I’ve always had a strong emotional sense- intuition, gut feeling, hunch, sixth sense- whatever we want to call it. Something that feels so strong but there is often barely a way to describe it, let alone see it. I remember this as far back as I have memories as a young child. The energy, buzz, almost electricity in the room the two seconds before I would start a piano performance on stage. The sense when I was with another person that there was something else going on, something deeper, something troubling not being said. The sense I had when speaking in front of an audience that I knew I had everyone with me- feeling, laughing and experiencing the story I was telling unfold together. An energy that is indescribable, but infinitely palpable.
I can’t stop thinking about an experience, a tough although not an uncommon one, for me as a pediatric hematologist-oncologist. Our sweet little patient, a little boy who had completed his intense year-long therapy for metastatic brain tumor, had a rapid recurrence of his brain tumor, and passed away within a matter of four days. Since stepping into this little boy’s room, I had a deep sense that something was not right, something I couldn’t put a finger on. We had a normal MRI from just a few days before, but the pieces weren’t adding up. I felt uncomfortable, uneasy, but all of the data, which was ample by this point in this boy’s already several day hospital stay, pointed toward nothing. Within two days, this little boy’s status worsened, and we were forced to obtain new imaging. And then we discovered what my gut had been telling me all along, even though I had no data until now to prove it: his brain tumor was back, and was back everywhere along the lining of his entire brain and spinal cord. We all knew at this moment there was no hope for this little boy.
That night, he decompensated further. When I spoke with the pediatric ICU physician early in the morning, her voice was heavy, cracking, and I could hear and feel her sadness: our patient was much worse, and minimally responsive. Following our team pediatric ICU rounds, I entered the little boy’s ICU room to talk with his parents. They were both seated, hunched over, on the parent bed by their son’s side. My instinct, instead of speaking, was to sit down with them. And instead of speaking, I sat there with them, in silence, sensing and feeling, and letting them feel. After several minutes of silence, with both parents still unable to speak, I finally spoke. I told them what I was sensing, “I know you both and I, all of us, are clinging to the hope that he is so sick because of infection. But my gut feeling is that this is all because of his tumor, because of his cancer. And I’m sensing, that this may be your gut feeling too.” At this moment, what happened next was so powerful, almost magical. The release of emotion from both parents, their outpouring of tears and cries of despair, showed me that I was right. That my blurting out my gut feeling, had given them the permission to finally trust their own deep intuition as parents. And at that moment, they knew, as I knew, that this was the end for their little boy.
This was only a minute in time, maybe two at most, but this tiny, micro-moment forever changed the course for these parents, who until then had been holding their anger, overwhelming fear, and sadness back- holding their emotions and their deep intuition as parents at bay- hoping, and praying, to be wrong. By allowing them to trust their own inner wisdom, I knew I had finally given them the pathway forward. To at last find peace. Later that day, the family chose to withdraw life support, and their darling little boy passed away peacefully with his parents and family beside him.
In our field, we are no strangers to sadness- to loss, grief and death. To an unfairness of life that I cannot even begin to describe. But to have witnessed this powerful moment, of my own intuition having empowered this little boy’s mother and father to finally trust their own inner wisdom, this experience has humbled me to my core.
We all hold tremendous inner power. Whether we believe it or not, we have a deep, intuitive sense, a knowing, a gut instinct that cuts to the heart of life and of our human experience. It’s ok to trust ourselves. In fact, it’s when we don’t trust our gut or our heart, that we fall short. What is your inner wise woman, your inner mentor, telling you? I know mine is telling me, “You know more than you realize, little one. You did good.”