Shabnam is a medical doctor, working with facial skin cancer. Now a student in the School for 10 years, she found her way to philosophy through an extraordinary coincidence. Or was it?
Shabnam Madani, San Francisco
As a child I had two wishes, one to be a physician and second to live in the United States of America as a physician. I left Iran in 1983 but was not able to proceed to my desired destination. I stayed in Turkey, attended medical school and got married. Following the completion of my studies in medicine and dermatology, we moved to America. Getting accepted as a physician in America – especially as a dermatologist, a highly competitive field of medicine – had its own difficulties. After several long years of moving around to different parts of America and Canada, I fulfilled my requirements to be able to practice dermatology and skin cancer surgery (Mohs surgery), and we were finally able to settle down in California in 2006. At long last I had achieved what I had set out to accomplish.
However. . . having arrived in a new place with a new job, a new school for my 7 year-old son, work issues, home issues, and personal baggage from years of stress, I was at the point of a break down. I desperately needed someone to guide me. I remembered a long conversation I had with my aunt years back, her different approach to life, and the gratitude I felt for her wise advice. She lived in London, so I knew that now a long and detailed face-to-face conversation was impossible.
One night, when I attended a parent-teacher conference for my son’s school, we were informed about a School of Practical Philosophy. There was going to be a public talk the next day. I had never studied philosophy and had always associated philosophy with boring classes with no meaningful results!
Despite having a full schedule, the next morning, I somehow managed to attend the public talk. I was mesmerized! My God, it moved me. These were the words I had been waiting for. In every sentence I found words of wisdom. At the end of the talk, I approached the presenter and told her about my aunt and the similarity in the presenter’s voice and content. The presenter asked me “Who is your aunt?” Such a strange question, I thought. She wouldn’t know who I was talking about anyway; we were in California and my aunt lives in London.
I told her my aunt’s name and the presenter said, with a big smile: “She was my teacher and friend when I was in London!” I nearly collapsed hearing this! The presenter, Mariam Safina, explained how when she lived in London she attended the School of Economic Science along with my aunt, Fatima Collier. She added that when she had moved to California a few years back, she opened the California branch of the School of Practical Philosophy.
Driving back home after the presentation, tears were pouring down my face. I couldn’t believe that my wish to have my aunt guide me came true when I met Mariam Safina. What an extraordinary coincidence!
This was 10 years ago in 2008, and I have been a student of practical philosophy ever since. Gradually, both at home and at work, I started to practise what I was taught.
Facial skin cancer surgery is very specialized. I have patients who come to my office with enormous anxiety and I have to find a way to calm them. I deal with carcinoma, which can involve major facial surgery carried out under local anesthesia.
The patient stays in our waiting room until the tissue is processed by the lab. I check the processed tissue under a microscope and if there is more cancer, the patient returns to the procedure room for more surgery. This may go on several times in one day until they are clear from their skin cancer.
Then the defect on their face needs to be reconstructed under local anesthesia. The patients are awake during the surgery, and they often get tired, waiting with anticipation for their results. This leads to a lot of anxiety for patients, both before and during surgery.
Attending to patients
At an initial consultation, I can address a patient’s anxiety effectively and start a trusting relationship right away. Operations on the face can be incredibly stressful for patients, and I go over with them why treatments are for curing them from skin cancer and to make sure they look as normal as possible following reconstructive surgery.
Putting the philosophy into practice, I am able to help patients at many different levels: to be extra attentive to each person, and listen very deeply to all they are saying. It’s as if I see a person’s soul in consultation.
Many benefits of philosophy
Philosophy has also helped me trust my decisions regarding each patient during surgery for the best outcome, especially when there is complicated reconstruction involved. The School has helped me to be still and remain very concentrated on what I do.
Additionally, daily administrative tasks are performed more effectively with presence of mind. It has helped my relationships at work, with other colleagues and staff. The work environment has really changed; professional relationships seem healthier.
There is a measure to my work and personal life. Studying philosophy makes me not only a better surgeon but a better mother and a better wife at home.
That being said, I know that I need to continue on this path and work more towards refining my mind. I will keep attending these classes which nourish my soul and provide good company; that serve as a reminder always to live the life that matters. It is a wonderful journey of bliss and happiness that I am grateful to be a part of!