Two weeks ago at a national meeting, I stopped by the evening reception to renew friendships and find a friend with whom to go have dinner. Soon, I was sharing stories with former colleagues and their families.
As the reception broke up, several of us gathered in a circle with two outstanding retired surgeon-scientists, true giants and mentors, each of whom has influenced my career. From one, I had learned surgical technique, from the other, a philosophy of patient care. Both had modeled meticulous adherence to the precepts of cutting edge, evidence-based surgical management of head and neck cancer. At the same time, both had shared the stories that defined their approaches to patient care.
I had not expected to see either of these mentors at the meeting. One of them no longer lives in the United States.
Yet here they were, bursting with the tales that permeated my fellowship experience. As the evening progressed, I discerned the camaraderie in which I had been immersed twenty years before. I strained to hear every word, refreshing all of the true and not-quite-true legends. I ached with laughter and longing. It was a rare opportunity for which I was very grateful.
The evening ended and we each went our own ways. I finally understood that my mentors had taught me not only the techniques that permit cancer to be cured, but also the stories that allow patients to be healed. Rachel Naomi Remen
, in her book, Kitchen Table Wisdom
, writes that a story is the container for meaning
. I am grateful that the stories have continued to unwrap and teach their own subtle lessons years after I tentatively ventured into practice on my own.