I was talking to a patient the other day, and he told me he was having a hard time being grateful. He was seeing me for knee and back pain, but I felt like there was something more so I probed a little deeper. Life had been getting him down. A family member had passed. He had to take on a second job to pay off some debt. He felt like he was losing at everything. So then he asked me how I had the energy to be a physician. He wanted to know how I could see patient after patient and listen to all of their problems without wanting to quit. And then we just kept on talking to one another.
And then it hit me as it often does. His knee and back pain were nothing compared to the other “pains” he was experiencing. My next patient did not show up to clinic so I had a little extra time, and I wanted to give him something more. And then he put me on the spot and literally said to me, “Can you show me what things you are grateful for?”
I had never had a patient ask me this. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am relatively new to medicine since it is essentially my “second” career, but I have still been seeing patient’s for nearly 8 years now (either as a medical student, resident or fellow) and this had never happened. Perhaps he was comfortable with such a request since we had shared that we had both served in the military (he during the first Gulf War, and I still serving).
So I grabbed a sheet of paper, and I fulfilled his request in the only way I knew how. I did not learn this in medical school or in the military. In less then 2 minutes I gave him the list below. I would have kept going, but he told me to stop.
- Being motivated
- Having values
- Seeing past the status quo
- Trying to be better than yesterday
- Not succumbing to peer pressure
- Delayed gratification
- Marrying someone who “gets it”
- Not needing much
- Adversity to include living in my truck and cancer
- 5 real friends and many mentors
- Having a conscience
- Being able to say NO
- My girls for teaching me so much
He looked over my list. I told him I could keep going. That I had so many people in my life that I was grateful for. He put his hand up as if to say “enough.” The room was silent. He told me he was “grateful” for me coming into his life today. He then left the room and said he did not need anything for his knee or back pain and that it would all be alright. As he walked out I told him to follow-up as needed and that I would appreciate if he could come back to see me again.
Perhaps I had “felt too busy” to reflect about these things on my own and he came into my life that day for a reason…
And thus, we should never be too busy to reflect on what we are grateful for.