I was the closing speaker at the recent annual meeting of the Arizona Osteopathic Medical Association. I talked with my colleagues about my work as a humanitarian clown where I learned how to make healing connections with people in a short period of time.
In contemporary medical practice, physicians don’t have much time to establish relationships. Spending time and talking with patients is not reimbursable, so you have to see more people in a short time make a diagnosis, order expensive tests, procedures, pills, and do the paperwork. The industrialization of medicine is stealing our spirit as healers, and the pursuit of profitability is reducing medicine to just another industry. The practice of medicine is not an industry, it is a ministry and not spending time with patients is stealing our spirit.
Nearly half the physicians in this country say they are burned out and would rather be doing something else. Of all occupations and professions, the medical profession consistently hovers near the top of occupations with the highest risk of death by suicide. I suggested an alternative to the current demoralization and despair was to return to the time-honored principle of connecting with patients at a heartfelt level and by using clowning principles you could do that in 10 minutes. Such a relationship not only magnified our healing power but reminded us of why we came into the profession.
Before closing, I asked attendees to participate in an exercise that would give them an opportunity to personally connect with someone they didn’t know at an open-hearted, soulful level. The experience was enlightening, and at the end, I was moved to say something I had never previously shared from the platform
I told them about my chronic cardiomyopathy and my failing heart. I assured them there was no definitive expiration date, just an awakening to the fact that I had a shelf-life. I have not been secretive about my condition by the same token I don’t spend much time talking about it.
I don’t want to inspire people’s pity, condolences or distancing themselves from me because of their own difficulties with mortality.
This is my truth, but my illness doesn’t define who I am. I am still here, doing what I love to do; it gives my life meaning and completely engaged in what I am doing in the here and now.
Living well is about staying open to the experience of life.