After working with seniors in the medical field for 35 years, and seeing hundreds of them move on from life, Dr. David Brook has developed a philosophy of approach he wants to share now that he’s retiring.
At the heart of his approach is the spiritual element invoked by the relationship of a doctor and their patient. It’s especially pronounced with the dying, or the frail and failing, Brook says.
“You want to get to that oneness,” he said. “It’s about healing… I want [people] to have a deeper understanding that death is a part of life. The gift that you can give those you leave behind is that it’s OK, through understanding, acceptance and forgiveness. I see so many people who don’t talk about this stuff.”
Healing isn’t always fixing and is part of a “oneness” that people seek when they are facing the end of their life, Brook said.
“The word I keep using is love. I love my patients. I don’t have to like them all, but I love them.”
It’s part of what Brook discovered, and practised, during his 35 years in geriatrics. He’s practised the past 15 years out of Athlone Court on Oak Bay Avenue, often working with people in their final stages of life.
Brook is also an Oak Bay resident who’s spent most of his life in the community. He and his wife have lived in the same Oak Bay house since 1985. There they raised their family, a son and two daughters, a 15-minute walk from his office.
Visitors to this year’s Oak Bay Tea Party might have noticed him playing piano for the band Chafafa (they performed on the Saturday from 5 to 6 p.m.).
As of June 28, Brook will see his last patient in public practice. He won’t completely retire, as he’ll work part time to serve the needs of patients in the late stage of life at nursing homes. But at this stage, Brook was ready to share some parting words as a ‘relic of 20th century’ doctoring.
“I’m from a fading paradigm [in medicine],” Brook said. “When I went to school doctoring was prescriptive and authoritative. We were trained that way. And it works. Because the elderly are 20th century people, they like it.”
When a frightened person needs doctoring it’s a completely different experience, he noted. You have to establish a therapeutic alliance with the patient to heal them. Of course, you restore the restorable, and treat the treatable. But there’s more to it than science and technology. Doctors are healers, and need to embrace the spiritual aspect that patients encounter as they near the end of their time on Earth.
“You look at the word patient, it comes from the Latin word patienta, or suffering,” Brook noted. “And that’s what people go through, suffering.”
The use of ritual becomes a way of getting to that oneness, he said.
“I’ve seen people die with their loved ones reading [the Bible]. Every person I’ve seen leave this world has made a proclamation, verbal or otherwise, and there is an acknowledgement and acceptance. And forgiveness.”
In our time, in our culture, people are unacquainted with death, he noted.
Look at Prospero in Shakespeare’s Tempest, who says “every third thought will be my grave.”
It comes from a time when death stalked humanity, which it still does in other parts of the world, but is something we are removed from in Canada.
“[Shakespeare’s] generation was mortal,” Brook said. “People were au courant, from French [meaning an ongoing awareness] with death. Today, people don’t conduct themselves knowing that we are mortal. There’s a lot of denial.”
Brook has also seen people deal in their reckoning. And now he’s got a little reckoning of his own, as he enters the next chapter of life.
“It’s been a privilege to practice in a healing way and I tell the patients it’s been a privilege. It’s a rewarding act at every level.”
In retirement, or semi-retirement, Brook and his wife are also reconciling their responsibility as humans.
“We signed up for tai chi, it starts July 8. We want to buy electric [assist] bikes as we want to bike more but we live on a hill and we can use that little boost. And we are exploring veganism. My generation has a lot to answer for. We will keep holiday [travel] to a small radius, but it has to include Long Beach [Tofino].”