Hammerschlag has spent several decades working with Native American communities, and credits his time there with his learning how to heal. He shared a story of one of his first patient encounters as a young doctor, treating a man he later learned was a traditional medicine man for his tribe.
The man had congestive heart failure and asked him two questions: "Where did you learn to heal?" and "Do you know how to dance?" The man proceeded to ask him to dance, and to get up out of bed, respirator attached, and to demonstrate a traditional dance. Hammerschlag asked the man, "Can you teach me to dance like that?" And the man replied: "I can teach you my steps, but you have to be able to hear your own music."
Hammerschlag laments the direction society and health care have gone -- and are going. The bad news with health care reform -- no one knows what that means anymore, he says. It is very difficult for us to sustain our hearts and souls in this time; we have made unpleasant behaviors into diseases. In contrast, we need to look to prevention rather than intervention, we need to realize that in raising children, the setting of limits is a greater corrective experience than giving children everything they want; we need to look to dinner as a family and pulling televisions out of bedrooms. We need to realize that there is hope without medication.
In med school, Hammerschlag says, health was simply defined as the absence of disease, but that has nothing to do with being healthy.
If what you say and do and what you mean and how you feel aren't telling the same story, then you are not healthy. We have to come to our work with no head -- dispassionate clinical objectivity -- and no heart. Without feeling, you cannot heal. If you cannot dance, you cannot heal.
There is a tremendous fundamental difference between healing and curing. "You can be healed without being cured," he says. If you are going to connect with people, you have to be able to do so in a way that connects heart, mind and soul.
Hammerchlag shared stories of visionary people like Wilma Rudolph, a woman who overcame repeated illness to become one of the most successful Olympic athletes of all time., and Bill Irwin, the first blind man to hike all of the more than 2,100 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
Similarly, vision has nothing to do with whether or not you are sighted. Vision is about being able to see in the dark. We need to inspire people to be able to see in the dark. Do not subordinate your dreams to whether or not someone else thinks they are likely.
Hammerschlag exhorts personal relationships -- relational networks that connect within and without. We need to find places to draw from to be more ourselves. For many of the patients that will be seen in children's hospitals, there is only a sliver of time -- a small window into which we can speak into their lives, into which we can connect with them. Seize the opportunity to make a connection, no matter how brief.