A little gratefulness

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.

  1. Being motivated
  2. Having values
  3. Seeing past the status quo
  4. Trying to be better than yesterday
  5. Not succumbing to peer pressure
  6. Delayed gratification
  7. Marrying someone who “gets it”
  8. Not needing much
  9. Adversity to include living in my truck and cancer
  10. 5 real friends and many mentors
  11. Connection
  12. Faith
  13. Having a conscience
  14. Being able to say NO
  15. 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.




5 thoughts on “A little gratefulness”

  1. Your response is great and that guy ate it up. All I hope is that I am part of number 10. Doctor J people love what you have to offer this world and don’t you ever forget that. You are one of the few I respect in this world. Don’t change a thing. Stay true to who you are and never forget where you came from. Apr 2 your book is going to change my life if not that at least put me on the right track. Thank you my friend

    1. Thanks for the kind words my friend. It takes all of us to create positive change in this world. And it all starts with ourselves. Keep going!

  2. The effort to stand back, to look at what we don’t see if you don’t stand back is a generator of gratitude. Metacognition! Your patient made you stand back! But, to your benefit, yes, but more to his. Questions are powerful.

  3. I am truly grateful for the time we spent as friends and colleagues!
    I am truly blessed and happy, but I add the above to my list of gratitudes. I wish you great success with your book!

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