The Necessity of Compassion

Every three months I go to see my awesome neurologist for botox injections into some of the muscles in my neck and along my spine. After a severe injury in 2011, I was terribly ill, and had a slew of diagnoses before they finally settled on spasmodic torticollis, which means that the muscles along my neck and spine have a tendency to contract involuntarily, causing me to sometimes make odd movements with my head and my shoulders. Every now and then someone will point it out, but most of the time people can’t tell that it’s a problem from the outside. From the inside, the worst part is a sensation of movement under the skin, like bugs are crawling along the back of my neck and head. It’s not painful, but it’s frustrating and distracting, especially when I’m trying to sleep.

Today, as my doctor inserted a probe into neck and back so that she could listen to the muscles, which gives her information about how much botox to inject, we discussed the fact that we both work as providers for Kaiser, (her a neurologist, and myself a therapist) and that we are mostly lucky in our patients. I agreed that most of my patients are lovely people, and I feel honored to help them. Then she said something that resonated with me. She said, “The ones that aren’t nice to us have been through a lot. They have a lot of somatic symptoms, and they’ve been minimized to the point that they feel defensive.”

She didn’t know it, but she had stepped into one of the main themes of my book; the fact that when people are ill and seeking help, and they come up against medical professionals that minimize their symptoms and tell them that they aren’t real, it’s harmful. It causes them increased stress, which has been shown in research to exacerbate symptoms of illness, shut down healing, and erode DNA, causing aging. Research has also shown that a small amount of compassion on the part of healthcare providers/medical professionals goes a long way towards decreasing pain and healing times, as well as helping patients to understand their treatments in a way that leads to better compliance with medications and procedures that their doctors recommend.

Hearing my neurologist acknowledge the struggles that some people go through trying to get help while they are also suffering with any number of possible illnesses, and how negatively that affects them, was a beautiful thing to hear. It not only led me to trust her more as a person of empathy and professionalism, but it also motivated me to continue the work that I’m doing to get my ideas out to the world, and to you.

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