Confession Is Good for the Soul

August 17, 2017

I don’t want to write this post. I don’t want to join the game. I much prefer the silence over here in my own corner. But the persistent tug at my heart, the unyielding irritation in my mind that I must say something simply will not go away. I have been wrestling for days over my response to the historic events of this past weekend. And I have finally decided that while my words are likely to go quite unnoticed, I believe they are necessary, though far from sufficient. I believe that silence is equivalent to complicity, so I must commit myself to speak my moral convictions, perhaps more for myself than anyone else…

During my year in Memphis, I learned several important Southern phrases, including the real meaning of “Bless your heart” and what it means to “get your picture made”. Perhaps the most important one…”Confession is good for the soul”. A sacred tradition in surgery is the Morbidity and Mortality conference (yes, we do actually call it M & M, and no, it has nothing to do with delicious chocolate candies). Every week, we present cases of patients who have suffered the consequences of the nasty progression of their disease or the judgement or technical errors of our care. We open ourselves to our colleagues; we explain, in painstaking detail, the presentation and work up, the operative intervention, the course of their recovery. We articulate our thought processes…the way we place our sutures, the decision to leave a drain; the reasons behind our choices to operate…or not. It can be painful to stand up and discuss our failures, but in the end, we realize that the exposure to criticism, the invited feedback from trusted colleagues, only serves to make us better surgeons and, we hope, to never make the same mistakes again. The confession is, ironically, a relief and brings the hope of better care and better outcomes.

I know that in times of deep pain, calling errors out, owning them, like we do in M & M, not placing blame elsewhere, not deflecting or hiding from mistakes, is the only place to start. Calling evil, evil. Saying, “We did this wrong. We are sorry”, brings much more healing than hurled insults and excuses. America, as a nation, and collectively, as a people, like each one of us individually, has done it wrong, at times in our past. We have made poor choices that have hurt one another. So now is not the time to defend our past failures, but time to painfully acknowledge our current situation and to be brave enough to call out evil, bold enough to have a voice, and humble enough to move forward in love.

The evil that presented itself to us in the last week has me heartbroken, angry, speechless. I have spent hours reading the news and social media and talking it out with my husband and family and colleagues and friends. I have remained rather quiet, hoping to not engage in some petty Twitter war. I am altogether confused and shocked by the responses I have seen. And as I have tried to formulate my own, everything I can think of to write seems either angry or hollow or repetitive.

But what I do know is that I have never regretted approaching difficult personal conflicts, or even more, these difficult moral touch points, from a place of humility. I know that racism and bigotry and anti-Semitism are wrong; I know that murder is wrong; I know that it doesn’t take the extreme display of torches and flags to hurt my fellow Americans; I know that our world has a culture and system that is stacked against the people that I work with and work for; I know that my silence is affirmation of the subtle structure that our nation tolerates and is unfair and the antithesis of the unconditional love I believe in; I know that the first thing I can do is to acknowledge this pain in my world… and in my heart. I know that I must own my part in this horrible situation and commit to being better…however that looks. I simply cannot stay quiet or hope that everything turns out ok. I know that confession is good for my soul…




Disclaimer: My viewpoints are not necessarily reflective of my employer, or any local, regional or national organization that I belong to. As a matter of fact, I pretty much just speak for myself. Please keep that in mind.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *