The Edge of Glory: Help People Cross the Finish Line

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Business people tend to think of their jobs as results and efficiency. However, whether we like it or not, professional and personal relationships strongly affect performance.

This episode explores the best way to care for ourselves and those we love, family members, friends, and colleagues, near the final days of life because of illness or age.

My special guest is Charlene Shaw, a physician with 20+ years of experience providing care to vulnerable geriatric and terminally ill patients. Dr. Shaw points out that not knowing how to deal with mortality hinders our ability to be compassionate and caring towards others and ourselves.

Developing a deeper understanding and awareness of this natural process has the healing power to turn grief into growth: we become advocates for our loved ones in their most glorious moment to provide relief and peace.

Dr. Shaw earned her medical degree from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and completed her residency at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in Miami.

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TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to Pity Party Over, the podcast for people teams and organizations seeking practical ideas for results in greater happiness. I'm your host, Stephen Matini, let's pause, learn and move on. Pity Party Over is brought to you by ALYGN, A L Y G N.company.

Hi everyone I'm Stephen and welcome to Pity Party Over. A lot of business people tend to think of their jobs as results and efficiency. However, whether we like it or not, professional and personal relationships strongly affect performance.

This episode explores the best way to care for ourselves and those we love, family members, friends, and colleagues, near the final days of life because of illness or age.

My special guest is Charlene Shaw, a physician with 20+ years of experience providing care to vulnerable geriatric and terminally ill patients.

Dr. Shaw earned her medical degree from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and completed her residency at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in Miami.

Stephen Matini: I cannot think of a better person to do this with, someone I've been knowing for a long time. Would you mind sharing where you come from, how the whole idea of becoming a doctor, a physician, came into your life.

Charlene Shaw: Thank you for having me on your podcast. And yes we go back quite a ways. It's a beautiful thing that we can do this together.

So how did how did this whole doctor thing come about? Well I was born in Trinidad, then we moved to Miami when I was I think about eight years old. But the thing is is I've always wanted to be a doctor ever since I was a little kid.

I remember watching Marcus Welby, like laying on the living room floor with my grandmother watching Marcus Welby. Maybe that left an impression, but since I was a little girl, I've always wanted to be a doctor. There was never anything else.

Interestingly enough, um ... as a a little girl and growing up in adolescents and so forth, there were no life changing events, so to speak. That you know, a lot of people, they go into medicine because they lost someone, and they want to know how to help people, how to keep people from dying, or dying too soon, or dying necessarily and things like that. I've never had any such events.

It was a true desire to be a physician, to be the person who understands how the body works, and helps people manage what's happening with them, or prevent things from happening, and so forth and so on. It's just been an internal desire.

Now is another story because as you know, I just lost my mom. While I understand all the medicine involved, it's just a devastating loss.

Stephen Matini: Yes. And you were there when my mom went away. As you studied to become a physician, then you started working, how did you choose the focus of your career?

Charlene Shaw: That's an easy one. I always wanted to be an O.B. guy, you know, an obstetrician, so I would be delivering babies and and and dealing with gynecological issues and so forth and so on. But when I did residency, I had O.B. guide rotations. I couldn't wait to do these rotations. Once I started and I saw what was truly involved, I had to stop and think, okay, is this what I really want to do for the rest of my life?

It's a beautiful event bringing a child into the world, but, but ... everything that happens before that, you don't know until you're there. So women that are in labor or they have false contractions and things like this at two o'clock in the morning as the new doc in the group, guess who's gonna be constantly at those kinds of situations?

So, once I saw that it's not just about, oh this beautiful baby is brought into the world or oh these women need this kind of care and that kind of care, it's a lot more involved. I suppose I romanticized it as I was growing up that this is how it's gonna be and this is what I'm gonna do. And the reality of it is quite different.

The hours the time spends and what the time is spent doing. It's a lot of preparation and look and see and know you're not ready in three days and four days and five days. And you know, it came down to a life decision: is this the way I want to spend the next at least 10 years before you know, I become let's say a senior partner or something?

This is not how I envisioned this particular specialty of being. And so no, this is not how I would like to spend important years of my life. The meat and potatoes of obstetrics, it's still very appealing to me, but it's all of the business around it and and the on call schedule and, and having your life being literally on hold while other things are happening, not really being able to live my own life because I'm bringing other lives into the world.

Stephen Matini: You went from thinking of focusing on the beginning of life, to the other side, to the other end. What appealed to you, the omega, the ending.

Charlene Shaw: It was a process. It wasn't okay, that's what I'm going to do next. It was actually a process. In the last year of residency, you need to apply for your specialty. You know, if you wanted to sub specialize. I got an invitation. It all began with an invitation.

One of my senior residents said, hey Shaw, come and check this out. I'm like check what out. And she says, I'm in the, I work with nursing homes. I'm like, oh God no. And so she says just come, come and see for yourself, and then we can talk.

She was one of the people that sort of held my hand and then I looked up to. I meant to her, her name is Kim. So I went on a rotation with her through these nursing homes, I was completely, completely blown away and humbled by what I saw and what she did.

It was a building filled with people, an incredible need of care. I suppose up to that point, I was still living in this very romanticized idea of what medicine is and what patients are and what they need and and so forth in my role with them.

And when I walked into the nursing home and I saw these people, they're all vulnerable, terribly ill, frail people that needed a lot of care, that needed attention. It was that was it. I was done. I'm like this is where I'm going to be. These are people that need significant help. And I decided in that moment, yes, this is what I'm gonna do.

So once residency was finished, I signed on with her team because the population of people that I was seeing were elderly, it made sense that I would go on and become board certified in geriatric medicine.

Like you see these TV shows where you know, death is never an option. Never, ever. People are jumping on other people's chest, they’re doing CPR and they have this magical, oh, oh I'm alive and it's like, oh my God. That is so far from the truth!

But you know, society and television, they don't prepare you for the end, they don't prepare you for what's next in old age. They just don’t, and so people live with this idea that they're never gonna die, they're invincible, and so they become ill, and the end of their disease approaches, the end of their life approaches, and they have absolutely no idea about how to deal with that or accept it.

The families are saying, do everything that you can, and you look in the bed of the person who is just simply in agony and suffering and nature is taking its course and this person is in the process of dying.

How do you let that happen in a compassionate way, in a caring way? And how do you help decrease the suffering that's involved, not just for the patient in the bed, but also for their family, because they're struggling with the idea that, oh no, this person is leaving us, this person is going to die. How are we going to carry on? It was just a complete full circle chain of events that led from internal medicine to geriatrics, to hospice and palliative care.

Stephen Matini: What would you say are some of the most meaningful lessons that are with you as a result of all these experiences?

Charlene Shaw: Oh my gosh humility. It’s, it's humility. You walk in and you step into a room, and in that room is a 90 something year old person, who has lived their best life and they've had tremendous experiences.

They look at you and, you know, I just melt, and people look at the elderly and take them for granted, and don't really give them the time of day, and you know, things like these people have tremendous amounts to contribute in terms of, you know, telling stories of their lives and telling and sharing their own experiences. It's just very, very helpful. I feel um I suppose honored to be the person that is there to take care of them.

Stephen Matini: What we're talking about is reality for all of us. These moments are moments that truly demand for you to become the leader of your family.

When I acknowledged the fact that my mom was not gonna make it, it was truly the help of one specific physician that helped me gain the right perspective, and to make the decision that eventually has given me peace. And even now when I think about those moments, and that horrible decision which was to let my mom go, I feel such a sense of pride. I feel so courageous the fact that I was there until the end.

Is there anything that will be in your opinion important for family members to know to face those moments?

Charlene Shaw: Recognize when their loved ones are dying, or in the dying process, and be the person who's there as their advocate for them in a loving way as opposed to no, no, no, no, no, no, no, you can't die. This is this is not how this goes.

It's a lot easier for that process to happen, because the person who's dying gets to sort of have some relief, to know that their families are there by their side, they understand what's happening, and they will carry on, and that they will be okay.

I think the most important thing is for people to know that this is natural, this, that it's accepted or recognized, the easier it is for both the person who's dying because they understand and they're here, and their family is there, and you know, like this, and also for the people who are left behind, like this gut wrenching and heartbreaking, but can still go on and represents or be a part of the one that you just lost.

Stephen Matini: You share with me that the loss of your mom has changed a lot of things. You became interested in other facets of your profession, like the use of medical cannabis in palliative care. Also you mentioned second opinion, which may have the critical influence on the diagnosis and treatment.

Charlene Shaw: For all the time I spent doing what I love to do, taking care of the elderly, seeing them through all sorts of, of illnesses and diseases and talking with their families and things like this, it was a beautiful thing, that I felt humbled and honored to be able to do.

But when it came my turn to deal with that and it's still difficult so ... it was impossible ... to continue to do that ... So ... I needed something else ... cannabis .. woo

(laughter)

Stephen Matini: You know, I never tried it.

Charlene Shaw: Believe it or not, me neither. It's not something that I do or did. It was okay, here we are. The State of Florida legalized this, um, legalized medical cannabis, not recreational. And it's always something in the back of my mind because being in hospice, I saw patients who used cannabis that were a bit better off in terms of managing pain, managing nausea, and um even though it's the end of their life, they're still able to embrace this overall sense of well being.

And it was hard to deny that it was hard to ignore that. I went to some lectures, I, you know, became better what it does, how it does. It let me just do the certification, if I use it, or if the opportunity comes around, I'm prepared. So I did the certification. And lo and behold there it was, I got an offer that I said yes to. And so there went my other direction to medical cannabis.

Seriously, it was just, I could not continue with hospice, not for any reason other than I was personally grieving. I was not able to give myself to other families and other people that were in similar situations because of my own grief. So it was a way to continue medicine on an entirely different level, entirely different level. And so that's what I did.

Stephen Matini: Cannabis and weeds, are the same thing?

Charlene Shaw: Yeah, weed is sort of the slang term for cannabis. So there are so many things on this plant that have shown medicinal benefits. We can talk about things like cannabinoids which is the CBD and the THC here in the States. The CBD is determined to be sort of like an agricultural commodity, so you can buy it over the counter as long as there's less than 0.3% THC by dry weight, then you can buy this product over the counter just about anywhere.

THC is the component in the cannabis plant that is not federally legal, and so each state has taken it upon itself to determine, yes this is a benefit, this is not a benefit, we will allow this but not that. So anyway, long story short THC is the component in the cannabis is what it's the cannabinoid that provides relief for a great many things, as does the C.B.D.

You put those two things together and you get an impressive response. The THC works directly with pain. It works directly with depression. It works directly with insomnia, directly with anxiety, directly with nausea. CBD, on the other hand, works exceptionally well with inflammation, it works with seizures. The FDA approved drug PD L.X, which is CBD for children.

Cannabis has the smell, right? And the thing that creates the smell, it's called terpenes and the terpenes themselves have medicinal benefits. It's a world of potential. So we find that patients with Crohn's disease greatly benefit from cannabis use, patients with Parkinson's and Alzheimer's actually also greatly benefit from cannabis use.

You know the Parkinson’s, the tremor can become significant. Some of these patients we've seen where they take a dose of the cannabis sublingually, which is a liquid that they put under the tongue, and they give that some time, and the tremor goes from very rapid, to practically non existent for some period of time. And it's the same if they smoke the cannabis, it tends to stop quicker.

As far as second opinion consultations. There is a clinic, the VIOS clinic (www.viosapp.com) that is set up, and it's an international clinic, and the idea is they have a pool of physicians from multiple, multiple specialties. Usually what's involved in a second opinion is not simple.

Okay they're looking for a doctor who is an expert in the field of. So if it's a cancer diagnosis, obviously they want uh an expert oncologist. If it's like multiple sclerosis or a. L.S. or something like this, they want an expert neurologist.

They're looking for an expert that can give them a second opinion to corroborate the information they got from their primary doctor, from their local doctor. The idea is they would call in get this expert. They have 30 minutes to discuss whatever they want to discuss it can be as soon as they want. So if if they want a second opinion tomorrow, then ideally you can call in and get that second opinion tomorrow.

And it saves all kinds of time scheduling because the expert is not usually in the same town. So they don't have to travel first of all, they're sick in the first place, right? So they don't have to book hotel, book flight, take a long drive, go somewhere else, and it's like two months, three months out before they get the appointment in the first place.

So all of these things are just like chopped off. Telemedicine has problems quite a nice long way since Covid. There is a feasible way to to continue this telemedicine process to help those patients or those people who are limited, who cannot simply get on a plane or get into a car.

Stephen Matini: For those people who are not familiar with second opinion, why would you say is important to get a second opinion?

