At 3pm each day on the Hematology/ Oncology Service we attempt to rip ourselves from our wards work to take in a teaching session. It was during one of these sessions that our presenter made this provocative statement: “Pain is not the same as suffering. We can take away a patient’s pain but she may continue to suffer. We may not be able to take away a patient’s pain, but she may yet find a way not to suffer” 

This statement stopped me in my tracks. Each morning we evaluate our patient’s pain, especially important on the cancer service. There is usually a number involved between 1 and 10, giving us a nice clear target to shoot for. When we get that number down to zero, we feel good that the patient is not in pain. And yes, that is a worthy target. But how do you quantify suffering? The presenter offered this definition of suffering “To not feel whole.” 

Patients suffer by being reduced to an illness; they feel less than whole. I once had trouble getting through to patient until I walked into his room without an agenda. We just talked, person to person, not doctor to patient. A doctor can inadvertently cause suffering, the very thing our oath compels us to avoid. At the end of the classic Greek play, Oedipus, the title character is in a great deal of pain, having just gouged his eyes out after realizing he had, despite his best efforts, fulfilled the prophecy of killing his father and marrying his mother. It is a horrific realization and yet he is finally complete in the knowledge of this truth. He is in pain, but he is emerging from suffering. 

The challenge is how we ease not just pain but suffering in others. Or put another way, how do we contribute to another’s sense of wholeness? 


One of the toughest emotions to deal with is a sense of lost vitality. I witness this emotion when working with sick patients and their families. We all must individually confront this question through the arc of life at some point. While walking along the beach (quickly, it was cold!), I noticed a single tree stump which may offer a thought for us in such moments:

Stump By The Sea:

Been a long time
Since sap flowed through my veins

Since I fed vibrant leaves

Since I showed off my perfect bark

People don’t look at me 
Like they used to

When I was alive

But I’m still here-not dead

I have a great view

Of my friend the ocean

Who swims right up to me daily 

My other friend, the sun

Still flashes that amazing smile each morning

So maybe I am more fragile

Than I once was

But I am surrounded by beauty

And so, somehow, stronger. 

Image Credit: Pinterest.co.uk

There are many reasons to love 90’s hip-hop and R & B. Only recently, I offered a brief lecture to my ward team in which I deconstructed the iconic music video “Motownphilly” by Boys II Men. The exercise provoked teenage memories of working on synchronized high energy dance moves with one of my good neighborhood friends, Martin. The moment when your conscious effort fades away and the music takes over your body as you execute the moves to the building cheers of friends at a party is one of those great life feelings. 
Residency feels like learning a dance . . . 

But, I don’t always learn the steps in order.

There are many steps! 

I can be asked to perform at any time “What do you want to do for the patient?”

The music is always changing, from the steady mid-tempo of the wards to the upbeat Emergency Room to the slow dance of clinic (of course, the music can instantly change within all three settings as well). 

I can’t lead all the time- sometimes I only get to the best part of the room by letting my patient lead. 

I sweat, I get tired, I wonder how many minutes are left in the song. Can’t I leave the dancefloor for a minute? Then, this little dancer in clinic shows me a new move: It’s called “Hug the Doctor.” It’s a great move and easy to learn. It also gets me to the end of the song . . .

And sometimes, the music skips. I can’t figure out the problem or what to do next or how to get past an impasse of opposing lyrics. 

And sometimes, I’m back on the dance floor with Martin. The patient presentations flow with energy and purpose. Everyone recognizes the beat of a good plan. The steady drum of knowledge is overlaid with a couple of compassion tracks and we have a hit. The team may not be dancing on the desks of the nursing stations, but they’re thinking about it . . .


May 13th, graduation day, seems like a generation ago. I am now a resident physician in Pediatrics at Seattle Children’s Hospital.   I am 4 months in and the big question, of course, is “What is residency like?”
Residency is like a whirlwind- a lot of activity, direction not always clear.

Residency is like an intense championship game- you are surprised by what you and you team can do under pressure

Residency is like a great cup of coffee- when you can sit down and actually appreciate it, there is a lot to savor

Residency is like a power cord- sometimes your best efforts still fall short

Residency is like a great meal with a good friend- you walk away feeling more complete, more alive

Residency is like a murder mystery- never seen this before

Residency is like an assembly line- seen this too many times

Residency is like dawn- new possibilities abound each day

Over the next 3 years, I will tell the story of residency, right here, in weekly posts.

Of course, I am not on this journey alone; I have an extraordinary group of co-residents at work and my home team, the family. I will let these pictures tell the rest of the story:

Camz taking a nap with Snow and Storm, our first pets!


