James is a physician and author, most recently of “Life on the Ground Floor”, a memoir about teaching emergency medicine in Canada and Ethiopia, which won his countryâ€™s largest non-fiction literary prize. He practices at St. Michael’s, Toronto’s inner-city hospital, and is partnered with Addis Ababa University to train Ethiopiaâ€™s first emergency physicians. He is a member of Medecins Sans Frontieres, for whom he has worked as both physician and journalist, and practices and teaches mindfulness at the Consciousness Explorers Club in Toronto.
Life on the Ground Floor
In the ER, we are taught to turn towards the pain of others. We are not given as deliberate advice on how to care for ourselves despite the adversity we see, and the inevitability of being hurt by it. If our role is, at least in part, to steward health towards others, we defy its logic if don’t extend the same caring to ourselves. Being well, and if not, knowing the direction, is as vital as being able to get a blind subclavian line in a bleeding trauma patient. Our culture, instead of a place of healing, can be toxic in itself, vulnerability almost inadmissible, meanness tolerated. As we address this, and its root causes, we become better clinicians, more likely to help people in ways that matter most, take our skills and profession to places that need it. It’s possible for the ER becomes a place where, instead of getting beat up by it and recovering, we can live true values.