Love for Life

heartbasedmedicine_BP_009_Love-for-Life_03.jpg

Early morning sunshine filters through the curtains, caressing my skin. Slowly I tune into full consciousness, holding Jessica, my love, in my arms. I feel the cosy warmth of the soft blanket covering us and a deep bubble of joy escapes from my heart. ‘Thank you,’ I whisper. And as Jessica wakes and our eyes meet, ‘What a perfect you.’



After a quenching shower and a light breakfast we leave home, heading in different directions. I stroll down the road, marvelling at the emerging colours and inhaling deeply the crisp air of an early spring morning in Basel. The River Rhein sparkles with hope, a delicate morning mist rising towards the sun, and it’s hard to tell whether this is heaven or earth.

Eighty percent of the nurses and doctors employed at the children’s hospital where I work are women and they all reflect back to me the love I am feeling as I almost skip down the corridor. The more I smile, the more they radiate back and I feel like embracing everyone.

‘Hey you look great today,’ they call out.

‘Tina, how come you’re so pretty?’ I grin.

‘I just look at you and I need to smile, you’re so happy,’ she returns.

‘Why thank you, that’s sweet. Enjoy the day!’ I breeze past.

heartbasedmedicine_BP_009_Love-for-Life_01.jpg

This is the tone of the day, nothing spectacular, just pleasantries. But I start to notice that if I set the tone, people join in.

When I reach my ward, instead of saying ‘Alright, are you ready for the round?’ I try ‘Alright, let’s go play!’ At first the team look startled, as if to say ‘This is medicine, this is serious, not child’s play.’ But they respond with smiles, obviously thinking ‘This could be a good day.’

We knock on the door of our first patient’s room. A deeply exhausted mother stares back at us, dark circles under her eyes. ‘Good morning, how are you today?’

‘Ugh, it’s been such a rough night with all the machines beeping and my child coughing, struggling to breathe.’

‘I know, it’s hard sometimes, but you’re doing really, really well,’ I reassure her.

‘Oh thank you! I feel so helpless, you know?’

‘Yes I understand, it must be difficult to watch your baby suffer. Tell me, what was the most difficult part of last night? And what would make you feel better?’ I ask.

As the conversation continues and the mother feels seen and heard, I notice that she and her baby both start to relax. The atmosphere spreads, and I sense that the mother of a second baby in the room is also feeling better. It’s as if we’re collectively tuned into an environment of loving attention, support, shared intention and understanding.

We move from room to room, listening and offering soothing words, doing what we can to bring comfort, and I sense something unusual is happening. As we build this loving energy on the ward, it is also increasing within the team. All these people are coming from their individual households, living their own stories and then ‘click’, they bond as a team to help spread this feeling! It’s amazing, like an energy field or crystallization point.

heartbasedmedicine_BP_009_Love-for-Life_02.jpg

The atmosphere of care and compassion is starting to feel quite natural, and it’s infecting everyone! Everyone is ‘in the zone.’

‘Hey Simona, would you be so kind as to fetch one of those small firm cushions so we can position this baby a bit better and help her breathe?’ I call. And from the other end of the corridor the response comes back: ‘Sure, I’m just getting them. Will be right there!’

‘I want whatever you had for breakfast today,’ laughs Mrs Berger, the young mother in Room 13.

Hanna, our new pediatric resident is the only one not tuning in.

In fact, she is clearly irritated. After the round, I take her aside: ‘What’s going on Hanna?’ She looks exhausted, overworked and has tears in her eyes. ‘What are you worried about?’

‘Making mistakes,’ she mutters, looking down at her shoes. ‘I have a hard time applying all the knowledge I’ve acquired and keeping it structured, specifically during rounds like this one. I am not good enough and I feel like resigning.’

‘OK. So what would be a dream scenario for you to feel good enough?’ I ask, gently.

‘I would be with patients and heal them with what I’ve learned.’ Hanna is still staring at the floor.

‘And what is in the way?’ I prompt.

‘The knowledge I’ve learned…I am not on top of it…I have a hard time following the algorithms and  quality standards. How can I be compassionate and humorous when I struggle myself?’ She sounds angry, confused.  

‘Yes, I know that feeling. And what’s more, we’ve been told not to listen to our “gut feeling” or our emotions, as they don’t have the blessing of science and are not considered evidence-based medicine, right?’

‘Yes, that’s right.’ Hanna looks up at me, curious.

‘The good news is that you have learned in medical school “what” to diagnose and “what” to treat.’

‘Now it becomes truly fascinating when you add the “who” to diagnose, “who” to treat, and “who” is making the diagnosis.’

‘OK? It’s just a shift of perspective which I find liberating every day. Are you ready to add this facet of healing?’

Hanna nods, and I know her true work is just beginning.




Jan BonhoefferComment