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Re-Writing Your Painful Story

Buck up, Rankin.

Then when youíre in Labor and Delivery on the night when you had to deliver four dead babies, all interspersed with a dozen other live, healthy babies, and you start crying, your teacher says ďBuck up, Rankin.Ē And when you finally deliver the last of the four dead babies and you crumple into a heap on the floor of the locker room, sobbing, your teacher tells you youíll never amount to anything. How will you ever be able to be in charge of Labor & Delivery if you canít learn how not to feel? And you build your armor and start to close off your heart.

Then when youíre doing surgery and you get one stitch wrong, your teacher gets pissed and throws a scalpel at you. It narrowly misses cutting your hand and exposing you to someone elseís potentially infectious blood, but nobody apologizes and youíre expected to keep your mouth shut because this is your job. You are a resident, and YOU just donít matter.

Swear to God. All true stories, and yes, they all happened to me. This kind of abuse messes with your head. Which is why when I went back to the hospital where I did my training six months after I finished my residency, I walked into the lobby and threw up. It wasnít just the hospital. Even walking on the lakeshore, which I loved, reminded me of how I once walked home from Michigan Avenue to Lincoln Park along the lakeshore at 1:00am because I had just finished a long painful day and the bus wasnít coming. Every fabulous restaurant was something I ate as take-out while someone tried to convince me that I didnít matter. Even Wrigley Field reminded me of how the residents used to get paid to be the crowd-doctor on call.

I haven’t been back since.

And where is my first speaking engagement of the book tour? Yup. You guessed it. Northwestern in Chicago. Iíll be speaking there tomorrow. As you can imagine, Iím a bit hesitant about all this. Part of me locks up completely when I even think about the fact that this plane is about to land at OíHare in a mere two hours. How will I feel? How will they respond when Iím standing up there on that stage? What will happen?

I donít know.

These wounds revolving around Chicago and Northwestern are still fresh. Just a few months ago, one of my teachers at Northwestern tried to sue my publishing company because she doesnít like the fact that I titled my book “Whatís Up Down There” (long story). I was so hurt that she would come after me instead of being proud of my accomplishments that it just reinforced the message that I donít matter. That I am a bug others can squash. That I should just bend over and take whatever they throw at me.

But Iím trying to shift my thinking. I am no longer the same person I was back then. I now know that those doctors donít have the power to hurt me, no matter what they do. And I donít want to carry this trauma with me any longer. So Iím trying to think of this book tour — this leg in particular –† as a healing journey. (I will be ending my book tour in Tampa, where I suffered an equally traumatic medical school experience. The tour is kind of book ended by the sites of my biggest life traumas.)

What if, instead of letting the stories of my past dictate how I feel or what I do, I choose to release those stories that no longer serve me and are no longer true? What if, instead of holding on to resentments for past injustices, I can forgive the doctors who hurt me? What if, instead of thinking of Chicago as a graveyard of past pain, I can reclaim this great city as the place of my rebirth?

So this is what I aim to do.

In a short while, I will step off this plane onto Chicago soil for the first time in more than ten years. I will drive the Kennedy in bumper to bumper rush hour traffic as I weave my way to my best friend Katsyís house, where I once nestled in her nurturing arms after long nights of call at the hospital. Tomorrow morning, I will return to the scene of the trauma and step foot into the hospital where I spent four long years. Then I will go to my beloved lakeshore and perform a little release ceremony to let it all go. I have changed. Things have changed. I donít need all that baggage any longer.

This time, I plan to be ALL ME, ALL THE TIME, regardless of what anyone says or does. I will embrace my inner diva as I stand in front of an auditorium of people and I will open my heart to everyone in that audience, even if it includes the ones who hurt me. I will spread the empowering message of Whatís Up Down There? to anyone who chooses to listen, I will launch this book at the S Factor launch party, I will go to Harpo Studios, where I will be on Oprah radio to share my message, and I will rewrite the story of Lissa Rankin in Chicago.

What stories of your own might you re-write?

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Lissa Rankin

Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the†Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of†Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.† She is on a grassroots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.† Lissa blogs at† and also created two online communities -† and† She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.


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2:03PM PST on Feb 19, 2012

I really appreciate you writing this article. It's been a tough past few years and the positive reinforcement in this really touches me and it's so uplifting. You're a tough cookie and don't let anyone tell you different.

9:20PM PDT on Oct 31, 2010

Thank you Lissa for your honesty. It's great that you can rewrite your story of abuse at the hands of people with power over you. But what about the system that caused the abuse? When are you going to work to change the abusive system of medical "education" that teaches doctors to stuff their feelings and act like robotic gods while abusing students and graduates like dysfunctional parents? The abuse continues and produces our "healthcare" system that abuses the people it's supposed to be taking care of.

7:42AM PDT on Oct 18, 2010

Once again Lissa, your words and your life story provides encouragement, hope, and the life changing words that so many of us as women, workers, Mom's, spouses, and the "chief, cook and bottle washers" of this nation room to breathe in and say, yes, we can overcome. You are a blessing to women all over this world, and I am so incredibly grateful to "know" you. Your grace, courage, and stamina to go through the trenches, yet allow yourself to be just who you are, and then share the great, not so great, and down right horrible portions of what life throws at you brings comfort to myself and the many women who have dealt with and continue to deal with some really horrific things that happen to us daily... thank you always for being you, and having the courage to share that with all of us....

3:39PM PDT on Oct 8, 2010

great story! thank you

7:55PM PDT on Oct 5, 2010

good article

4:30PM PDT on Oct 5, 2010

Thank you for sharing. I don't feel so bad about my own painful stories after having read yours. But I hope you'll continue to tell people of the abusive treatment you received as a resident -- if the things you've described were standard practice in any other industry we would be outraged, so why should we accept it in medicine?

11:02AM PDT on Oct 3, 2010

thanks for sharing, all the best on your rewriting your story.

1:44AM PDT on Oct 3, 2010

Oh gosh... my sister is an OB/GYN and I had no idea about any of that. Seriously, how are you supposed to be a good OB/GYN if you AREN'T compassionate? The best ones always are.

No wonder why it doesn't hurt to be appreciated at times... I know you're getting paid well, but I just think that residents need a better shake.

7:34PM PDT on Oct 2, 2010

Excellent! You go!

1:13PM PDT on Oct 2, 2010

Dear Lissa, I cannot even begin to think about the topic of re-writing my own painful story because of what I read in your article. Quite frankly, I am not surprised at the inhumane treatment leveled at med students. It shows in spades in the conduct of some physicians.

It is never wise to abuse people, who are going to hold the power of life and death in their hands . Sometimes, they become abusive, heartless practitioners. If the sense of humanity and compassion are "beaten" out of a person (by whatever means), everyone in that person's care is at risk.

My mother had such a doctor, who was, by every indication, psychopathic. He deliberately killed my mother, and he TOLD me that he intended to do so. An independent autopsy confirmed that. He was also EXTREMELY abusive to me - and in front of witnesses. I am certain this kind of inhumane, abusive treatment in medical school only exacerbates the sick behavior of physicians, who are already mentally or emotionally unstable. This desperately needs to change.

We are not supposed to be living in barbaric times. No one, including a doctor, can be worth a damn to any patient, when that doctor is working the kinds of hours and under the kinds of conditions, which you described.

I am, by the way, suing the hospital and the doctor (who was only out of medical school for 6 years before he killed my mother), but that will not bring her back to me. Nothing can undo the trauma and damage he caused.

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