Absorbing the Shock

There are three kinds of men.
The ones that learn by reading.
The few who learn by observation. 
The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.
~Will Rogers

Learning is a universal human experience from the moment we take our first breath.  It is never finished until the last breath is given up.  With a lifetime of learning, one would think eventually we should get it right.

But we don’t.  We tend to learn the hard way especially when it comes to matters having to do with our (or others’) health.

As physicians in training, we “see one, do one, teach one.”   That kind of approach doesn’t always go so well for the patient.   As patients, we like to eat, drink, and live how we wish, demanding what interventions we want only when we want them – this also doesn’t go so well for the patient.  You’d think we’d know better, but as fallible human beings, we may impulsively make decisions about our health without actually using our heads (is it evidence-based or simply an anecdotal story about what “worked” for someone else?).

The cows and horses on our farm need to touch an electric fence only once when reaching for greener grass on the other side.  That moment provides a sufficient learning curve for them to make an important decision.  They won’t try testing it again no matter how alluring the world appears on the other side.   Humans are smarter sentient beings who should learn as quickly as animals but unfortunately don’t.  I know all too well what a shock feels like and I want to avoid repeating that experience.  Even so, in unguarded careless moments of feeling invulnerable (it can’t happen to me!), and yearning to have what I don’t necessarily need,  I may find myself reaching for the greener grass (or another cookie) even though I know better.   I suspect I’m not alone in my surprise when I’m jolted back to reality when I continually indulge myself and climb on the scale to see the results.

Many great minds have worked out various theories of effective learning, but, great mind or not, Will Rogers confirms a common sense suspicion: an adverse experience, like a “bolt out of the blue,” can be a powerful teacher.  As clinicians, we call it “a teachable moment.”  None of us want to experience a teachable moment — none of us, and we resent it when someone points it out to us.

When physicians and patients learn the hard way, we need to come along aside one another rather than work at cross-purposes.

It just might help absorb the shock.

3 thoughts on “Absorbing the Shock

  1. O my heaven’s Emily….you had me with Will Rogers this morning so fast!!!! And I can’t stop laughing as well as feeling angst of the truth of what you say and how we need to learn before learning, although we rarely do.
    This is such a keeper of a post by you and will share via FB!

    Bless you and thank you.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. As far as Will goes, I fall into the last category….!
    Many years ago, I had a run-in with a sliding glass door. The door won. The ER doc was funny. He looked at the very bad cut over my eye, and as he got ready to stitch me up, said: “Wow. This is my very first….” I looked rather alarmed and he just laughed. He was only kidding. But someone has to be the first. I would just rather not know. 🤐

    Liked by 1 person

  3. For a moment, I was sure that you were talking about me and my recent year-long painful experience.
    Full of recriminations and a lesson well learned, I enjoyed the truth and did learn much from the inexorable result(s) of certain
    follies. Rogers’ succinct and, oh, so true, comment is perfect.
    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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