Camz, set for football practice


Christian and friends, first Homecoming at Shorecrest High School


Anne, taking it all in at Richmond Beach, Seattle


Celebrating Anne’s graduation from her Architecture program


Day off at Richmond Beach


The Dream Team, my co-residents


Downtown Seattle and Mt. Rainer , from Kerry Park

Donning the long white coat for the first time

Flashback to graduation


With Anne at BMA senior banquet


With “Mom-Kenya” and “Mom-USA”


“God help and forgive me . . . I wanna build something that’s going to outlive me” Aaron Burr, Hamilton

I will admit it: I am unashamedly and unabashedly in love with the musical Hamilton. Earlier this year, an old and dear Theatre friend and I reunited after 15 years and she completely surprised me with tickets to Hamilton, which was everything it is hyped up to be: a great story, clever lyrics, rich characters, dynamic acting, evocative music and truly captivating staging. But more than simply giving you a performance high, Hamilton also leaves you thinking. One thought has continued to linger as I contemplate entering into 2017 . . . it is captured in the Act II song “Room Where it Happens”

In this song, Aaron Burr- President Thomas Jefferson’s vice president- expresses his desire to be part of the decision making that was taking place behind closed doors. He was frustrated at only hearing about the results without being part of it. As we enter 2017, what is the room where it will happen. Will we be in it? It is easier to show up to the building than it is to show up in the room. Whether that building is the home or the office building, it is possible to keep showing up to a building but never really entering the room where it happens.

I experienced this difference recently with my two boys. Usually, when they get going with video games in the living room, I exit quickly to find a quiet spot in the house. This time round though, I stuck around and half-listened in as Christian was playing a combat game. At one point, he was having trouble winning a battle and repeatedly blamed the other character, the game system, the lighting- everything but himself. I asked him to pause the game and we talked about owning wins and losses, not making excuses and focusing on how to get better instead of blaming everything else. It was one of those father-son moments that only happened because I was in the room. 

Getting in the room has a price though. Being in a room is more intimate than simply showing up at the building. You can hide in a building, much harder to hide in a room (Also, unless you’re 5 years old and playing hide and seek, it’s a little awkward to be discovered hiding in a room). But in the room, you can be heard; you can be seen; you can contribute; you can change things. This is what Aaron Burr wanted to be a part of-what we can all be a part of. But Hamilton also warns that when you choose to be in the room “you get love for it, you get hate for it, you get nothing if you wait for it” 

So, in 2017, will we be in the room where it happens?

BLOG EXTRA!😉 While on the topic of Hamilton, here is a recording (link) I recently made of “Dear Theodosia”, Burr and Hamilton’s tribute ballad to their children as they contemplate their future .  . . Enjoy and have a blessed 2017!

http://www.smule.com/p/485830569_829501433

Photo Credit: HealingwithDrCraig
The look was the same . . . trembling lips, searching eyes, streaming tears, furrowed brows. The only difference between the grieved face of the father of slain officer, Patrick Zamarippa, and Alton Sterling’s son was the hue of their skin. The pain was identical. This was a harrowing week in America and I won’t cheapen the moment by offering political viewpoints on how we find ourselves here. I have appreciated the calls by both black and white people to love not hate, but I think we all know that Facebook statuses alone are not going to change the situation. In medicine, when patients present with medical conditions that are years in the making, a diseased lung following years of smoking, we understand that no medication no matter how powerful will simply erase the problem. The most effective solution is twenty years past its time. So, I humbly submit that the most potent forces for change were the babies born on each of the days that these men died and left holes in their families. Death can only be overcome by life. These babies do not yet know hate; we can teach them something different. We can dare to move past the natural discomfort we all feel with unfamiliarity and connect. 

And what about the rest of us? Can we change? Absolutely. But it will take something radical, beyond ourselves. When our heart has a major physical problem, we recognize that we need expert help in the form of a cardiologist or cardiothoracic surgeon. Why then would we think that spiritual heart defects are do-it-yourself projects? I realize that not all who read this may agree with my spiritual framework, but I have realized that real change in my heart requires God, who called himself “the great physician.” There is a wonderful verse in the Bible in which the Word of God is referred to as able to “pierce to the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow.” Sounds like a surgical instrument to me. In fact, one translation describes the Word as a “surgeon’s scalpel.” I recognize that I am a surgical candidate, requiring both the operation that can transform my heart as well as the supportive care of people of goodwill thereafter. Change is possible.

I want to leave you with an image that came to me as I was praying this morning for the families of those lost. I imagined light challenging the darkness of violent acts, a light we can call carry. But I remembered that even those carrying light may still be carrying pain. So perhaps there are tears streaming down the face of light. But the light shines through those tears and, as physics teaches us, a rainbow is created. Not only is darkness dismissed, but color as beauty, not as color as divider, is introduced. This is our opportunity . . . 

Hide the Suitcase

Posted: April 30, 2016 in Fatherhood, Parenting, Poetry, Separation

How slowly can I make the door close
To catch one last glimpse of your face in the dark?

Softly saying “Goodnight daddy, have a safe flight”

Your “I love you” echoes in my ears as my legs, like lead

Walk slowly down the hall

In this moment

Every ambition, every purpose, every goal

Pales in comparison to the anticipation 

Of hugging my little (and not so little) champions again

And then how quickly will I make the door open 

To clear the path for your sprinting embrace