By Shahar Madjar MD MBA
A small group of nurses, doctors, and other health professional meet yearly at the beautiful lighthouse in Big Bay. They call these meetings the ‘Janus Project’. They sit around a long oval dining table and the story about the beautiful lighthouse is told again: once upon a time there were two keepers-of-light that lived in this lighthouse, which was split down the middle, by a large wall, separating it into two almost identical living quarters. The two keepers of light shared a common mission – keeping the lens at the lantern room intact, and the oil flowing, and the stream of light at the top of the tower shining.
Then, Dr Michael Grossman, a family doctor at Bell hospital and the founder of the group, and Jon Magnuson, its spiritual leader, reminded the participants as to the mission of this year’s meeting: We will discuss only one body system, emphasizing the interplay between mind and body, and looking at the fundamental role our mind plays in health and disease states. We will do so as a group, participating in intense discussion; providing honest feedback to each other; engaging in strenuous physical activities including hiking, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing; and practicing Tai Chi.
These meetings are always thought provoking and challenging. But for me, the highlight of the ‘Janus Project’ has always been an hour in which we invite one of our patients to participate in the discussions. This year it was a patient of mine that was invited (here, I will call him Robin). He was nervous speaking in front of us, hesitating at first, his voice breaking, but then his story flowed: one day as he was riding his bike, he found himself airborne. He hit the ground hard, injuring his head, his collar bone, and his spine.
In the weeks that followed, Robin was hospitalized and underwent an intense rehabilitation program. He learned to walk, and to cope. His wife was always besides him, supporting him both physically and emotionally. He overcame many physical challenges. But to him, it seems that the road ahead is still challenging, demanding, and at times impassable. There are voices in his head that discourage him from continuing in his long way to recovery. And there is always the doubt that he will never be able to be the man he used to be. He said all this and his voice trembled with anger, and with despair. And still, he finds the strength to continue, re-inventing himself, renewing his relationship with his wife, redefining what he is, as a new and stronger person.
It was our turn, as a group, to provide Robin with feedback. One doctor thanked him for his courage to come and speak in front of us all. Another remarked on the strong bond he has with his wife and how instrumental she is to his success. The feedback came from around the room and my turn came.
I was the only person in that room that had known Robin before. I knew him as a patient of mine. I saw him on several occasions in my office and in the procedure room. I examined him and evaluated his medical condition. I formed an opinion and designed a treatment plan. I did listen to him, carefully, I thought. And yet, I have never truly met Robin, not at the same intensity and depths as I got to know him on that night at the ‘Janus Project.’ I wanted to tell him that he is so much more than the sum of his medical conditions–he is the experience that has changed his life, his courage, his strength, his ability to cope, his new relationship with his wife, the man he has become, not a bit less than the man he used to be.
Robin and his wife left. I thought: the walls that divided the lighthouse into two separate living quarters, keeping the keepers-of-light apart are no longer there. But what about the walls between doctors and their patients? Do they serve a purpose? Or are these walls just an obstacle to better healing?
It was dark outside. Someone suggested that we should step out and look for the northern lights. And there, for the first time in my life, I saw the northern lights, vibrating waves of colors – shining streams of light.
Shahar Madjar MD MBA