VC Notes Archive Office of the Vice Chancellor
Friday, April 8, 2016

Be a Spirit Doctor

On two different occasions recently I've paused to think about the group of people I call the “spirit doctors.” 

Dan Shapiro Mom's MarijuanaSpirit doctors is not a phrase I came up with but rather one I have borrowed from the book "Mom's Marijuana" written by Dan Shapiro.  If you're looking for a good next book to read, I recommend it.  

Dan Shapiro, Ph.D., is a cancer survivor and the book describes his journey through the experience (including his use of marijuana to counteract nausea - hence the title). At a point when his cancer was not responding to therapy, he found encouragement from the people he interacted with who were not part of his care team and therefore didn't know what his diagnosis or prognosis was. He called these people the spirit doctors, and they included a cafeteria worker, a chaplain, a hospital telephone operator and a technician sent to fix the thermostat in his hospital room.  They gave him hope when the message he was receiving from his care team offered little.  They gave him hope because they interacted with him as if he were a regular person instead of a sick person. 

Recently The Clarion-Ledger carried a touching story of the meeting of a heart transplant recipient and the family whose tragic loss made that transplant possible.  The patient awaiting the transplant recounted that she had earlier been at UMMC recovering from a procedure meant to give her a temporary fix for her failing heart.  As she recovered and waited for a new heart, she was in the habit of reading three psalms from the Bible every day.

“I've always loved the 23rd and the 91st,” she was quoted as saying. “But a cleaning lady walked past my bed one day, saw me reading, and said, 'Be sure and read the 70th Psalm.'  I thank her so much.  It gave me such strength.”

I was moved by this story of how we helped this patient, and especially the simple act of kindness extended to her by a member of our housekeeping staff.  She's a spirit doctor.

Then last month while at a conference, I was asked what I liked most about my job.  Because there are so many things I love about this work and so many things that inspire me, it was hard to answer.  But after thinking for a minute the answer that I shared was, "the people - all the people.”  And I talked about the palpable commitment to the mission of the Medical Center that I detect around me every day by the clinical caregivers and by the nonclinical "caregivers" alike.  

In the circle of people having this discussion was Will Ferniany.  Currently the CEO at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Will was previously at the Medical Center in the role of CEO of University Hospitals.  He also commented on how special and mission-driven ALL the people are at UMMC. 

So whether you spent years training to be a caregiver or whether you are not involved in direct patient care, remember that ALL of us are a part of the patient care team in some respect.  You never know when a nod or a smile or a kind word is the vehicle of hope for a patient or the family member of a patient.  Every day you have the opportunity to be a spirit doctor for someone.  I hope you will take advantage of it.

Being kind to each other, respectful of our common humanity, is part of who we are, and what compels us to strive for A Healthier Mississippi.

Follow me on Twitter