Attitude is highly contagious. And attitude exists at many different levels, from the individual, through the team, to the whole organization. We can sense it the moment we walk into a place like a hospital.
One day I learned that choosing my own attitude is one of the most powerful ways I can change the world for the better. It was a wonderfully liberating experience.
The thought came to me at 4.30am while driving to the hospital to attend a woman in childbirth. I was the on-call anesthesiologist summonsed to perform an epidural injection for pain relief.
I was exhausted, grumpy, resentful and feeling sorry for myself. After a long and frantic day at the hospital this was my fourth call of the night. I had been in bed asleep for only ten minutes since the last call-out and was angry that the midwife hadn’t contacted me when I was still in the hospital.
This story is about the sometimes fractured relationship between midwives and hospital doctors. Here are two groups with profoundly different philosophies and experiences.
The midwives come with a strong belief in childbirth as a natural process for which there should be minimal medical intervention. The hospital doctors see only the clinical crises in childbirth and have to respond swiftly to life-threatening emergencies.
There is an understandable tension between the values and beliefs of these two groups of professionals, resulting in friction, distrust, and mutual blaming.
I carried my resentment into work with me and was intolerant of frustrations, delays or missing equipment. It wasn’t always the friendliest of receptions when I entered the labor room. Sometimes it felt like I was the enemy, the ‘wicked’ doctor interfering in the natural process of childbirth.
It was an uphill struggle to find the right equipment, to gain the midwife’s help in positioning the patient for the epidural injection, and to communicate instructions. Sometimes the epidural didn’t work well and I’d be called out of bed again.
As I drove into the hospital with all these negative thoughts and feelings, I suddenly felt very ashamed. At that moment I remembered my purpose, I remembered why I had chosen to become a doctor. My purpose was to be a healer, to ease pain and suffering. How could I feel grumpy and sorry for myself when I was being invited to take part in an intimate and life-changing event where my intervention could transform the experience for the patient?
I decided at that moment that every time I was called out I would dispel negative thoughts and instead reflect on the extraordinary privilege of the work we do.
So now I take great care with the spirit and presence I bring to the patient. I enter the labor room softly with compassion and gentleness. I notice how this affects the mother in reducing fear and distress.
I greet and acknowledge the other people in the room. I ask the midwife if she has been busy and when she last had any sleep or rest. I do the epidural injection with the minimum of fuss and then witness the miracle of pain relief. It is a joyous experience. I don’t care how tired I am. I go home with love and joy in my heart.
How amazingly the world changed when I chose to have a different attitude!
Sometimes I thought the midwives resented my coming to do an epidural. Some were surly and uncommunicative, they would neglect to introduce me to the patient or other family members in the room, I would have to ask for assistance, the equipment wouldn’t be ready.
Now I feel like an honored visitor. I am greeted warmly. I have the sense that my praises have been sung to the patient even before I step into the labor room. The midwife thoughtfully prepares for my arrival, finding all the equipment and positioning the patient ready for the procedure. I find that the pain relief is more effective and the rate of complications is greatly reduced.
It’s as if all the grumpy and difficult midwives have had a personality transplant!
For most of my career, I considered the problem of the relationship with midwives as an external problem, a consequence of their difficult attitude and behaviors. My more recent experience leads me to believe that the problem and certainly the solution existed in my own head. The only person who changed was ‘me’ but the consequence of that was a remarkable change in my whole world experience.
Sometimes you have to change ‘me’ to change the world.