As Easter Mondays go it was one of the more inspiring and enlightening. In truth I hadn’t noticed the day when I booked the tickets. Something that a number of us must have been guilty of, including our host Dara O’Briain who confessed as much in his opening remarks at the Imagine Medicine event at the Royal Albert Hall.
There were a wide variety of speakers from heart surgeons to classical musicians, neuroscientists to entrepreneurs. The content was far reaching and often inspirational. Each speaker held the audience transfixed (even in the case where many disagreed with him). I’ve wrestled with what bits to pull out and blog about, this post has seen many ideas and drafts but in the end I’m going to make this a mini series and focus on 3 different speakers and their messages.
First up for the blog treatment is Dr Leo Cheng, an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon. If you were to read his bio you’d wonder how he fits it all in but having heard him speak I can see that his tireless energy and drive keeps moving him forward. He spoke very movingly about his work on the Mercy Ships operating off the coast of Africa. He spoke openly about his disgust that there was a queue of 7000 people waiting for treatment which would be routine in developed countries but most of all he spoke about hope.
He was too humble to say that he provided hope to his patients but it was obvious. He showed us pictures of patients with disfiguring conditions, with conditions that limited their ability to breathe and eat, who had been shunned by family and friends, been dismissed as possessed by spirits. Then he told us how he started their treatment. He looked them in the eye and welcomed them, shook hands and started to talk to them as humans, as equals. He said to us that “all healing starts with acceptance”.
A week later that phrase is still stuck in my head. I’ve examined it from a variety of perspectives. I’ve thought about my own battle to accept the limitations of my mental health condition. I’ve considered it from a societal perspective about accepting illness and disability and treating patients as human. I’ve wondered about doctors and how they accept their patients. I’m reminded of the words of Aneurin Bevan – considered the founder of our own National Health Service “Illness is neither an indulgence for which people have to pay, nor an offence for which they should be penalised, but a mis-fortune, the cost of which should be shared by the community.” If all healing starts with acceptance then I’m not sure how great a job we are doing when people are still stigmatised around the world for relatively curable conditions let alone more complex ones.
This week sees the continuation of some work I’m doing within the NHS and I certainly want to incorporate this idea of acceptance being at the start of healing. However I want to leave the last words to Dr Cheng. As he closed he said that it was easy to have emotion over someone in distress or unwell, but to turn that into compassion you needed to take action and that was the challenge he left us with – to take action. Will you?