Prescribing Good Medicine

 

A good night sleep, or a ten minute bawl, or a pint of chocolate ice cream, or all three together, is good medicine.
~Ray Bradbury

 

 

 

If there is anything I’ve learned in over 40 years of practicing medicine, it’s that I still must “practice” my art every day.  As much as we physicians emphasize the science of what we do, utilizing “evidence based” decisions, there are still days when a fair amount of educated guessing and a gut feeling is based on past experience, along with my best hunch.  Many patients don’t arrive with classic cook book symptoms that fit the standardized diagnostic and treatment algorithms so the nuances of their stories require interpretation, discernment and flexibility.    I appreciate a surprise once in awhile that makes me look at a patient in a new or unexpected way and teaches me something I didn’t know before.   It keeps me coming back for more, to figure out the mystery and dig a little deeper.

I’ve also learned that not all medicine comes in pills or injections.  This isn’t really news to anyone, but our modern society is determined to seek better living through chemistry, the more expensive and newer the better, whether prescribed or not.  Chemicals have their place, but they also can cause havoc.  It is startling to see medication lists topping a dozen different daily pills.  Some are life-saving.  Many are just plain unnecessary.

How many people sleep without the aid of pill or weed or alcohol?  Fewer and fewer.  Poor sleep is one of the sad consequences of our modern age of too much artificial light, too much entertainment and screen time keeping us up late, and not enough physical work to exhaust our bodies enough to match our frazzled and fatigued brains.

How many of us allow ourselves a good cry when we feel it welling up?  It could be a sentimental moment–a song that brings back bittersweet memories, a commercial that touches just the right chord of feeling and connection.  It may be a moment of frustration and anger when nothing seems to go right.  It could be the pain of physical illness or injury or the stress of emotional turmoil.  Or just maybe there is weeping when everything is absolutely perfect and there cannot be another moment just like it, so it is tough to let it go unchristened by tears of joy.

And without a doubt, the healing qualities of chocolate are unquestioned by this doctor, however it may be consumed.  It can fix most everything that ails a person,  at least for an hour or two.

No, it doesn’t take an M.D. degree to know the best medicine.

Just remember: sleep, weep, reap (chocolate!)

 

Let the Tears Flow

whitehearts

People have said, “Don’t cry” to other people for years and years, and all it has ever meant is, “I’m too uncomfortable when you show your feelings.  Don’t cry.”  I’d rather have them say, “Go ahead and cry.  I’m here to be with you.”

~Mister Fred Rogers

I am a crier, no question about it, whether it is listening to the old “whistle” theme from the Lassie TV show, or watching any children’s choir sing.  Certain hymns will always trigger tears, and of course, baptisms, weddings, and graduations. Yesterday was joyfully tear-filled, with our youngest child receiving her college degree.

Tears don’t bother me, whether it is my own or someone else’s.  My office and exam rooms are well- stocked with tissues, and one of my routine mental health history questions is “when did you last have a good cry?”   Some patients will look at me blankly, not sure they ever remember crying, and others will burst into tears at the mere suggestion.

No matter what the reason for tears, it is a powerful expression of feeling, like a smile or a grimace.  I watch for those cues and sometimes can feel the emotion as surely as if it were my own.

I am with you.  And always intend to be.

image

 

 

Sudden Ends of Time

sunset1224142

These sudden ends of time must give us pause.
We fray into the future, rarely wrought
Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
More time, more time.
~Richard Wilbur from “Year’s End”

Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention.  They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.
~Frederick Buechner

I’m not paying close enough attention if  I’m too busy looking for kleenex.  It seems the last couple weeks I have had more than ample opportunity to find out the secret of who I am, where I have come from and where I am to be next, and I’m loading my pockets with kleenex, just in case.

