At ABSMC We Live a Life of Purpose!

Posted on Apr 6, 2021 in Wellness Committee | 0 comments

Walking toward our Covid unit at 7:30 on a Saturday morning, I passed a very ill patient being urgently transported on a gurney.  With an RT bagging and couple of all PPE’d-up nurses   pushing, this frantic caravan moved the patient towards the ICU.  When I arrived at the nursing stations a moment later, the team there had just figured out the staffing for the day. “Linda and Marina, thanks so much for staying over and working a double” called out Tola the charge, “And Claire, thanks for staying over to help with that Rapid Response call.” Even the nurses who just arrived already look tired with their glasses steamed up and their shoulders hanging low.

They turned and got to work as I stood still taking it in. These exhausted nurses were getting at it because there was work to be done.

“I wish you all could see it with my eyes.” I said, “You are all amazing and you might not even realize it.  Well, I have to tell you.  Our community thanks you.  The medical Staff thanks you.  Your nursing colleagues thank you.”

“As thanks, let me offer you this.  Something so obvious we tend to forget it around here.  You live a life of purpose! You believe in taking care of the elderly, the sick, the disenfranchised.  You believe that people take care of people, because that is what human beings do, because that is how we build a just and beautiful society. You sweat and hustle and breathe all day through N-95s because that is what a nurse has to do to serve in the pandemic. Looks like we need better staffing and you could all probably use a cup of coffee, but I offer you this because you should have great pride in what you do!  Tell your friends and family that you live a life of purpose.”

A little embarrassed by my preachiness, I then shut up. But I felt compelled to tell them. It is true and it is something we all need to hold in mind as we grind through this awful pandemic. I tried to slink away but the team was energized now. “You are right; we don’t think about it and people don’t often remind us of it either. Thank you so much!”  Phones came out and we did socially distanced selfies.

I had been feeling crispy myself the week before when I got a text from my friend Ray. Ray is a wonderful human being and a person whose life is inseparable from his faith.   Every couple of weeks, I get a text from him.  On that morning the text said, “Have a great day on purpose!”  I had heard that playful pun-like phrase before, but going to work, to work caring for some of the sickest and most vulnerable people in the east bay, it didn’t feel trite that morning; it felt profound.   My purpose was my path to make a potentially tough day a work into a “great day”.

That night, I started doing a little reading about purpose and got even more fired up!  Dacher Keltner who co-teaches UC Berkeley’s class on happiness says, “a sense of purpose is possibly the best predicter of a life well lived.”  Developing a sense of purpose is one of the keys to happiness.  Nothing predicts performance and satisfaction at work as much as having a sense of purpose.  An entire industry has developed to help people find a sense of purpose at work. Why had I lost sight of this sense of purpose in my work?

Turns out that perhaps I had started to fall into common trap. I started to equate wellbeing with thoughts about one’s self. While working on ourselves is necessary, it could be a life time before I get myself “dialed” just right. It seems those community focused, hardworking ideals that got me into medicine in the first place, ideals that seem naïve at times now, are fact right.  Our years of study and training to earn the right to care for the most vulnerable in our community is something to be very proud of and should be a driver of our wellbeing.

Purpose is energizing and motivating.  Purpose won’t empty your inbox or get the OR to run on time, but it can put gas in our tanks, and we all need that from time to time.

Perhaps the purpose in our work is so omnipresent we lose touch of it.  Perhaps it is the relentless emotional content of the work or the irritating administrative tasks that blind us to it as well. Perhaps there is an important sense of humility, too.

Yet we can hold these notions in our minds and hearts at the same time: Ours is a life of service and purpose.  We accept the responsibility with humility and a tender heart. As an institution we should have a sense of full-chested pride.  And with each other, we should remind each other of our purpose.  When we have those late-night phone calls, those tough conversations with patients and those grueling days we need that pride in our purpose to turn our sacrifices into a great day.  Thank you for living a life of purpose and all you do to serve our community!

Leif R. Hass, MD
Summit Wellness Chair

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