Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Your last breath

The hardest part about being a doctor isn't the long overnight calls, the busy office schedule or the challenge of helping a patient.  The most difficult aspect, at least for me, is when I make a mistake. And since I am human mistakes have happened.

I first want to say that everything I write below is all about my perspective.  And please, let me be clear, I know I am not the one who was the recipient of the mistake.  It may be much harder for her.

A while back I made a mistake that has haunted me.  It was one of those mistakes that if I could do it all over again I would definitely do it differently.  It was a complex decision, I evaluated the options and in retrospect I chose the wrong one.  Now, I make small mistakes here and there. Thankfully, I catch most or I have back up systems in place that help me catch the rest.  This was bigger than that.  It was one of those that I can count on the fingers of my hand.  One of the kind that I rarely make.  (no one died or was seriously physically harmed and that is as much detail of it I want or can discuss)

Right after I realized what I had done my very first impulse was to vent to caring coworkers and eat some chocolate.  And I am not kidding about the chocolate.  It was my second thought right after wanting to scream.

Then the shame came.  Why did I do this?  What is wrong with me?  I am the worst doctor.  I hope no one finds out.  I hope my colleagues, especially, don't find out.

Then a bit of fear.  What if I get sued?  I'll have to go through an arbitration.  It will be so painful.

Then regret, then anger, then self hatred, then all of this over and over again in my head. Please, I told myself, stop thinking about it.  Stop thinking...

Of course, I meditated.  As I meditated the whole scenario would go around and around in my head.  But I would take a breath in and then out and maybe for a few moments I could find peace.

It was painful.  And I guess I just had to be in the pain.  It still is tender to touch.  And that is okay.

I learned a few things from this experience, though.   On day two or three I was listening to Jack Kornfield from the Insight Meditation Society.  He has an amazing audio book called Buddhism for Beginners (and we all are beginners).  In it he mentions the concept of the last breath.

What if this were your last breath?  Would you want to be lost in thoughts?  When you are not in the moment, even in good thoughts, you aren't really living.  And in "bad" thoughts then you definitely aren't living.  I didn't want my last breath to happen while I was worrying about what happened in the past or what could possibly happen in the future.  I found the idea of the last breath very helpful because it not only brought me to the present moment whatever it was (driving the car, talking with Aiden, listening to music etc) but it also made me aware of my breathing which was therapeutic in itself.

I also learned that this long drawn out story of what I did and what could happen and how bad I am is JUST A STORY.   We all have these stories.  Tara Brach, another meditation teacher writes, "The whole sense of self is just a story we tell ourselves."  I am not bad. I am not good. I am not the worst doctor on the planet.  I am not even really a doctor.  I just play one on this life I live, if you know what I mean.  "Our stories are real but they may not be true" Tara Brach also powerfully explains.

Lastly, again from Tara Brach, "When I am in judgement, I am no longer in the flow of grace."  How can you be at peace, be able to give love, be real if you are judging yourself and others.  I do it all the time but if I can do it even a little less, what will my life be like?  Imagine not judging this moment but just being in it.  How would that feel?  Pretty peaceful and soft and open, I think.


  1. This is very powerful and deep! I think we all question ourselves for the things we've done or perhaps didn't do. I know for me it plays like a broken record. Forgiving ourselves for being human is maybe the hardest thing to do. I wrote down the name for the audio book can't wait to check it out! Lots of love. Kathleen

  2. Thanks Kathleen. The author's voice on the audiobook is a bit soft and perhaps sappy but I think it is easy to get past it and he has so much to say. I know you will love it.