Monday, November 15, 2010

It's The One you Feed

How does one person suffer immense loss and emerge whole...while others continue to wallow in bitterness and pain? Kerry O'Connell is a patient safety advocate who writes:
"...After talking to many of our wounded friends I was certain that the difference between the bitter wounded and the inspired wounded was faith in God. But it wasn't that simple. Some with no particular faith chose very inspiring lives while some with faith became truly bitter, for they had to to forgive their Doctor and God himself."

Kerry has clearly been on a long and thought-provoking journey. I find a lot of advocates (survivors) aren't sure anymore what to make of the concept of God. Where was He when the medical tsunami boiled up out of a calm sea and claimed their mother, father, or child, while leaving the others around them smiling, dry and whole? How do you calmly rebuild your life with such essential parts missing? 

I can only say I've seen people do it. I don't know how...and I'm not sure they do either. Seems to me they don't re-build the life they had before; they build another...on different ground, the foundation shored up here and there. And I believe the admission ticket to this re-building is, in Kerry's words - "forgiveness". 

Forgiving the doctor and God....sure that's tough. But even before that (or on top of that), how about forgiving yourself? Seems crazy, when (as our friends reassure us) we think we did all we could. But in quiet moments, when we are least expecting it, the niggling, thorny thought intrudes..."could I have done more?"

I didn't know much about C-diff when my Dad first contracted this infection five years ago...but then again, I didn't ask. I didn't start scouring the internet until his abrupt death left me with more questions than answers.  And that prompts the perennial question - "If I knew then what I know now, could I have made a difference?" Like so many, I will never know. 

But on balance, I can say have found a way to forgive the doctors, the hospital, and - to the extent my lapsed Catholicism has yielded to spirituality - God. And yes, I have come to forgive myself. 

Now, I find wisdom in all kinds of places, and in many faiths. This parable in particular resonates with me (if you've read before, it's worth reading again): 

An Old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. "A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy. "It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego." He continued, "The other is good - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too." 

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?" The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."


  1. Kerry's observations are very thoughtful and well expressed. His "Old Cherokee" story is one I have posted in front of me at work. You gotta feed the right wolf.

    He is absolutely right about forgiveness. There is usually much to be forgiven when a child dies of medical error. However, one that needs no forgiveness is God. After my son died I was livid at God because I had been taught that God controls. My anger lasted about 3 weeks until I realized that God was there all along when my son was dying. God came in the presence of many people who showed us uncommon love during the three days of my son's dying. No one wants to be where someone's child is dying, yet hundreds came from far away and shared our vigil.

    I undertook a no-nonsense reevaluation of my faith and what I had been taught. I came to understand that God does not control events as we might believe from the Christian Old Testament or the Jewish Torah. In the Gospels and letters of Paul I saw emphasis on Holy Spirit that will allow us to respond with forgiveness and love to whatever life hands us.

    Why do bad things happen to innocent people? I believe that God created this world so that there would be plenty of suffering. God knew that many of us would take more than our share of his creation and others would suffer because we refused to share. The suffering we witness is nothing more than God's invitation to pour on some love. God has never specifically caused suffering, but God knows that we need suffering as a target for our love.

    After the first night of our conference in Austin I was unsettled. After hearing the awful stories of suffering caused by healthcare, and knowing that these were a tiny fraction of the collective suffering, I was sad, so sad I could not sleep. The wolf of woe had been fed. As the conference continued the next two days I noticed that we came together as a team under the leadership of Lisa, Suzanne, and Daniela. I believe the fabric of our team is love born of our shared suffering. Together we shall make a difference and heal healthcare. You my brothers and sisters fed my wolf of forgiveness and peace. Thank you.

  2. "What is the truth?

    The truth is that there are no good men, or bad men. There are good deeds, and bad deeds. Men are just men – it is what they do, or refuse to do, that links them to good or evil. The truth is that an instant of real love, in the heart of anyone – the noblest man alive or the most wicked – has the whole purpose and process and meaning of life within the lotus-folds of its passion. The truth is that we are all, every one of us, every atom, every galaxy, and every particle of matter in the universe, moving toward God."

    - Shantaram

  3. Hi Pat, here is the article featuring Light a Candle, and The patient Pod.

    Keep up all the hard work.

  4. Healthcare Reform...thank you for the eloquent and profound thoughts. Did we connect in Austin? I hope you will stay in touch. Your words bring comfort, and further evidence there are gifts in hardship. Would love to know who you are. My email is

  5. Often our Healthcare and Legal Systems feed the wrong wolf. I was nearing the end of a brutal deposition concerning my care when the Defense attorney asked. "Is not not true Mr. OConnell that you have described falling off the ladder as the Stupidest thing that you have ever done?" "Yes" I replied. "Then being so stupid don't you certainly deserve the subsequent injuries that befell you in our Healthcare System?" I really wanted to punch him but at a very perverse level I knew he had a point. Patients do spend a lot of time blaming themselves for medical harm, often providers are quick to reinforce these thoughts, feeding the wrong wol, building bitterness and anger.Forgiving youself may be the hardest thing we ever have to learn in life.