I loved studying medicine as a medical student. I was so curious to know how the body worked – how this bit interacted with that bit, what was needed to get us to move a leg, speak, laugh, digest food, breathe etc. – everything that we do easily and naturally became a deeper mystery to be unpacked and solved.
Each subject was rich and deep with the inner workings of the body – in anatomy the various roadmaps of the arteries, veins and nerves weaving their way through the islands of muscles and across bony mountains, in biochemistry the chemical puzzles and interactions that enabled our cells to function and work harmoniously – or not, as the case may be, the enzyme cascades and the various cycles and pathways that spoke of molecular interactions needed to keep us alive and well, and then in physiology how the cells and organs function and work together to keep us peeing, pooing, thinking, heart-beating, breathing and living! It was magical discovering the inner workings of this human machine.
Whilst learning it all was hard work, I relished the knowing and the knowledge that came with it – to peer inside this human machine and understand its inner workings. Just as the car mechanic fixes our cars, I wanted to be the human mechanic, the surgeon, that fixed human bodies. To know how to remove this organ or replace that one, or join up this bit to that bit – the technical know-how and skills to get this machine back on the road.
As a trainee surgeon, I marvelled at times at the beauty of the human body and its anatomy – especially in the young, unpolluted state – where the tissue planes only one cell layer thick can be dissected apart with graceful ease, the softness and fragility of arteries not yet hardened by the toils of life, the pink spongy lungs that filter the very breath of life itself and the ever-sustaining rhythmic beat of the loving heart – a sure and certain pulse we cannot live without. Awe and wonder and magic are the best words, and yet not good enough, to describe the feelings that came with the intimate knowing of the inner workings of this human frame.
But how often do we stop to pause and consider just how magical and wondrous this body is – all too often passing by the beauty, the magic, the wonder – too intent on just knowing the knowledge, and how we can use it, learn what is needed to pass exams, to acquire the necessary skills to fulfill our function as doctors or surgeons? And I too did just that, and not only that, but those moments of appreciation of the beauty and magic of this form did not stop me long enough to begin to appreciate my own body and to care for it like something I truly treasured as being beautiful, magical and wondrous! Sadly no – far from it.
Schooled in the ways of putting oneself and one’s needs last (with the diktat that ‘doctors must always put patients first’ ) I learnt how to keep going with little sleep and prided myself on the fact I could keep going longer than my peers, male and female. My diet was not healthy – bread, pizza, take-aways, lots of beer and wine, cigarettes, chocolate, crisps and more – everything and anything was consumed regardless of the effect on my body. Hangovers were ‘normal’ and the true message that I was poisoning myself and my body was ignored over and over again! They may say ‘ignorance is bliss’ but that is a lie – it is a choice that keeps us imprisoned in misery whilst trying to make out we are ‘happy’ and ‘doing ok’.
Add on to that dietary mess and sleep deprived mixture, a bucket full of toxic emotions, frustration being a top one working in the NHS: frustrated at people not pulling their weight, not doing their job right, not doing things quickly enough, accurately enough, frustrated at delays, incompetence, and people dumping work on others … to name but a few sources and perhaps you can begin to get the picture that all was not well in this human frame. Of course my frustrated outbursts were all in the name of providing good quality care you understand, so I thought it was ok, oblivious to the trail of destruction I left in my wake – not just for those around me, but in my own body too.
Over time, this toxic cocktail and the daily grind of long hours, albeit willingly spent at work, began to take its toll. Medicine began to lose its sparkle, joy was replaced with despondency and despair, the job I once thought I loved and would for life, became a burden and a millstone, a source of worry and anguish, tears and an inner silent scream that no-one could hear. A scream borne from the catalogue of near-misses, mistakes, complications and deaths – a heavy weight I did not even recognise I was carrying – the unspoken guilt and concern that my actions, whilst well-intended, may have caused or contributed to another’s death or harm. Even though the encyclopaedia of cases gone well, lives saved and people and their bodies put back on the road, far outweighed those with a ‘not-so-good’ ending, it was the latter that was unknowingly crippling me, curtailing my hands and practice as I sought to reduce the risk and the likelihood of ‘something going wrong.’
