How to avoid being thrown under (the B.U.S.)

Any old winter's day: man in nature

Any old winter’s day: man in nature


The keynote speech at the 2014 Gold Humanism award ceremony for graduating Pritzker medical students was given by my colleague and mentor, Dr Shalini Reddy. A lover of acronyms, she coined a simple three letter mantra to live by for the medical students who will soon be rising to doctors. This is great advice for everyone, when facing stressful times.

Breathe. When life seems overwhelming, and there are too many demands in too little time, and a patient is crashing halfway around the hospital–start by taking a deep breath. Oxygen is good for the brain and the heart and the body.

Understand. Non-compliant patients aren’t trying to torment us and be bad people who don’t do what we say. They are people with lives. Seek to understand why people do what they do, and respond accordingly (perhaps this is easier after taking a deep breath).

Sustain. We’re in life for the long haul, hopefully. We must each find the people and activities that sustain us over time, that give meaning and joy to our lives. We feed our soul with the people who sustain us, our sense of joy with the activities that sustain us.

After the ceremony and celebration, I headed to Promontory Point for my joy and soul sustenance–a beautiful cross country ski along Lake Michigan.
On what may very well have been my last ski of this winter, the moon was one day away from being full, and it sparkled off the tiny choppy blue waves of the lake. After our record breaking cold spells, I was surprised to see the lake was still liquid, not the sheet of ice stretching to the horizon whose week-long melting was the harbinger of spring in the first never-endingly frozen winter I survived in Chicago 5 years ago.
Still, as I rounded the point to see Chicago’s awesome skyline, it was ice, not snow, I skied upon. An earlier storm had sent spray crashing over the stone barrier that froze in an undulating sheet of knobby lumps that sent my skies skittering. My heart raced, I breathed deeper, and ice turned back to snow as I skied along, my soul awakening to the beauty of the stark silhouettes of bare branched winter trees backlit by lamplight along the winter path, the faint stars visible above despite the general glow of Chicago’s starline. Eternally lit sky.
The three stars of Orion’s belt were faint above me, and I remembered the crystal clear Big Dipper from camping trips with my family in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, the brilliant falling starshower on a dark night in Mali untouched by light pollution. Low on the horizon, two orange lights glowed brightly. Planets? They grew brighter, then a third joined, and a fourth, and I realized I was watching the flightpath towards Chicago’s airports, and felt my heart soften to appreciate the everchanging beauty of man and nature, interacting.

Light, flight, moonlight, movement, sustenance.

What sustains you?

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