Yesterday I saw a new patient in my medical practice, who primarily needed refills on medications for diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. He had no pressing problems at the moment. In taking his history I discovered he was a retired firefighter from Minnesota and he was now living with his daughter in Palm Desert, CA. Up to this point our interaction had been pretty flat. I didn’t feel that either of us were really engaged. I was scribbling prescriptions, while asking questions, he answering dully.
Then I asked him, “so what are you doing with your retirement?” “Oh I volunteer with this Catholic Charity who distributes donations all over the world!” He lit up, it was clear that this really did something for him, and he went on in great detail. ” This ambulance company donated an ambulance that was needed in the Philippines and we got the navy to ship it there…” he continued on in great detail. It was really interesting and heart warming and yet…..I started to get a little anxious as the minuets passed, wondering how many patients I had waiting for me and how many charts on my desk….There was no way I could interrupt him he was enjoying himself and on a roll… besides, I had asked! Breathe Beth, I told myself, listen with your whole self…the staff will tell you if you are really needed somewhere else, meanwhile what could be more important than this? I tuned back in….”Asked if we would accept a donation of toilet paper. How much we asked? Eight semi loads! So we used it to pack all the other things we had to ship. ”
I realized that by listening I was learning something really valuable, not just his experience as a volunteer but about the generosity going on in the world. We don’t often hear much about this. I was glad I asked the question, even if at times I had to force myself to listen. My meditation practice has taught me how to deal with the wandering mind, and mindfulness has taught me how to bring it back from it’s travels. It became a meaningful interaction for both of us. How good it is to be listened to, how good to hear.