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.
So you can imagine when the call came from Jim Gordon to go to Saudi Arabia, that all of those experiences are what gave me the courage to say yes.
So I’d like to share just a few of those stories while I was there, and I got emotional a little earlier so I’m going to flip through two slides here, and bring you up-to-date.
I landed in Saudi Arabia, and I gave my talk. I gave my talk for Jim Gordon on “Unstuck in Depression.” And it was fantastic. They were gracious and they asked the questions that the Saudi physician asked.
And then, there was a second scheduled talk, which was Clear Direct Communication for the women. I walked in and I saw 200 sets of eyes looking back at me. It was like a sea of black, accented with designer handbags, and shoes. About an hour into my 2-hour-workshop I started hearing a familiar voice in my head, “You don’t know what you are talking about, everyone told you this wouldn’t translate cross-culturally. What are you doing?”
And in that moment I realized how much I depend on nonverbal communication in your facial expressions to know that I am connecting and engaging with you.
So I could have just road it out for the next hour, but I probably wouldn’t have given a very good talk, so I stopped and I said, “I wanted to check and see am I on track, is this useful to you?”
They erupted with, “Dr Sangwan, Dr Sangwan this is so important, we never learned this. Continue, please continue.”
So as I continued we had — I finally relaxed, and I probably started to enjoy it as much as they were. But the most important thing that I didn’t realize was how relevant this would be to my work back home. People in the same room, no body language, creating all sorts of miscommunication and judgments in their heads, but if they didn’t check out would become a big problem. A huge parallel.
Another story that I’d like to tell you about, that had a huge impact on me, was my interaction with doctor Abdullah. He was the chairman of the conference. He asked me if he could consult me about something that was weighing heavy on his heart. “Neha, you remind me of my daughter, except you are very different than she is. You’re incredibly strong, you travel the world, and you speak at international conferences. I see you taking on challenges with ease. My daughter on the other hand, she is weak. Whenever she faces a challenge I know that she’s weak, because she cries. I’m only afraid, that she is not going to make it in the world. Is there any way that you can help her?”
I thought for a moment, I had known him for about seven days. So, I said, “Dr. Abdullah, what if I don’t think that this is about your daughter?”
“Well then, who would it be about?”, he asked.
“Well, I’ve been in your country for seven days now, and I have watched you flawlessly orchestrate a conference of international scientists. I’ve spoken to your colleagues, and your patients, who speak incredibly highly of you. And I’ve even spent time with your family, they too revere you. I am curious if you love your daughter so much, that in the face of her tears, it’s one of the only times in the world, that you’re not in control?”