You Don't Need A Degree To Simply Be Human
I don’t know about you, but I find that every so often I find myself in experiences where in one way it feels completely natural, like I was born to do it yet at the same time feels like there is no way in hell this should be possible. Last Wednesday I had one of those “is this really happening” moments. I had the honour of delivering a keynote speech and facilitating a Q&A for a group of Dalhousie University Medical Students… yes. Medical Students.
Wait a god damn second… Jeremie Saunders? The guy who doesn’t even know what arithmetic means? The guy who stuck his balls into a laser? The guy who worked at X-citement video?! The guy who squished doo doo with his hands to make it flush?! They let HIM address a room full of med students!?!?!? I know. That’s exactly what I was thinking.
So what on earth would someone like me have to say to these young bright minds? The answer; speak to my experience in living with Cystic Fibrosis and using humour as a form of therapy and how all of that relates back to Sickboy podcast. Oh, well in that case, I got this. These are things that I know, and as we all know, it’s very easy to speak to the things you know. You know?
The speech took place in a large lecture hall at the Tupper Building on the Dalhousie campus. All of the med students piled in and I stood at the head of the hall behind a desk with smart board control panel and a laptop filled with my notes. This place was high tech. There were 3 massive screens behind me. A smartboard, A screen projecting “DALHOUSIE UNIVERSITY” and a screen of the group of students being fed in via satellite from the Saint John, New Brunswick campus. In front of me I was met with about 100 seats, steeply raked and it left me with this feeling that I’m being gazed at like some jester about to dance and juggle for the roman emperor and his followers hoping to not screw it up or else be fed to the lions waiting for the next gladiator battle… Wait - did the romans have jesters? Aw, shit…
I’m somewhat in my element. I’ve delivered speeches like this before. To upwards of 600 people. This should be no different, so that’s what I do. I speak to growing up with a chronic illness, finding out it was fatal, the challenges i’ve faced, the successes I’ve found, the time that beautiful nurse stuck a big ol’ tube up my butt, the time I blew my kids wish. You know, the essentials. Finally I end it with the reminder to not take the ability to breathe for granted and voila! That’s my speech. There were a few tears, a shit load of laughs, and every one was left feeling inspired to find joy in life.
Now on to the Q&A. Again, this should be easy. I’ve done this before too. Not much different than a live TV/radio interview. I’ve done plenty of those over the past few years. The first question from a young man wondering about dealing future patients. “Can you speak to about how to use humour in a clinical setting?”
Boom… all of a sudden, I’m no longer in my element. Instead I’ve been vaulted onto the set of Jeopardy. Alex Trebek just asked me a direct question related to mathematics (ffs) and the timer is running out. I snap back to reality (Oh, there goes gravity... get it?) This is above my pay grade. I realize that I am indeed under qualified to be having this conversation. How to use humour in a clinical setting?! I don’t know what the fuck to say to that?! But, the shot clock runs out. I open my mouth and an answer spews forth.
“I don’t want “how to use humour” to be tonights take away. When it boils down to communicating with patients in a clinical format, the key is just to remember to be human. Your patient has a life outside of the hospital room. They have dreams, they have successes and failures, they have loved ones, they have feelings of love, jealousy, anger, sorrow. They, like you are a part of the human experience. If humour is a natural form of communication for you, it will be present when it’s needed. Humour isn’t whats important. What’s important is to just provide an ear for someone to speak to and interact with that person on a human level. That’s whats important.”
Then it clicked… wait a minute. I’m fucking qualified to be here. I’m qualified to answer this question. I’m the patient. I’m the person these med students will be working with when they leave school. I’m the one who leave those interactions with judgements about how their bedside manner stacked up next to my expectations, I’m the one they will be breaking the bad news to “Sorry sir, your Lungs are fak’d”. I’ve been on the receiving side in a clinical environment. So yeah, I'm qualified. You don't need a degree to simply be human.
At the end of the night the students filed out and into the world. I was left standing in the lecture space with Brian and Taylor at my side. I was overwhelmed with a sense of pride. Proud in myself for having the ability to articulate a message that I know I’ve heard countless past guests, and campers, and friends express that they wish their medical professionals were privy to. And even more than that, I felt proud knowing that there is a slight chance that maybe, just maybe one of those med students will one day have to tell a patient that they have cancer, or that their child has CF or that they may not live as long as they’d hope, but are able to do it in a way that provides feelings of support and compassion.
I want to thank Dalhousie Medical School for having me in. It was an honour and fun as all heck.