Listening as Medicine

Stethoscope on a table
Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash

As we grapple with the challenges of our daily lives, it’s easy to forget we have potent tools at our fingertips — and listening is one of them.

I’ve been gathering stories about listening and people’s experiences of being heard. My niece has an incredible story to tell about the healing medicine of listening. Marie went through a traumatic experience giving birth to her daughter, Izzy, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In all that ordeal, one doctor stood out…

I spent nearly 48 hours in labor. My water broke at 1:00 am and I went to the hospital around 9:00 am. I was there one full night and then I had Izzy at 9:52 pm the next day.

From my perspective, there was a lot of miscommunication and not respecting my boundaries. I told them I didn’t want any residents, any unneeded people in the room with me. But that just kept happening. I felt like I was being ground down. They kept asking me, “Is it okay If she’s in here?”

I tend to be a people pleaser, so I said okay. I wasn’t really at my strongest point, obviously, after the surgery. It was kind of scary. I remember being poked in the arm by a resident in training and she couldn’t get my blood. This was after my C-section and all the pain I was in. I was so weak I couldn’t even talk. I kept thinking: Why would they have a resident do that, after all I’ve just gone through? I felt like an experiment. I felt really worn down by the doctors at that point.

It was either that night or the next night that I realized I couldn’t move. I couldn’t get out of bed because my legs were so large and stolen. That sent me into a downward spiral of panic. They were pumping a lot of drugs into me, so I was hot and very uncomfortable.

I remember just crying and telling the nurse that I felt like I was a burden to everyone. Every hour there were doctors coming in and doing stuff. It was just a lot. But the nurses were amazing. This young nurse was about my age and she was one of the first people to validate me. She got right down next to me and said, “You’re not a burden. It’s okay to have people help you right now.”

She helped calm me down, but I was still just reeling from the ordeal. Then later they sent this doctor in. He was a third-year resident named Scott Hoffman. I remember he had super kind eyes, he wore Harry Potter glasses, and he had a really nice presence about him. I just felt comfortable around him.

Dr. Hoffman was actually one of the doctors who saved my life during the surgery. By that time, I was septic and pre-eclamptic, so I had really high blood pressure. Then, because I’d been given Pitocin for so long. I think it wore out my uterus. So when they cut me open for the C-section, my uterus basically unraveled. It just tore down and over to the left. That’s when I started to lose blood. That’s when I could have died. But they were able to save my uterus and give me enough blood. I’m very thankful for blood donors, because I received blood for three days.

It was either that night or the next night that Dr. Hoffman came to my room. It was very late and things were rather fuzzy because I was so drugged up. I was in bed and the room was dimly lit. I just remember he was really calm and spoke with an even-toned voice. I couldn’t really see him, because he was in the corner of the room.

He just started asking me questions about my life, instead of talking about what happened to me. It was really grounding and helped me get more into my window of tolerance. He asked where we lived and what my life was like. He asked me about my animals. I told him about my dogs, Karma and Blaze. He asked, “If there was one thing I could get you right now, what would it be? What would you want?”

I told him I wanted my dog, Blaze, because he’s really loving. Dr. Hoffman said something to the effect that it wouldn’t be the first time he’s done something like that. He basically said that if I really wanted my dog to come into the room, he would help figure that out. That helped me get out of the moment for a little bit. And it made me feel like somebody cared enough to talk to me. He probably needed to be other places, but he spent time with me, in my room, talking to me.

My heart rate probably went down a lot. I had been unable to sit still, trying to move, trying to get up. He listened to me. And then he gave me some drugs that actually helped me calm down.

I was really impressed. He was a human being; he didn’t seem to have an ego that many doctors have. I think you do need some type of ego if you’re going to be a doctor, because you’re saving people’s lives. But he didn’t have it on display, at least when he was with me. I will always remember him.

It’s amazing what just listening can do. And we all have this medicine we can give to one another. Below is the poem Marie wrote for her daughter.

What is your experience with really being heard? I’d love to hear your story. Add a comment below, or contact me at Our Prosperous World.

Marie’s poem for her daughter

Originally published at http://ourprosperousworld.com on December 17, 2020.

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Sara DeHoff

Sara DeHoff is a freelance writer and author of “Collaboration through Consultation”. She writes about community building and developing a learning mindset.