Back to Basics (November 2015): Dr. James Mooney, M.D.

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”

                                                               -Nelson Mandela

  I am a physician.  I work in a facility in central Ohio as a Hospitalist.  Throughout my career, I have been taught to manage disease with the expectation of eliminating it altogether.  Our society goes to great length, and great expense, to address physical diseases.  Imagine my surprise the day I realized that I had missed the mark.  Seventeen years into my career and things changed.  Or had they?  Was the issue there all the time?  Had my efforts been misdirected?  Was I to seek elimination of disease or an understanding of its causes?  How many diseases that escaped my healing touch were related to matters I had not considered?  Was my myopic view of disease missing something far more important?  Like any “aha” moment in life, once you see it, clarity comes.  This story represents my new journey.

  My morning rounds in the hospital were interrupted to address a “belligerent” patient refusing to do physical therapy.  If I failed to get him to “comply with the order”, his discharge to the extended care facility would be cancelled.  Compared to the medical issues of my day, this would be easy.  It had nothing to do with “medical problems.”  Much to my dismay, despite my coaxing, he did not budge.  He was not going to do physical therapy on our terms.  I left the room more frustrated as “the easy problem” was unresolved.  A trusted colleague of mine, Todd Yordy, LPCC-S, addressed my dismay by asking how he might be able to help.  I happened to know a great deal of the patient’s social circumstances and shared a few snippets with Todd.  The day was mounting with unmet solutions.  What did I have to lose to reach out to a non-physician colleague for a non-medical problem?  His solution was simple.  At the time, I thought it was simple minded.  I was to ask the patient if he would prefer doing physical therapy at a 12:15 pm, 12:30 pm, or 12:45 pm slot.  That was it.  I was a little perplexed at the recommendation as I thought it lacked much likelihood of success.  Nevertheless, I returned to the patient’s room within ten minutes of being summarily dismissed by him for trying to “force” him to do physical therapy.  However, this time I was armed with a new approach.  I was to ask the patient his preference in the participation of his care.  I initiated the second conversation with an apology for not considering his opinion in the matter from the start.  I offered him the three different slots.  He took the 12:45 pm slot.  The matter was peacefully and successfully addressed, in short order, by the patient himself.  Apart from being glad for having a solution, I had a different feeling altogether…satisfaction.

  My eyes and heart were opened.  I had the perspective of a person fifth in line of seven siblings. I was “telling” a person who was about 10 years my senior and the oldest of eight children what he “had to do.”  I set out to fail and was unaware of the simple fact that the perspective of choice played a role in health care.  I began to experience a profound sense of purpose in my work.  Could it be that my connection with people on a basic human level could have such an impact?  Would this be applicable to other healthcare issues? That experience was three years ago.  Much has happened since to answer some of those questions.  However, that is a story for another day as there is much to tell.

 About the author:

Dr. James H. Mooney, M.D. is a Hospitalist physician in central Ohio who explores the connection between a person's emotional and physical health.

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