Dr. Oz comes into our lives every morning with his hit syndicated show offering valuable insight and advice. Here, Austin-tied author Elise Ballard, author of Epiphany: True Stories of Sudden Insight to Inspire, Encourage and Transform connects to learn about Oprah’s favorite doctor’s own epiphany in his healing medical world and beyond in this exclusive interview.
“The goal is to move from just knowledge, which is information to understanding, which is awareness.” – Mehmet Oz, M.D.
One Family’s Decision
I was Chief Resident of General Surgery at New York Presbyterian/Columbia Hospital in New York City, still finishing my training. When you are Chief Resident, you run the care for people who are in emergency situations. A woman came into the ER with a bleeding ulcer and had almost completely bled out, which means she’d almost lost all the blood in her body. She was a Jehovah Witness and her entire family of about 30 people had come in with her. I told the family that I needed to take her into surgery to save her and, if it was successful, I would need to get their permission to give her blood after the surgery. I understood that the Jehovah Witness religion has the tenet that a person of their faith cannot receive blood, but I went into surgery thinking that once I got out of the OR they would give permission since the woman would die if we didn’t give her the needed blood.
I completed the surgery successfully and went to the family, excited that we had saved this woman’s life. I believe the spokesperson for the family was her eldest son, and he proceeded to tell me, “We have decided not to give her blood.” I was astounded. I thought maybe they didn’t fully understand the situation so I asked him if he understood that she would die without receiving the blood. He replied, “We understand. She can’t have the blood.”
You know, I was so angry I couldn’t see straight. I felt insulted. And more than that, I felt I had failed as a doctor to convince them of the gravity of the situation. A “disobeying family”—that’s how I saw them. They were disobeying me. That’s exactly how I felt – how patronizing – but that’s exactly how I thought about it. Here I had busted my ass all that time to save this woman, and now they were going to “strip her from me” just as I was going to grasp her from the jaws of defeat.
But then, I began to realize that it wasn’t me they were distrusting. It wasn’t that they didn’t believe that what I was saying was true, and that I was trying to bluff them into giving their mother blood that she didn’t want. They actually did believe she would die. They actually took me at face value. They were quite certain that they were signing her death sentence. But they, in their belief system, felt that it was more important for her not to receive the blood, and therefore have a better life in the future (somewhere else), than for her to take the blood now to live a little more on this earth.
The epiphany was when I realized that it was out of their love for this woman that they made this decision–because, believe me, the easy decision for them would have been to give her the blood, right? That’s the easy decision, no one could argue with that. They made the hard decision, because of their beliefs—because of their loved one’s beliefs. This was a huge epiphany for me because it showed me that it wasn’t all about me and my arguments and how much effort I had made and my thoughts and my conviction about what is right. There were reasons this family had that were very rational according to their belief system. These aren’t reasons I agree with, but they were very rational in their own minds, and it was their judgment to make.
I began to realize that patients don’t always read the same medical textbooks that we doctors read. Too often doctors focus on things that we think are important, not what the patient thinks are important. No longer do I try to talk to patients like they’re me. I try to talk to patients like they’re them. The way I talk to people, not just patients, but to people in general also began to change, because I began to think about the worldview from their perspective rather than my own.
When you start doing that, you begin to have very different insights. Once you immerse yourself in someone else’s worldview, you can understand their motivations much more effectively. I can really understand your perspective when I try to understand your worldview, which is what healing is all about. The word “doctor” means “teacher” in Latin. A good teacher gets into the minds of his students and understands what resonates for them, what clicks. The goal is to move from just knowledge, which is information, to understanding, which is awareness.
The other thing I began to realize by beginning to relate to people this way, is that people truly are the world experts on their own bodies. They really are. Patients will always tell you their diagnosis. They actually know what’s wrong with them. They may not be able to verbalize it right, they might need your medical insight to appreciate it, but they will tell you exactly what is going on with them. If they are aware or a bit more conscious of what’s going on in their body, it makes them that much better of a healer for themselves.