Charlene Shaw: I think peace of mind is the best answer. If somebody tells you carrying on with your best life and then something happens, you're in the hospital, they do diagnostics, and they find let's say a mass or a tumor, or they find something, that you are not expecting, you're completely devastated. Most people don't just want to say okay and carry on. Many people do. But not everyone.

And so if you're not settled with the opinion or with the diagnostics or the result of your your visits, then yes. You can get a second expert opinion, to help you feel secure or more in charge of what you do next.

Let's say the cancer diagnosis, and it's a terminal cancer, or the cancer has spread or something like this, and the doc says, well in these cases people, the five year survival is only 35%. A second opinion can just kind of, it's never easy but at least if you decide to go to treatment, you have some idea of what to expect. Or if you decide, I'm not doing anything because ... whatever your reasons are, then you can make that decision knowing that okay, this is what I can expect. and just kind of gives people some peace of mind to make whatever decision they feel they need to make.

Stephen Matini: Have you ever listened to Lady Gaga's song The Edge of Glory?

Charlene Shaw: Probably.

Stephen Matini: The song is about her grandfather, when he passed away. The edge of glory is the most glorious moment in life, when you decided that it's okay to go. You don't have any more words to say -you know she says- more business, more mountains to climb. You're on the cliff, you tip your hat to yourself and you go. You finally move on to the next chapter.

So, you chose a job that is stressful, to say the least. When you feel down, you know when you feel really in a massive pity party, which all of us had the right to feel ...

Charlene Shaw: Right.

Stephen Matini: What is something that helps you overcome it? That's what I call a pity party over, like okay enough is enough, I move on.

Charlene Shaw: I sit quietly. Silence is an amazing tool for me. Everything becomes crystal clear at some point. So I sit and I meditate. Sometimes I listen to Mooji, he uh he as well as Sadhguru are two gurus that have been very influential in terms of being able to handle life and the, you know, making lemonade out of lemons and things like that.

But the act of simply being silent and letting like unfold, rather than forcing it, or trying to live by my projections, is a remarkable tool.

So pity party over, I just sit quietly and contemplate and and just be, and look for a different way to express what is happening, or just look for a different direction to focus, and silence usually brings out.

Stephen Matini: Which is often counterintuitive. Particularly I see it a lot when I work with business people, you know, it's all rush, fast, you need to get things done and often times that is associated with them not being productive. Instead for me, just a different way to manage your time.

Stephen Matini: Thank you so much for all your thoughts. This is ...

Charlene Shaw: Oh, you’re welcome!

Stephen Matini: This is really wonderful.

Charlene Shaw: It's my absolute pleasure. Thank you.

Stephen Matini: You really chose an incredible job. You've got to be a special person to do what you do, seriously, on a daily basis and to do anyway, that is humane, thank you for sharing all this because I think a lot of people can definitely benefit from this.

Charlene Shaw: I appreciate it and thank you. You know, as a physician, it's demanding, there's no way around that, it's very demanding and I have to bring my A game every time I walk into the door, there's no letting anything slip.

To keep that going, requires a good deal of effort. To keep the humanity and the vulnerability, I think going back to that silent place, really makes a big difference. So when I made my life choice about what part of medicine I wanted to participate and I was true and honest to myself, how much of this and you know, how do I want to show up? How do I want to to be? I think I chose well because it all needed a balance, there has to be a balance.

Stephen Matini: And silence shall be.

Charlene Shaw: Silence shall be.

Stephen Matini: Thank you for listening to this episode of Pity Party Over.

Dr. Shaw points out that not knowing how to deal with mortality hinders our ability to be compassionate and caring towards others and ourselves.

Developing a deeper understanding and awareness of this natural process has the healing power to turn grief into growth. We become advocates for our loved ones in their most glorious moment to provide relief and peace.

Keep in mind that many resources optimize the quality of life of patients and their families, including palliative care, and second medical opinion.

If you have any questions about the content of this episode, you can contact me via email, LinkedIn or Twitter. Please check the episodes notes for information.

If you enjoy this content, please subscribe to the Pity Party Over podcast available on Amazon Music, Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Spotify, and many podcast platforms and apps.

I invite you to browse our leadership and managerial development programs at alygn.company. ALYGN is spelled A L Y G N.company

Be happy, be well, and until we connect again, thank you for listening.

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