20th Anniversary Reflections – Grief & Celebration

By October 14, 2020 Uncategorized

Celebration is more a discipline than it is an event.

a message from Ted Benke, M.D.

With the 20th anniversary of Benke ENT Clinic on October 1st, I wonder—like so many people this year—can I take time to intentionally celebrate when we’re still in the middle of a global pandemic? It’s a much broader question isn’t it? There’s a lesson there that could change our lives: can we hold space for the good in the world and in us when we also see and feel heaviness? As I’ve thought about it, I always end up accepting that we must if we want to move forward. Grief and celebration are our legs; we move in circles when only one is moving. Consequently, my question changes from if to how to celebrate this momentous year for my practice. We won’t be throwing a big party, as you may have guessed, but we will be celebrating with a little fun, a few freebies, and my heartfelt reflections on twenty years in Cleburne, TX.

These twenty years of investing in my dream and in this community have shaped my family and certainly shaped me. To avoid feeling overwhelmed as I look back, I find St. Ignatius’ Prayer of Examen helpful in distilling my experience in a way that speaks. What consoled me? What destroyed me? What kept me going? When we do this kind of remembering—holding grief with celebration—we establish an integration that ultimately helps us live more securely in bodies and worlds that are at the same time beautiful and endlessly fragile. We also notice more of who we really are and what we were really meant to do.

Consolation – What Gave Me Life

My foremost consolation has been owning and operating a small business where I naturally gain satisfaction from having a hand in all the details. For me, the devil isn’t in the details—I love making lists and then navigating them. I’m equally passionate about health as I am about promoting it, so orchestrating the entire—though small—operation gives me so much life. Early on in my career as a doctor, I realized that I wanted to have ownership of the vehicle by which my care is given. My staff might say I’m a control freak, but that is (hopefully) the bridled byproduct of my deep desire to give people an excellent experience when they are doing the hard work of investing in their health. I wanted to create something very personal, warm, and ultimately simplistic. The big picture flow of hospitals and bustling practices stole something innate in me, which is the affinity for connection with every detail of providing care, from solving someone’s allergies to the design of my building. While I thrive in smaller ponds, I’m indebted to the supportive community of Johnson County for championing this model of healthcare. I’m so grateful I get to do what I love to do!

Desolation – What Took Life from Me

In 2012, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. It would be tempting to say that that was the singular event that took life away from me these twenty years, but that’s just not true. It certainly changed my life! However, in retrospect, it was the catalyst that revealed my Achilles heel—my striving for control above my faith in God. My foremost motivation in all things is to reform, improve, and bring order out of chaos. When life establishes limitations—as it always does—I let fear empower me to do things that make me think I’m setting things aright, but all I’m doing is adding to the noise. After my diagnosis, I feared losing Doctor referrals most—more than any physical crippling. Therefore, to seek control, I hid my diagnosis for the better part of two years. In hiding from others, I realize now I was also hiding from myself. I had become a stranger to my emotions, becoming disintegrated and denying God’s ability to bring structure to all the chaos I felt and even created. Honesty finally arrived with humility in tow when I learned how this secret was desolating my wife. It took seeing the desolation of another to see the desolation in myself. Waking up to that reality led me to accept my disease in a more forward-moving way and take ownership for my part in the healing journey. Ultimately though, I learned that lasting improvement for any situation involves honesty, humility, and radical faith.

What Kept Me Going

The answer to “what keeps me going” is both a slice of work-to-live and live-to-work. I honestly can’t imagine retiring from work altogether. Work is hard, and it has been one of life’s greatest rewards to pair science, people, and business together into one job. Even more, what has always thrilled me is taking time away to be with family to retreat and imagine how life could be improved moving forward. So, I think that drive to constantly improve has been a huge driver in keeping me going. As my mother-in-law loved to remind me, doctors merely practice medicine. I still have so much to learn!

Where I’m Going

In that same vein, I’d like to share with you where I see my future headed. Since my MS diagnosis in 2012, I’ve learned what it means to be a scared patient in need of care more than ever before! I’ve also learned so much about the body as whole and integrated being through the power of functional medicine. While the onset of disease in my body is still not entirely known, it is clear that stress played a huge role. At first, that realization felt quite condemning, but as I learned my own power to reduce stress in my body, I found immense freedom. Through drastically changing my diet and lifestyle habits, and honestly just being more aware of my body’s needs, I’ve been able to get off of medication and really feel like I’m thriving. Obviously, I am lucky to have had such success, and I also fully believe in the power of the functional medicine approach—enough to lead me to explore integrating functional medicine into my ENT practice! I’m taking courses from the Institute for Functional Medicine now and look forward to how that will evolve my practice.

Also, I’m very excited to announce the non-profit organization I started forming in 2019 called Ephphatha 8 Foundation. I’m still awaiting 501(c)(3) status, but the idea came to me when I read the story of Jesus healing the deaf man in the Decapolis (Mark 7:34) and he used the word, “Ephphatha,” which means “be opened.” It made me wonder how I could help Johnson County be opened to new sounds and help make hearing healthcare more accessible for people with hearing impairments. The mission of Ephphatha 8 Foundation is to equip people in financial need with the means to hear better, opening new possibilities by enlivening the miracle of sound. Stay tuned for more resources to learn about this work and to donate to E8F’s mission.