Saturday, June 14, 2014

A virtual speech

I didn't "get to" give a speech, but I did have a nice time last night after I got home writing an acceptance speech. I hope you like it. I do. 

Friends, thank you for this wonderful honor. When I was nominated for it, I was honored, of course, but surprised, too. I feel that what I do is take the best care I can of the next person in front of me. That doesn't feel innovative, but I see what you are saying in the letter and I guess would have to agree with your point. To win feels an incredible, astonishing honor. Thank you.
I'd like to thank my teams at Home, Health and Hospice Care: the advanced illness management team, the hospice at home team and The Community Hospice House team. Also, my Dartmouth team, my friends, my bosses, my teachers and my family. All of you, thank you for your daily love, support and affection. I could not even get out of bed in the morning without you, never mind take loving care of the sickest and most vulnerable patients in the system. You make me better every day. Thank you.
It seems that today a theme has emerged: that we have a choice regarding our stance towards the future. We can look at the regulatory changes and view the future with fear or we can view it as an opportunity to really live our missions. What is each of our missions? Fundamentally, to love our communities. As with everything else in life, we are offered the choice between fear and love. Michael Leunig says (and copying from John McPhee, I'll read it twice):
(please note, I have asked for copyright permission to put the poem here, and until it arrives, here is a link to it)
When I consider the choice in my own life between love and fear, it strikes me that every time I chose love, I was choosing to be my better self. I'd like to tell you about some of those times.
As Carla has already noted, today is June 13. June 13 is my youngest brother's birthday. He turned 56 today and I called him on my way in this morning and sang to his answering machine. Keith was 41 and I, 35 when I first met him and my other three brothers and my sister. Our father had already died before I got to meet him. Making the decision at 35 to track down and meet half of my family of origin was a real choice between love and fear. I was afraid that they would say that they had not contacted me all these years on purpose and they really didn't want me in their lives at all. That fear held me back from the time I learned of them at about 22 until when at 34, I finally paid $19.95 to do an internet search and found my Uncle Frank. It has turned out well. Keith lived with us, in fact, for a number of years and we have been a tremendous force for good in each other's lives. Happy birthday and I love you, Keith.
June 13 is also the day I was diagnosed with leukemia. It was exactly two years ago today that my secretary came running down the hall, frantic, "Dr Braun! Dr Braun! I'm looking for a doctor to talk to the pathologist, but it can't be you because he's calling about your labs!" It has been a million dollar experience I wouldn't pay two cents for. I have learned so much from it. I thought I was empathetic before, but I get so many things now that I didn't before I got sick. I am a much better doctor than I was before. The "kill the cancer" mentality is easy to fall into, but it never felt right for me. My leukemia was, well, mine. It was truly flesh of my flesh. I feared the leukemia, because I did not want to leave my children motherless, but the fact that fear was not my main emotion allowed me to be open and to receive what the leukemia had to teach me. I love you, my beautiful tiger, and am sorry I had to kill you in order to live.
Today is also the day I got this award. Those of you who are clinicians know the push/pull between fear and love that we feel with patients daily. In palliative care, where our patients are so fragile, the fear is so much stronger for me than it was in primary care. If I screw up, I could easily kill a patient. If I make a mistake, I could suggest a course that would ruin a number of the precious days of their last month. Then there is the fear that they are going to die on me, even if I do nothing wrong at all because that is what very sick patients do. Every day, with every patient, I have to adjust diuretics, pain meds, anti-epileptics, decide if we are going to treat this infection and if so how, choose nausea meds, make decisions about bowels, really think, really care, knowing that this patient for whom I am wracking my brain in all likelihood will be dead before my next day off. Over and over, I have to overcome my fear for them, my fear for my pain at their death and love them enough to apply my knowledge and experience to their specific situation, to really understand them. My patients all know this in their hearts, but I will say it outloud to you: I love you, my dears. Thank you for trusting me.
I have often said to people that if one were giving a life to someone with the intent of making them a palliative care clinician, one would have given them my life. It is nice to see my leukemia and my family of origin braided in with this award through the date of June 13 and I want to thank you again for honoring me with it. I am touched and humbled by your belief in and love of me.
I will close by saying again, we have a choice for the future: love or fear. Let's be our best selves and choose love. Thank you.


  1. Replies
    1. :-)
      It's a nice bidirectional thing, isn't it?

  2. Congratulations, Mary, on winning this award! It's an amazing and wonderful achievement.

    Thanks also for sharing this news and publishing your beautiful acceptance speech. If it would be possible for you to publish or link to the nominating letter, that would also be much appreciated.

    Great job!!!


    1. Thank you! I don't know if the nominating letter is available on the internet. I cannot even find a good description of the award to link to. I know the NHHPCO just hired a person to sort out the web site so I bet it will be available in a month or so. I'll link to it if it comes on line.

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