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We go through our normal days as leaders, as professionals, doing what needs to be done. Accomplishing. Becoming. Achieving. We are presented with opportunities to speak life and hope into someone, but in our focus on what needs to takes place, will we see their pain? Will we stop to care and offer our love?

A recent patient encounter brought this home for me. It was a reminder that I must ask myself when I meet people, “Is this the person I need to help today?”

Sad couple comforting each other sitting on a couch in the living room at home

She was my last patient of the day. The Chief Complaint on the patient chart said, “Cat Scan result.” I walked into the exam room sporting the best smile I could muster after a 12-hour shift. I found a couple in their late thirties whom I had not met before. They were there for test results another doctor in our practice had ordered. I greeted them and sat down on my round doctor stool. I scanned the summary of the radiology report like I have done thousands of times before. Radiologists summarize findings at the end of a report and they give the doctor ideas of what this could be. Based on that summary, the finding did not strike me as worrisome. “Well, it looks like your CT scan shows a spot on the liver, but otherwise all is well.”

Before I went on to explain what I would recommend we do for the spot on the liver, the husband, who was sitting closer to me, became motionless. He gazed in my direction as if he was looking beyond me. They were both quiet, but the husband seemed especially distraught. I knew I was missing something which I quickly discovered in the chart.

This lady had aggressive breast cancer that was in remission. Now it was back. As I think back on my encounter, I think the instant I said “spot on the liver” the husband must have thought something like, Am I losing my wife? What will happen with my children? That must have been why I felt in his eyes that his heart was sinking from his chest into his stomach.

If I freeze this moment, I recognize I had a choice in those split seconds. I could put on my caring face and offer them pleasantries and my professional recommendation. That would have been okay; it would have been expected. But I chose not to do that.

After I learned their entire story, I stopped. I slowed down. I offered them all I could. I told them that I felt their pain. I got married not too long ago, and I know how much I love my wife. For a moment, I put myself in this guy’s shoes, and it hurt. I had a choice to touch a life, not just simply do my job. That night I was able to recognize the opportunity and empathize and help.

This encounter reminded me that there is at least one person who will cross our path each day that could provide an opportunity for us to help. We may easily miss it if we rush through and don’t see people at a deeper level. It could be the first person in your day. It could be the last person you see. It could be the mailman or your waiter. It could be your spouse or your pastor. It could be your colleague or your client.

But only one? Mother Teresa addressed this topic and said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”

Why one person per day? Could it be one person a week? Or ten people a day? Yes, but I like to think that if I look for one person a day, as if there is a lost person I am trying to find, I will be more likely to be alert with each encounter.

As a doctor, many times I forget to look beyond the disease to see the person. But I try. As a leader, many times I forget to look beyond the team member and see the person. But I try.

Who is that one person you can help today?

Your Friend,