My love affair with surgery was over, we were heading for the divorce courts and the split seemed inevitable. I would seek a new partner, a new purpose and career, for this one was rapidly heading for the bin – to be consigned to history. And yet, it didn’t make sense – why?
Why would I be so dedicated and committed to a career in surgery – only to give it all up?? Was this really the end of the road? Was this really the end of my surgical career?? I thought it was.
Fast-forward many years and I can hardly believe the journey I have been on – had you told me this was on the cards 20 years ago I would have laughed you off the street and told you where to go! Through searching and seeking to solve my own dilemmas, I discovered so much more about us and the ‘human machine’ than I could ever have imagined – indeed I would have dismissed it all out of hand as absolute rubbish had I not been humbled to consider that perhaps there is more to us than I had previously been taught or contemplated. So much more.
And no it wasn’t the end of my surgical career – it was instead a time for re-evaluation, contemplation, healing, evolving and doing things differently. A time for some self-surgery – cutting loose old beliefs and ideals that no longer served, dissecting away the dross and detritus of age old hurts and wounds and applying some deep tender loving care to the weeping raw edges, allowing them to heal afresh, and using the timeless wisdom of the Gods to know myself anew and stitch together the threads of my life to form a magical tapestry imbued and woven with the only truth there is – Love.
The awe, wonder and magic of medicine is once more alive and well inside me – of course it had never gone – I had just become inured and deadened to its presence. But it is a medicine that encompasses vast acres of understanding way beyond anything that is currently taught in medicine today – it is the medicine of tomorrow. A medicine that understands the multidimensional and energetic nature of the human being – not the ‘human machine’ – but a highly sensitive, beautiful, glorious, intelligent and wise being. A being that is connected with all that is, a being that is super-aware and deeply loving – yet who is brought into a world that meets that love with all that is not love – disregard, abuse, anger, rage, frustration, jealousy, dismissiveness, rudeness and so much more that leads us to enjoin those ills and forget who we are.
A being whose every choice impacts the body it lives in – you hear correctly – every choice – of food, emotion, belief, thought, time of sleep, movement – EVERYTHING – impacts our bodies for ill or health. Too much responsibility?? Perhaps … or perhaps it is the key to true freedom?
To know that the quality of how I live, the quality of my daily choices can render me ill and sick or full of vitality, love and joy. No longer a victim of life or indeed my own choices, but a willing engaged participant in life committed to living in the most deeply caring and loving way I can, knowing it will benefit not just me, but all I see, touch, speak and interact with and beyond – for never are we acting or moving in isolation but always deeply inter-connected with all that is.
It is a crime to restrict the vastness of medicine into the narrow, restricted, confined, linear boxes of ‘evidence-based medicine’ – for the latter can never contain and share the true beauty, magic and oceans of wisdom that true medicine is – a medicine that encompasses all dimensions of life and the living of it in every way, shape and form, a medicine that is universal in understanding and application, a medicine that heals the deepest of ills and hurts and a medicine that sees and knows us as the glorious magnificent beings we are.
Let us not be fooled by the minds that seek to control and dominate medicine and confine it to drugs and tablets and pills and potions with some great operations thrown in for good measure – but stay open to receive, to know, medicine is so much more than what we currently think it is, it is our every choice, our every way of life, our every movement, our every breath – that can lead us to illness, disease, misery and suffering or restore us to true health, wellbeing, vitality, joy and love.
That is a medicine to love and to live – and yes, my love affair with medicine has been ignited anew – except this time it is not based on my own personal needs, but what the world and all of us need – Love: the love that pulses throughout the Universe and the heart and soul of every human being.