THE BLOG

Patients and Virtue

05/09/2014 11:46 am ET | Updated Jul 09, 2014
  • Liz Dow CEO, LEADERSHIP Philadelphia; Connector; Advocate of Paying It Forward

After the surgeon informed loved ones that the patient did not survive, he slowly walked back to the brightly lit surgical suite to find a flurry of professionals cleaning the room, clicking off monitors, and removing tubes, tapes, blue sheets, and pads. He asked everyone to leave so that he could be alone with his patient.

The surgeon gently held this patient's hand. Silently, he explained what had happened and said, "I'm sorry."

The surgeon performed this ritual with every patient he lost.

If the patients were religious, the doctor said a prayer and blessed them. He told them the loving things that their family had said. He promised to do his best to help the family to make it through the loss. He thanked the patients for letting him be a part of their life and then he said goodbye.

"To me, the operating room is sacred space -- like Ground Zero," explained the surgeon. As he told me about his private ritual, I was moved by the decency, respect, and empathy of his practice.

Stereotypes about surgeons do not include the emotions that this surgeon conveys. His profound humanity is an example of wonder at work. His partnership with patients reflects the aspect of his work that touches his soul, and a world view that we are all connected.

There are few things lonelier than being rolled into a cold surgical suite on a gurney. As you stare at the ceiling tiles, reduced to a body with a diagnosis, it doesn't matter if you are married or loved by your children, or what spectacular things you have done in your life. You have no control. You are anonymous. It feels impersonal, frightening, and cold. It was comforting, therefore, to get a glimpse of the goodness of this surgeon, who brought humanity into this inhuman space.

This surgeon emits contagious warmth and confidence that subdues his patient's doubtful mind. Eye contact. Trust. A sacred sense of connection that the surgeon has not felt since his migration to find life balance in the corporate world several years ago. The standard trappings of success this senior executive earns now in some ways pale in comparison to this deep connection then.

When I expressed admiration for this secret devotion, he said, "It's more selfish than it seems. It's the right way for me to end a close relationship that did not end the way we would have hoped. It's just the right thing to do." At the close of our conversation, he hesitated for a moment and said, "Wait, I remember now. It wasn't goodbye that I said. It was goodbye for now. Goodbye for now."

We are not alone.

My work involves mobilizing professionals to serve the community. I, too, develop strong ties with our students who, over the years, have shared moments of wonder that stop me in my tracks. Wonder and a sense of possibility dwell in the hearts of leaders who inspire. I intend to pulse this wonder out into the world by sharing these moments with you.

If we look for it, wonder is all around us. Where do you find it?

How can you inject wonder into your work?

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