What do we do when a well-meaning doctor decides to provide not only a diagnosis, but also a devastating prognosis?
I'm an accountant and financial professional, and I'm also a Change Agent. While I have over a thousand income tax clients, believe it or not, I also coach people who want to make a difference in the world. I was reminded the other day of one who came to see me for the first time a few years ago. She came in for a more relaxed consultation in May, when we had time to talk without a waiting room full of people.
I had only just met her a couple of months prior, and while she looked familiar, I can't say I truly remembered her situation. She is young, and is a fitness trainer, late 20's, and she had some tax planning questions. She asked about how she should be investing her 401K, whether she should be aggressive, or if she should even be investing in it at all, given her life expectancy. Ah. It was then that I remembered who she was.
She had just seen her doctor the day before she came to see me for the first time. Her told her she had a rare heart ailment, and that she had maybe 20 years to live. I shook my head.
That day in late March, with a waiting room full of people, I told her the story of a friend of mine, who was away at a seminar a while back, and heard Deepak Chopra speak. Dr. Chopra told the audience to never let a doctor give anyone a death sentence. His advice was to look the doctor in the eye and say "I appreciate your diagnosis but I do not accept your verdict." Doctors, however well-meaning, are not in the business of installing thoughts that can create the self-fulfilling prophecy of a shortened life.
I talked with her a little bit that March morning, with a crowded waiting room, offered her some strategies to cope with this, and then had to let her go. This calmed her down a little bit from the shock of hearing her doctor give her such news. But here she was, back again in May, and she had etched the number "20" firmly into her psyche.
I reminded her of once again of Deepak Chopra's advice. When my friend came back from hearing Dr. Chopra at that seminar, his phone was ringing off the hook. He had dozens of frantic messages in his voicemail. It turns out that while he was away, his mother got very sick, and her doctor told his siblings that she had only months to live. He rushed to the hospital with his new-found wisdom to make sure that the doctor never got a chance to give his mother that death sentence. "I appreciate your diagnosis, but I do not accept your verdict." He was successful in keeping the doctor's well-meaning prognosis from his mother. His mother lived another 14 years.
While we were talking, I started creating some different meanings for the number "20," because at that moment, all that number meant to her was that she didn't have a lot of years left. In conversation, we can change meanings, and when we change meaning, we change how we feel.
Then I invited her to close her eyes, and to get in touch with the part of her other-than-conscious mind that is responsible for protecting her. She is a fitness trainer, she is in the health field, she knows what to do consciously, and now she was to engage in other-than-conscious communication. I told her that the conversation might be conscious, it might not be conscious; she might know it verbally, she might not, but she would communicate and come away knowing how to live a long life.
Then I shut up and watched intently.
In my stillness, I watched, and waited, for signs of non-verbal communication. I looked for change in color in her cheeks, watched her eyes dart around beneath her eyelids, looked for change in size of her lips, which would indicate altered blood flow, and other such cues. After a few minutes there was a shuddering sigh, followed shortly by an almost imperceptible nod. "You have your answer." She nodded again, this time more demonstrably.
I reminded her that it isn't about how long we live, anyway, but what we do while we are here; it's important to make every day count, and also to do so as long as we wished. She closed her eyes again, and I invited her to vividly imagine - perhaps even create -- her future. I invited her to visit her life, five, ten, fifteen years from now, to see how she would be living, who she would become, and who would be in her life. I then invited her to go further, being the doctor's well-meaning but misguided message: twenty-five, thirty, forty years into the future, and then to age 75. At age 75 I told her, "You will have words or wisdom for your grandchildren. At age 75, you will tell them: 'Always tell your doctor, 'I appreciate your diagnosis, but I do not accept your verdict' '."
A very grateful young woman walked out of my office that afternoon, with her whole life in front of her.
You know, I do not this for my accounting clients for a living. I do this for a "giving." When someone comes in for a tax or financial consultation, I don't charge for this "added benefit." At the same time, though, I also, independently coach people as a Change Agent, whether accounting clients or not, to help them remove impediments and to create their wildest dreams.
For this woman, I was not obligated to help her in exchange for currency. I was satisfied, in that moment, with the grateful feeling within me for the gift I have, and for the gratitude expressed in return.
We all have a gift -- a gift to facilitate change, even in the most unlikely of places. You may not have my gifts, but you have your gifts, and I invite you to use them, so that you, too, can be the difference in the world.