The Buddha Walks into the OR, Part 3: Patience, grasshopper

Every week I’m a little more certain that I’m going to scare some folks off from reading about one of the Paramitas and trying to give it some real-life relevance in the madness that is our world as surgeons. This week, we come to the idea of patience, a quality that surgeons are not necessarily well-known for (deserved or not). I will grant that many of us who end up in surgery do so for some of the immediate gratification that “fixing” things gives us.

So, a question for you: When is the last time you lost your patience? Was it in traffic this afternoon? Was it when a nurse asked you a question you had already answered? Was it in the OR when the scrub tech couldn’t find something in the set that you know is in there? Or was it when you got home and your spouse or child expected your undivided attention and you were just too exhausted from your day to provide it?

(Leading by confessional:  I had a low-level loss of patience with the guy in front of me who seemed paralyzed about turning left out of the parking garage this evening.  I mean, it’s a left turn, not brain surgery.)

It might be a little bit easier to start with what patience is NOT- and it is not being completely nonreactive to things around us. If we are actually engaged with our world, it’s nearly impossible to not react in some way to things that happen.  Instead, the idea of patients is to commit to being intentional, to demonstrating wisdom and compassion- particularly in conflictual situations. To not immediately react in a confrontational manner isn’t a sign of weakness, but is instead a sign of great strength because you have the ability to manage strong emotions rather than reacting to them.

Okay, so we should be more patient. That makes sense.  It’s what people have been telling us to do since childhood.  Forbearance is so very hard.

Surely there are things that we can do to counteract our impatience; sure, counting to 10 or taking a breath is common wisdom, but they’re not an easy default for most people. What if you were able to remind yourself that you are reacting to an expectation or an assumption- a story, as we’ve discussed previously- that may or may not be real? Sure, the stories are fun and interesting and allow us to be creative. And, as we know, the stories are so very often just plain wrong.

So don’t get hooked, and instead stay curious. When is the last time you approached a situation and thought, “I wonder…”? What if you took the situation and wondered about it, perhaps even played with it a bit?  What if you practiced taking that step back that allows you to ask the questions, to stay open?

Most importantly, what if we all applied our patience to ourselves?  Again citing personal experience, I had plans to run tonight (and last night, if I’m completely honest, though I managed to get a weight workout done instead). By the time I got home at almost-8 pm, ate dinner, walked the dog, managed some email, and wrote this post…suddenly, it’s almost 10 pm. No run tonight- and I’m not going to push myself into a Plan B workout either since I wouldn’t be done working out until 1030 (or later).

Does this meet my expectations that I started the day with? Clearly the answer is no.

Do I gain anything by getting impatient with me and beating myself up about being lazy? Absolutely not.  I was taking care of people, and that’s what I do. I don’t have control over everything.

Would I have preferred a workout today, ideally my rescheduled run from yesterday followed by some core work? Yes, I would have preferred that, even if it was 400 meter repeats.

I wonder…what’s the best choice that I can make at this point?

Probably to make tomorrow’s breakfast, read short stories for 30 minutes, then go to bed a bit early.  So, on that note, I’ll give some grace to myself and wish you goodnight.