Gotta Start Somewhere

Gotta Start Somewhere

Rosh HaShanah 5779

Last year I wrote a holiday parody song for my office. We speak a dozen languages and observe half-a-dozen religions among us, and one thing quickly became apparent: there are an awful lot of different new years to celebrate: Chinese Lunar New Year. Nowruz. Rosh HaShanah. It all depends on where you decide to start – but you gotta start somewhere. Each new year marks the beginning of something different: trees, creation, the reign of the new king. Whatever you’re marking in time, you gotta start somewhere.

Kind of like at a doctor’s appointment, for example your annual physical. Your throat hurts, but so does your foot. And you’re not sleeping well. And you just found out you have an extensive family history of colon cancer. You gotta start somewhere – and the first thing you say will become your “chief complaint” and you’ll be lucky if you get to talk about anything else. The new year of you will be remembered for one thing that may not even have been that important.

What if you and I take a different approach? What if, since we gotta start somewhere, we don’t start with your throat, or your genes – we start with who you are and what matters to you about your life. We start with you being human, and what’s getting in the way of you feeling fully human these days. Everything else is just a plot device in that story. The new year of you is about you, not your foot or your restless nights.

My upcoming new year, Rosh HaShanah, is about getting it right – we call it cheshbon nefesh, the accounting of the soul. Admitting our errors to each other and to God and fixing them, so that we can write a better story this coming year. It takes two to do that – one to apologize, one to forgive, and two to figure out how to move forward. It takes the humility to admit, “I didn’t do that very well – I could and should do better.”

Healing you takes two also: you to be human, with all the chaos and confusion that goes along with it, me to see the human in you, and both of us to make a plan to rise above it all. It takes me being humble enough to admit that I wasn’t brilliant enough, tactful enough, or attentive enough the last time you came to see me. It takes you being honest enough with yourself to recognize that you didn’t stick to the plan, weren’t attentive enough to your symptoms, or didn’t allow enough time for self-care in your crazy life. It takes both of us being willing to try again. We can’t do a good job with the “accounting of the body” unless we do an honest accounting of the soul. It can be pretty overwhelming – there’s so much that needs attention. But you gotta start somewhere.

That’s how I’m approaching this blog, this book, this whole endeavor that is Healers Who Listen. There’s a lot to fix in healthcare, and a lot of passionate, determined and just plain angry people out there clamoring about how to fix it. It can be pretty overwhelming – there’s so much that needs attention. But you gotta start somewhere. So I’m starting here, right before Rosh HaShanah (thanks to my publisher’s perfect timing), right at the beginning of a new year, with the idea that healing doesn’t start with a “chief complaint” – it starts with a human being.

Dr. Jonathan Weinkle

Dr. Jonathan Weinkle is an experienced primary care physician seeking to fix our broken healthcare system by returning the focus to the relationship between human beings. His new book, Healing People, Not Patients, gathers together ancient wisdom, medical science, and the experiences of one doctor to draw a portrait of a partnership—a medical covenant—not just between doctor and patient, but also including receptionist, nurse, transporter, and radiology technician.

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