At the intersection of patient and healer, there is an occurrence that is mutually yielding—the reciprocal reward from the healing event. This result transcends programmed societal lenses and moves both parties to a mutually beneficial field of unlimited possibilities: the human experience.
When we containerize people into social paradigms such as class or race, we exclude the “human” from the story and focus on statistics. In health care, one can imagine this is prevalent from the outside, but some of the stories from this field have beautifully rewarding outcomes when closely examined.
“I knew that when she walked into my clinic, she was looking to be seen as a human,” says Dr. Melissa Gerlach, recalling the time she treated an elderly Indian woman who came into her clinic wearing a beautiful sari, speaking almost no English and confessing that she had no address and no phone and was living in her car.
“One of the gifts I have received from my practice is the ability to validate someone’s experience by seeing who they are as a person who needs help and not as their social status,” says Gerlach, a breast cancer specialist and breast imaging radiologist in San Jose, California. “I realize that sometimes they have a bigger need and that is to be seen as a human. I feel so lucky that I can use all of my years of training and expertise to help them feel valued and cared for.”
This experience has also transformed Gerlach. She admits that medical school took a toll on her own emotional and mental health, but when she is in the role of patient support she feels empowered and rewarded.
“Becoming a doctor was challenging but being a doctor has healed that for me. I want to transform my patients’ experiences and have them feel valued and cared for,” she says. “I often share personal stories with them so that they feel more comfortable and seen, despite what their outside world is reflecting. With me, they are safe.”
Rebecca Townsend, a licensed massage therapist and owner of the Indianapolis-based Mantis Massage studio specializing in treating cancer warriors, also shares this viewpoint.
“I think healing works to be an equalizer when we encourage people to think of themselves as a mind-body-spirit being on a wellness journey, and as healers and doctors caring for them, we are also on a wellness journey,” says Townsend.
“Everyone deserves wellness.”
She affirms that wellness is not a straight line but rather a path that unfolds. As it does, it creates lines of communication that were previously closed by the separation of class and race.
“I recognize my privilege and the position I hold,” Townsend says. “I honor the clients that come to my studio by creating a visual environment that respects and honors their diversity and offering services to those who need it but may not be able to afford it.”
She recognizes that wellness can at times feel elite and that those who need it cannot always receive it. “I also understand what it is like to have to choose between feeding your child and getting a massage, and I don’t want anyone to have to make that choice,” she says. “Everyone deserves wellness.”
To augment this, she often donates her services to those who can’t afford them. Being in a position where wellness dictates the conversation allows her to dismantle socio-economic boundaries and cultivate true human connections where both the patient and the healer’s experience is based on similarities as humans rather than differences.
“I have found that to be extremely rewarding: to be able to extend generosity and recognize those in need and be in the position to support others. I honor those who come to me and feel so fulfilled by doing so,” Townsend shares.
Relationships are the mirrors of our truest selves. This is both accurate on a societal level and an interpersonal level. The relationship between caregiver and patient reflects a wide spectrum of our cultural learnings. At the core of it is an opportunity like no other to cultivate care, connection and a trust that transcends the limitations of societal boundaries and allows us to honor the human journey that we all share.
As we journey on the path toward healing, we will see that our similarities far outweigh our differences and this in itself becomes the greatest healing of all.