SurfingJul 21, 2021
So you do not have
To look back and say
God. How I have
Wasted my life.”
So if you have never sat through a palliative care consultation, this may be a little interesting to you.
Our team is made up of a palliative care physician, chaplain, social worker and an RN. We are not always there together in a consultation, but resources permitting we try to be. We walk down the halls together, holding our own individual folding chair as if we are going to an event, and we put a sign on the patient’s door that says:
“Palliative Care Consultation in Progress”
We go around the patient’s bed and situate ourselves between the family members. Our social worker starts the meeting by introducing our team and then she says:
“We know you as a patient, but we would like to know you as a person”.
It is such a lovely way to start a meeting. All of a sudden, the patient’s eyes light up and he tells us about years ago. Where he was born, where he went to school, where he lived, what he liked doing, how many siblings he had, what his relationship with his parents was like. This being Hawaii, there are always memories of swimming, fishing, surfing and a nostalgic love of eating poi (a somewhat bland local pasty lavender color root vegetable that I am trying to develop a liking toward, while my girls who have been here already love it and ask for it).
That is all who we truly are.
They never start by saying what they did for a living.
I cannot emphasize that enough.
We spend so much time dedicated to our work that our days are passing by. The days that we could be doing something other than just working.
I like to go to the ocean in the evenings on the weekends. Right around the time that the sun is about to go down. It is my perfect time to be in the ocean. I don’t have to worry about the sun. It is not terribly hot and the water temperature is like bath water. I have never seen a sunset I did not fall in love with. Having said that, my idea of doing this activity is often either snorkeling or just playing around on a boogie board. This weekend my husband had other plans. The girls wanted to stay home and work on this art project we had for them, so it was just my husband and I heading to the beach. I noticed that my husband had put two surfboards in the minivan. I said, what’s that? He said, it’s the same idea.
You don’t know my husband. The time the girls were done with their first ski school when we were in California, he would take them on an adventure. Only to hear from my 7 year old that they had gone down a black diamond. Yep. He always overestimates what everyone’s comfort level is, and likes to push his own abilities to improve his skills. He cannot help it. We can plan to go for a quick hike and it ends up being an 11 mile trek. I love him to pieces but I also know this about him. He feels like life is an extreme sport and he has to be out of his comfort zone to enjoy it fully.
So when we went to just have me use the surfboard as a boogie board, you can imagine what happened next. Initially it was pleasant and the sunset was to die for. Honestly, if that was my last night on Earth, I’d be at peace with what I saw. But unfortunately, it didn’t end there. He suggested I come and just ‘sit on the board’ to ride the waves. Well, I don’t have to tell you that this experiment led to me getting pummeled by waves for a good 30 minutes. I would feel like an awkward whale trying to get on a slippery board and as soon as I’d approach a wave, I would flip over and fall. Over and over again.
Something has changed in me. A couple of years ago, I would be fuming. Why was he doing this? He knows I like to enjoy things at my own pace and not push myself to discomfort. I would get mad that he’s pushing me…
But somehow I have had a change of mindset. I was thinking (while upside down being yanked around by my foot strap under the strong waves) he did not mean for me to have a bad time. His intention was for me to have fun there. He thought I would enjoy it. He himself would have enjoyed it if that was his first experience. So I just let it go. I would try to get back on the board again over and over. I caught two beautiful waves and the local surfers high fived me from a distance. I can tell you that catching those waves was by no means intentional! But it felt exhilarating. So much so that when he caught up with me, I said: ‘Hey, that was fun. I want to learn to surf’. This is the first time the thought has even crossed my mind since we moved here 3 years ago. I have been pretty content with my yoga and long distance running. I feel clumsy and uncoordinated on a surfboard.
But I think back about the old patients in their hospital bed. When they think back about the times they surfed. Do they think about the 100s of times that they would fall or the 2 fantastic waves they would catch?
When we get closer to the end of our lives, we will do a life review. The review is often of the moments of joy and not moments of failure. How could you get to those moments of joy without the many episodes of failure?
So to live our lives fully, we need to swallow our pride. We need to be awkward so we can catch those waves. That is the beauty of this one magnificent life we have. We get to fill it with moments that bring us joy NOW to savor the memories when we cannot create those joys later.
We may not change the direction of the wind, but we can try to adjust our sails.
Try to adjust your sails with adversity that comes your way so that you can live your life fully. One that allows you to catch waves you didn’t even dream were possible for you.
So much love to you all.
Do you want me to help you get your act together?!
As a palliative care physician, let me offer you the gift of perspective. As a mindfulness teacher, let me offer you the acceptance of what your life is offering you today. As a certified life coach, let me share with you the tools to get you out of your own way to have the best life you can imagine starting today.
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