Remembering to care

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The book "Medicine and Compassion: A Tibetan Lama's Guidance for Caregivers" begins with a telling anecdote.

"Halfway through my residency, I found myself wishing that a patient would die so that I could go back to sleep," wrote David R. Shlim, M.D. in the book's introduction. His training in emergency-room medicine sometimes required him to stay awake for stretches of 36 hours at a time. When a 50-year-old woman walked into the emergency room at 4 a.m. in tears, the last thing he felt was compassion.

¤ The Buddhist Center of Steamboat Springs presents a public talk about "Spirituality, Health and Healing" by Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, internationally renowned Buddhist teacher, Dzogchen master and author ¤ 7 p.m. Saturday ¤ Steamboat Springs High School auditorium ¤ $15, or $10 for students; available at the door

According to the author, that lack of compassion has become a major problem in the Western medical profession, in which, he said, knowledge and efficiency are prized more than the ability to care.

Shlim's introduction leads the reader into the main text by Tibetan Lama Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche ("Rinpoche" is an honorific title meaning "precious."). In his book, Nyima instructs doctors and nurses about how to use the Buddhist practice to stay aware of their surroundings and to have compassion for their patients without damaging their own mental health.

His words have struck a chord in the medical profession. From July 7 to 9, Nyima spoke at the Harvard School of Public Health about the practice of cultivating compassion. This week, he will do the same for the residents of Steamboat Springs.

Carole Milligan, M.D., medical director of Hospice in Steamboat Springs, has been in the medical profession since 1979.

She knows well that numb feeling that comes from stress and long days.

"Being compassionate is one of the hardest things in a busy medical practice," she said. "You have to consciously take the time to see the person instead of focusing on the disease."

Nyima recommends breathing exercises, regular meditation and a practice that slowly changes a person's entire outlook on life.

Milligan took an eight-month program in contemplative end-of-life care and was instructed in the Buddhist practices Rinpoche teaches.

"As a doctor, you get trained to operate from your head, to be efficient and to know a lot," Milligan said. "I always have to work at being mindful.

"In nine years of formally practicing, I've learned to slow down and be patient with myself. It has helped me to better respond to difficult situations and see things with a little more clarity instead of reacting in the same old way."

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