Here is the full transcript of CEO and founder of Intuitive Intelligence, Neha Sangwan’s TEDx Talk titled ‘The Communication Cure’ at TEDxBerkeley conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: The Communication Cure by Neha Sangwan at TEDxBerkeley
He was an impressive looking, middle-aged Saudi physician. And he asked one of the most articulate, and thought provoking questions I had ever been asked in a public forum.
It was 2008, and my mentor and colleague, Jim Gordon had just been invited to speak in Saudi Arabia. The invitation read: The Prince Sultan Cardiac Center is honored to invite you to speak at our second international conference on the advanced sciences. It was the King of Organs conference, focused on the heart.
Jim had just published his new book, called ‘Unstuck’. It was the seven stages out of depression without medication. The Saudis loved it. So they wanted the author to come and discuss his findings and research.
Jim called me up: “Hey, Neha. I have a conflict and I’d like you to represent my work in Saudi. You available?”
“Really, Jim? Hmm, you’re a world renowned expert in depression and trauma, and you happen to be a 60-year-old white male. I am a 38-year-old, single Indian female — Do you think they’re going to notice it isn’t you?”
He leaned into the microphone, and began: “Doctor Neha, it is my understanding, that your country writes more than 200 million prescriptions for antidepressants — for adults, children and pets. How is it, that your country has come to believe that a pill can cure an ailment of the soul?”
I walked across the stage to buy myself some time, and sat down, next to the empty seat in the audience right next to him and I said: “I understand, this is part of the reason I am here.”
After spending a decade in the hospital, in my sleep I could recite the protocol for a stroke, a heart attack, or a pneumonia. But there was something else that I did as a physician that was a little bit strange. The night before I discharged my patients, I would ask them a few questions: “Why you? Why this ailment? This heart attack, this stroke, this pneumonia? And why now in your life? Are there any messages that you’re getting from this?”
Unbeknownst to me, their answers to these questions would change the trajectory of my career. Brandon was a 52-year-old gentleman, he answered with, “I’ve always wanted to make my father proud. I’ve had an ideally good education, I’m married, with two children, I am a triathlonee, and I just sold my company for millions of dollars. And how come I just keep trying? You know, the craziest part doc, is — my dad’s been dead for 5 years. And I haven’t slowed down. This stroke — oh, I know what this stroke came to tell me. It came to tell me, that I need to listen to my body. I am exhausted.”
74 -year-old Wan answered, “I don’t think I ever remember crying in my life. Not when my children were born, not when my parents died. I look around in the world, and I am dumbfounded by the connections people seem to have with one another, I have always felt isolated. This heart attack, oh, I know what it came to tell me. It’s the first time I have been able to express my emotions. I have cried for two days. I feel weak, doc. Am I going to be OK?”
And then there was 62-year-old Lilly. She said, “My son married outside of our faith. So I disowned him. I have never held any of my six grandchildren, I’ve missed their graduations, and two weddings. This pneumonia and almost dying from it, has thought me to open up my heart again, breath back in the beauty of life. Do you think they’re going to forgive me if I could reach out now?”
These are only three of the thousands of answers that I heard. And what struck me the most was, my patients weren’t afraid of dying. They were afraid that they had never lived fully. So they taught me what 13 years of medical education did not. That it wasn’t just the anatomical and the physiological breakdown of their bodies that I was dealing with. Something had begun long, long ago. They had either stopped listening to themselves, and their body, like Brandon, they had shut down their emotions, like Wan. Or they had given up all the things that mattered to them, like Lilly.
And then somehow this catastrophic event happened. And they showed up, metaphorically on their knees, with all of us together realizing that these things were all connected.
So I wish I could tell you that I am smart enough to have used these patients’ stories and learned myself, but the truth is, I wasn’t.
I had this awakening that began in me, and I knew that this authentic connection that I was creating for them was something I needed to take long before they showed up in the ICU. How could I impact them long before? Except I want to squash that thought.
Listen, I had great security and stability with a partnership, and a paycheck. Okay, people paid me to take care of them after everything had happened. Would anyone pay me to do what I loved?
So I began numbing out my own symptoms. I had a perfected equation to get me through my hospital shifts. It was two ice-cold 16 oz Mountain Dews, plus a kings size Snickers bar, and I could get through any shift you gave me.
So I heard some laughter out there, and I want to know, I think that’s coming from the students, because you know what it takes to get you through the finals’ week. So you have your own equation, and I want you to think about what that is. You know this is not going to end well, right?
So, here I am, I burned out, I was on medical leave, June 17, 2004. And I had to ask myself the questions that I had so often asked other people: “Neha, why you? Why burnout, and why now? What message had it come to give you?” The answers didn’t come right away for me. I checked it out with some colleagues, to see if they had ever experienced something like this.
I then began to listen to my mind and my body and I started journaling. And what I read on those pages scared me to death. I didn’t just want to help people before they ended up in the hospital. I wanted to create self-care and healthcare. I wanted to help heal the healers. I wanted to become a master in communication and even combine it with my knowledge of health and I wanted to use that to go and bridge nations — that scared me.