Great Healers Sometimes Sell Ice Cream


Many years ago, when I was living in Hawaii, I began to experience an existential crisis.  I had been practicing as a physical therapist for a few years prior to moving to Hawaii and while practicing on the Big Island, I began to wonder whether I had made the right career choice.  I enjoyed my work but I felt that I wanted to do more.  I felt that my ability to impact my patients in a significant way was limited by my scope of practice.  In Hawaii, I befriended a Naturopathic Physician and I became convinced that if I was a Naturopathic Physician, I would have more tools to treat my patients and I would feel more satisfied in my life.  I wasted no time in working towards my new goal.  I enrolled part time at the University of Hawaii and continued to treat my patients.  I loved being back in university.  The environment was stimulating and felt like I was on the right track but one sunny afternoon while walking the streets of Hilo, my new found confidence was about to be dramatically shaken.  

It had just rained, as it does everyday, usually twice a day.  The streets were warm and the smell of fresh gardenias wafted through air, carried by the gentle trade winds.  I walked by a weathered old building and happened to notice a sign in the window that read, “Spiritual readings available by appointment”.  Normally this sort of thing would cause me to roll my eyes and shake my head but for some inexplicable reason, I went inside that old weathered building.  When I entered the dimly lit room, I noticed it had the usual trimmings I would have expected: incense smoke in the air, Tibetan prayer flags, statues of Buddha, and the rest.  A slender man with a pony tail approached me and reached his hand out to greet me.  He seemed like a nice guy and for some reason I found myself asking if I could make an appointment for a spiritual reading.  He wrote my name in the appointment book and handed me a reminder card for my reading next week.  I walked home wondering what I had just done.

The next week I was busy attending classes and filling out my application for medical school in Arizona.  When the day arrived for my appointment, I almost cancelled but out of respect for late cancellation policies, I walked back downtown to have my spiritual reading.  As I entered the building, the same pony-tailed man who made my appointment greeted me.  We engaged in some small talk and I instantly liked the guy.  He was actually from Vancouver Island and he and his wife and children were living in a tent in the small rain forest just out of town.  I started to feel sorry for this guy except for the fact that he seemed to be much more happy than me and he clearly did not seem to be having a existential crisis – go figure.  

After our introductory chat, he got down to business.  He closed his eyes and remained motionless while he, from what I could surmise, convened with my spirit.  It was a bit awkward but since I had paid my fifty bucks, I decided to go with it.  I closed my eyes too.  After several minutes he opened his eyes – I could tell because I kept peeking, and asked me, “Why are you here?”  Without hesitation I jumped all over that open-ended question like I had been rehearsing the answer for years.  I explained that I just wanted “confirmation” that I was on the track with changing my career so that I could help people better.  He then asked, “Why don’t you feel you can help people now?”  I explained that I felt I needed more tools to help my patients and as a Naturopathic Doctor, I would have all the tools I would need to better help my patients and make me feel better about myself.  That’s when he told me the story about Great Healers Selling Ice Cream.  

He said, “I want to tell you a story about the greatest healing experience I ever had.”  I sat up straight and was ready to take mental notes.  He explained that he had been suffering from a serious bout of depression and on this particular day, before making his usual commute to work, he decided to stop for ice cream.  He went on to say, “I could not explain why I needed to stop in at Baskin Robbins Ice Cream at 10:00 AM but there I was. I walked in to the store and noticed one couple at the table drinking coffee and another person in front of me also ordering ice cream.  I thought, at least I am not the only one who is ordering ice cream at 10:00 AM.  When it was my turn, I approached the counter and that’s when it happened.”  

Now he had my attention!  I asked him, “What happened?”  He continued, “The girl behind the counter might have been eighteen or nineteen, she looked at me with these deep, soulful eyes and with her gentle smile, asked me how she could help me?  It seemed like a strange question but the way she asked somehow unlocked something inside me.  I instantly felt lighter.  I ordered my double scoop Cherry Garcia and left, deciding to eat it in my car.  I did not want anybody interfering with my newly found state of bliss.  I have never felt healing like that before.  I was essentially cured of my depression by a girl selling ice cream!”

While I found the story amusing, at that moment, the light did not go on for me.  He asked if I saw how this story related to my situation.  I said, “Well, I don’t want to sell ice cream.”  He smiled and said, “Brett, you have everything you need to be highly successful with your patients right now – it is what you have inside, not the credential that hangs on your wall.”  At the end of the reading we shook hands and wished each other well.  I walked home thinking that was the worst fifty bucks I have ever spent.  Several weeks later I received a letter from the medical school stating that I was accepted. I was elated and would finally get on the right track in my life.  I left Hawaii and prepared to find accommodation in Tempe, Arizona.  The only way I could afford the tuition and rent was to go to school full-time and work evenings and weekends as a physical therapist.  As fate would have it, I could not get licensed as a physical therapist in Arizona and as such, I had no choice but to head home – back to Canada.  

In Canada my existential crisis deepened, I started preparing to apply to medical school in Canada but this nagging thought in my head was, “Maybe that spiritual reader was right?  Maybe I didn’t need to be chasing a new career?”  After several weeks of studying for the MCAT, I bailed on my plan and moved back to the United States to explore my limits as a physical therapist.  Fifteen years after that fateful reading, I still practice as a physical therapist.  The way I practice now is profoundly different and by recognizing my unique contribution to health care and my patients, I am much more settled in my career.  


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