Monday, April 20, 2015

Life Lessons from a Man I've Never Met

We will be known forever by the tracks we leave. - Dakota proverb
Last spring, I was allowed to participate in two classes because of the generosity of faculty members of the University of Washington School of Medicine. The two classes are "The Healer's Art" (a medical school elective designed by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.), and a "Values Clarification" exercise - part of the 4th-year curriculum in the Chronic Care Clerkship for students about to embark upon their residency program. The Values Clarification class was created by a man named Stuart Farber, M.D., who recently passed away from leukemia.

Dr. Farber is revered and loved by his colleagues and students, family and friends. He founded, and was director of, the Palliative Care service at the University of Washington Medical Center. He was a pioneer in the field, helping to develop a palliative care training center at the University of Washington.

In a terrible coincidence, his wife Annalu was also diagnosed with the same kind of leukemia (AML) four months after Dr. Farber's diagnosis, so they each walked in the role of patient and caregiver, supported by their family and community. This journey served to deepen and further inform his sensitivity in what he already believed and taught to his students. In each update on their health, Dr. Farber and his wife shared their love of poetry by posting a poem chosen to express their feelings of the moment. I learned a great deal about the Farbers (whom I have never met) from those poems, and a great deal about the ways in which art can bring release and healing to patients and caregivers.

The Values Clarification exercise was administered by a wonderful professor named Tom McNalley, M.D., director of the Chronic Care Clerkship (whose specialty is Rehabilitation Medicine), and his gifted colleague, Carol Kummet, LICSW, MTS, a social worker with the Palliative Care Service. Both facilitators exuded seriousness tinged with gentle humor, compassion and empathy. Experiencing the Values Clarification with young medical students was a deeply moving gift to me, and one that I will never forget. It is an important part of Dr. Farber's legacy.

Another vital part of Dr. Farber's legacy is an article which was published posthumously, which I cannot recommend highly enough for EVERYone to read. It was published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, Vol. 49, No. 4 on April 4, 2015, and made available by Dr. Farber's widow here:
under the heading, Humanities: Art, Language, and Spirituality in Health Care. Isn't that a powerful heading? The article is called Living Every Minute. I have read it twice, and am simply in awe of its grace and power. Whether you are a patient, family member of a patient, a clinician, an artist or a spiritual seeker, this article will be a gift to you.

Many deep truths of living, of the value of quality of life over quantity, and the supreme importance for clinicians and caregivers to seek, find and understand what is most important to their patients is beautifully illustrated in Dr. Farber's words and his life. Much is expressed poetically, with far more accuracy and nuance than the most scientific language could ever describe or quantify.

You can read more about Dr. Farber's life and legacy HERE.

1 comment:

Trueda Gooding said...

I met Dr. Farber at a Brain Tumor Caregiver Seminar at Fred Hutch several years ago. His compassion and concern for patient centered care stood out to me. I was only able to read the first page of the article as that's all the website would show as a preview, but what I read was very meaningful. Thanks for sharing it with us.