I had the recent opportunity to listen to physician-writer and fellow mother in medicine, Pauline Chen, speak at a university function. I had read some of her columns in The New York Times (she has a weekly column, "Doctor and Patient"), and I've always been impressed by how honestly and thoughtfully she writes. Her book, Final Exam: A Surgeon's Reflections on Mortality, is a New York Times bestseller.
My colleague had helped to arrange her visit, and when I arrived to the building, I ran into him into the hallway. He introduced me to her before the talk and I got the chance to speak with her for a few minutes. What struck me about her was how she makes you feel like the most important person in the room when she talks to you. She is sincere, engaged, kind and so warm, she casts a glow. I felt gleeful to be able to connect with her, even for a short while. I even mentioned Mothers in Medicine and what we write about here.
Her talk was fabulous. The entire auditorium was captivated and hung onto her every word. She shared a couple of patient stories that were so exquisitely written and told, I had shivers. Her message was all about compassionate care, especially compassionate care at the end of life. She shared regrets and interactions she wished happened differently, but mostly, it was about hope for being the best physicians we could be. There have only been a couple times where I've listened to physicians speak and thought to myself: I would want to be her patient. Her patients are so lucky. I thought this about Pauline. (The other was Rita Charon from Columbia University. That woman rocks.)
I left the talk feeling inspired. Inspired to write and inspired to keep striving to be the best physician, the best listener, the best patient advocate that I could be. I thought about all the family meetings I've been involved in recently - the ones where we have to break cancer diagnoses and sometimes discuss options for palliative care - about helping patients and families through the stress of chronic or end-stage illness, and feeling at least thankful to be the one to help them through this. Emotionally taxing on me, yes. But if I can make an unthinkable situation a little bit better, to be the voice of compassion and comfort, then it is all worth it. It makes a difference.
Pauline, thank you for doing what you do. Thank you for inspiring each of us sitting in that auditorium to be our best selves.