to have my needs taken care of when I can no longer take care of myself, such as paying out of pocket for caregivers at home or contributing out of pocket for a "nice nursing home" when I can no longer transfer from my bed to the wheelchair? Would I consider a child achieving "success" if they chose to forego a standard career and instead stayed home to raise their children and help me step into the shower when I started to feel wobbly?
I renew my gratitude for intangible things such as overall health with no major medical issues, energy to leave the house to run errands whenever I want, balance and strength to do things many of us take for granted such as pulling on a sweater when I feel cold or using the toilet whenever I feel the urge to go, and the underlying confidence of knowing I have people to hold me up on the days I falter in some way.
I fell into this work unintentionally (read Post 11: An Unintentional Legacy), and I feel grateful for the rejections, failures, and detours in life that have led me to do work in which I can find gratitude.