Health and wellness. These 2 words used to be synonymous to me and they ultimately reflected a state of lacking that which is unhealthy. In other words, as long as my medical chart was without diagnoses, I was winning the health and wellness game.
Over the last 4-5 years, my understanding and wisdom of true wellness has grown exponentially. And possibly the most interesting twist is that I gained this wisdom without more education, more degrees, or more titles after my name. I gained it through living and experiencing life.
Before my father was diagnosed with cancer, I was going through the motions. I was a successful healthcare professional, helping my patients manage their medications. While I always strived to put forward my best effort in my work, I was largely working a task-driven job. Throughout my career, my goals were to manage and mitigate the potential risks of certain treatments and help patients be "compliant" with their medications, meaning take them as instructed. While I do not minimize the importance of this work, I realize now that I missed a basic foundation of what health and wellness truly mean.
After watching the medical system largely fail my father through errors and a tunnel-visioned approach to treatment, I began to question everything I knew. What had I been doing all those years as a pharmacist? Did my patients feel the same way we felt? How many others have gone through what we went through and why isn't anyone talking about it?
Sometimes we have to break down before we break through. I can remember it like it was yesterday-the moment when my father's oncologist told us there was nothing else they could do and he was ordering hospice. I was sitting next to my father and mother, speechless. After a year of speaking up, advocating, at times fighting the system, I had no words. How could there be no more options? How could all of his treatments, which were costly, difficult to tolerate, and promised to be effective, not have worked? How could the only option now be to go home and watch my father die? I tear up just thinking about how many people live through this same scene each and every day. That was my internal break down.
In those last weeks of his life, I had ample time to think and reflect. I wondered why no one on his medical team asked him what he was eating, what hobbies or activities made him happy, or even how he was handling his diagnosis. The questions involved medication side effects and symptoms. And that was it.
What if health and wellness weren't synonymous? What if we as healthcare professionals are missing something in this equation? I now understand that health is a state of body and wellness is a state of being. Yes, assessing the state of the body is important. But it's only a fraction of what makes up our wellness. Our state of being includes our mind and our spirit. And I don't mean simply stating affirmations in the morning to feel more positive. I mean deep work on the mind and spirit. Seeing ourselves as more than the identity of our diagnosis and the duration of our prognosis means connecting with ourselves in a different way. To me, it means seeking the guidance of our internal mentor, validating our ability to heal ourselves, and giving ourselves permission to rest and be with the emotions that arise out of illness. We are human beings, not human doings. Learning to simply be can often be more impactful than any one thing we could ever do.