I recently read Glennon Doyle’s, Love Warrior. In it she writes:
“The canary’s body was built to be sensitive to toxins, so the canary became their lifeguard. When the toxin levels rose too high, the canary stopped singing, and this silence was the miners’ signal ….
I tell Mary Margaret that I don’t think we’re crazy, I think we’re canaries. “Could it be,” I ask, “that we aren’t making any of this up – we’re just sensing the very real danger in the air!” I tell Mary Margaret that I think the world is more than a little poisonous and that she and I were built to notice that. I tell her that in lots of places, the canaries are appreciated. They’re the shamans and the poets and the sages, but not here. … [Here] They don’t want to know how broken the world is, so they just decide we’re broken. When we stop singing, instead of searching the air, they put us away.“
It seems the more I look around, the more I see canaries stop singing, or at least coming close. The canaries I most think of? Patients. My guess is that you, my fellow family doc, are seeing this too.
Our patients are so increasingly unwell. Physically unwell, with not a road sign to follow towards healing. Mentally and spiritually unwell, whatever that word means to you and them, with no soft place to rest. I know I don’t have to tell you this. Our patients are wandering through this world and health care system with their songs getting quieter and quieter. Perhaps worse, is that the “system” is so blindly far behind, it isn’t ready to understand this yet, it is NOT searching the air. It is not and cannot help them catch a fresh breath.
But you can and you are, aren’t you? Every minute in your office and likely most days when you are out of it – it’s your focus. You get it entirely. You are trying to get them the hell out of that mine and into fresh air. Right? Your work is never just medical, though your expertise in the breath of this field is astounding. It is always medical and a something else. That is your exquisite gift. In isolation, filling out a form, making a call, listening, looking in an ear when you know it’s fine, reviewing again that your thyroid is normal – but your boss is a real @sshole, doesn’t seem heroic, does it? Wrong. The beautiful ballet of acts you do every moment of every day in your office, without even realizing it, is what keeps people singing. I cherish my other colleagues absolutely, I don’t think ill of anyone other places in the system, and I am well aware that it takes a very large proverbial village, but I believe with all my heart that is only us, here, that have the ability to walk those around us, being silenced, out of the mine.
Don’t believe me? Pick any patient that you’ve seen recently and then imagine what it would be like for them if you didn’t exist. What would health care look like for them? What would it cost them? What would it cost the system? If you vanished, who would replace you?
Still don’t believe me? Think of a patient that you’ve worked with to get them “better” – whatever that meant in that circumstance. Once they were “better” what did they then do? Did they start playing music again? Did they sponsor a refugee? Did they show up better for their partner? Were they able to keep this baby and break the cycle? Did they make choices based on kindness instead of anger? When someone is made to feel “better,” they do better in places we can’t even imagine. We see this.
We, here, were trained to notice all the dangers out there and to help people walk away. We don’t walk them out of one tunnel only to let them turn the wrong way down another, we get them right outside. We do so not only with expertise, ethic, and kindness, but also a firm understanding of the system as a whole and when a lever in it just needs a little finesse or when it needs a large yank. We do this better than anyone. We do “better” better than anyone. And we’ve been doing this for a very long time; in mines that are becoming deeper with ever more complicated networks and harder to find resources. This has consequences. And the consequence that has driven me to do this work and be here talking to you is that I think there is another group of canaries going unnoticed: us.
“I tell Mary Margaret that I think the world is more than a little poisonous and that she and I were built to notice that. I tell her that in lots of places, the canaries are appreciated. They’re the shamans and the poets and the sages, but not here. … [Here] They don’t want to know how broken the world is, so they just decide we’re broken. When we stop singing, instead of searching the air, they put us away.”
This resonates, doesn’t it?
We’ve been voicing the alarm for so long. However, instead of being brought up out of darkness, we are being told that we are the broken ones, right? You need to delegate more, you need to be available more, you need to become more efficient, you are spreading yourself too thin, you are asking for too much, you need to adopt more technology, you are at risk of burnout, you need to care more, you should be grateful like them over there, why don’t you feel grateful? You are being put away. Our patients are sounding the alarm of poison in the world. We are sounding the alarm of poison in the system. If alarms aren’t heard, those behind suffer.
I don’t want your songs to stop. I don’t want to live in a world where your songs don’t exist. Because without you, without us, then everyone behind us is the next to go, and then there is no “better”, anywhere. So, I’m asking you to sing with me and save us.
Your inclination might be to shy away from the idea that it is only us that can do this. You might feel that reeks of ego and pomp, perhaps. And if I were talking to a group of lost world leaders or social media CEOs, then you’d be right, insinuating would be inane – the flame of their ego needs no gasoline. But I’m not talking to them, I’m talking to you. You are kind and moral. You search the air for people. You set them free. You are the shamans and the poets and the sages. Your song needs to be heard now. What you are feeling isn’t “crazy”, no you aren’t making this up. The feeling of being put away is real. I hear you, BC Family Doctors hears you and we are ready to sing, loud, with you.
For us to be heard though, we must vehemently believe our song. You must know that by sounding the alarm, you are doing good. You must understand that if you are allowed to walk out of the mine and take a fresh breath, then you allow thousands behind you to do the same. This is not about ego or money or power; this is about the truth and what is right. The truth that we’ve always known and that others deserve to know again too. If you believe and if you sing, you will be making sure that you and everyone around you gets out and makes this world a better place.
So, take a deep breath, stand tall, and get ready to sing with us.