It mostly has to do with welcoming our children, their spouses and their friends back home for the holidays to become a full out noisy messy chaotic household again, with lots of music and laughter and laundry and meal preparation.  It is about singing grace together before a meal and choking on precious words of gratitude.  It certainly has to do with bidding farewell again, as we begin to do a few hours from now and, to gather them in for the hug and then unclasping and letting go, urging and encouraging them to go where their hearts are telling them they are needed and called to be.  I too was let go once and though I would try to look back, too often in tears, I knew to set my face toward the future.  It led me here, to this farm, this marriage, this family, this work, to more tears, to more letting go, as it will continue if I live long enough to weep again and again with gusto and grace.

This is where I should go next: to love so much and so deeply that letting go is so hard that tears are no longer unexpected or a mystery to me.   They release the fullness that can no longer be contained: God’s still small voice spilling down my cheeks drop by drop like wax from a burning candle.  No kleenex needed.  Let it flow.

adventfull2

Good Medicine

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

A good night sleep, or a ten minute bawl, or a pint of chocolate ice cream, or all three together, is good medicine.
~Ray Bradbury

If there is anything I’ve learned in 35 years of my medical career, it’s that I still must “practice” my art every day.  As much as we physicians emphasize the science of what we do, utilizing “evidence based” decisions, there are still days when a fair amount of educated guessing and a gut feeling is based on my past experience, along with my best hunch.  Many patients don’t arrive with classic cook book symptoms that fit the standardized diagnostic and treatment algorithms so the nuances of their stories require interpretation, discernment and flexibility.    I appreciate a surprise once in awhile that makes me look at a patient in a new or unexpected way and teaches me something I didn’t know before.   It keeps me coming back for more, to figure out the mystery and dig a little deeper.

I’ve also learned that not all medicine comes in pills or injections.  This isn’t really news to anyone, but our modern society is determined to seek better living through chemistry, the more expensive and newer the better, whether prescribed or not.  Chemicals have their place, but they also can cause havoc.  It is startling to see medication lists topping a dozen different daily pills.  Some are life-saving.  Many are just plain unnecessary.

How many sleep without the aid of pill or weed or alcohol?  Fewer and fewer.  Poor sleep is one of the sad consequences of our modern age of too much artificial light, too much entertainment keeping us up late, and not enough physical work to exhaust our bodies enough to match our frazzled and fatigued brains.

How many of us allow ourselves a good cry when we feel it welling up?  It could be a sentimental moment–a song that brings back bittersweet memories, a commercial that touches just the right chord of feeling and connection.  It may be a moment of frustration and anger when nothing seems to go right.  It could be the pain of physical illness or injury or the stress of emotional turmoil.  Or just maybe there is weeping when everything is absolutely perfect and there cannot be another moment just like it, so it is tough to let it go unchristened by tears of joy.

And without a doubt, the healing qualities of chocolate are unquestioned by this doctor, however it may be consumed.  It can fix most everything that ails a person. at least for an hour or two.

It doesn’t take an M.D. degree to know the best medicine.  It just takes a degree of common sense.
Time for bed and time to turn off the light.  A good bawl and chocolate will wait for another night.

 

Now and Now

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

And so you have a life that you are living only now, now and now and now, gone before you can speak of it, and you must be thankful for living day by day, moment by moment … a life in the breath and pulse and living light of the present…
~Wendell Berry

My days are filled with anxious people, one after another after another.  They sit at the edge of their seat, eyes brimming, fingers gripping the arms of the chair.  Each moment, each breath, each rapid heart beat overwhelmed by fear-filled questions:  will there be another breath?  must there be another breath?   Must this life go on like this in panic of what the next moment will bring?

The only thing more frightening than the unknown is the known that the next moment will be just like the last.  There is a deficit of thankfulness, no recognition of a moment just passed that can never be retrieved and relived.   There is only fear of the next and the next so that the now and now is lost forever.

Their worry and angst is contagious as the flu.
I mask up and wash my hands of it throughout the day.
I wish a vaccination could protect us all from unnamed fears.

I want to say to them and myself:
Stop.  Stop this.  Stop this moment in time.
Stop expecting some one, some thing or some drug must fix this feeling.
Stop being blind and deaf to the gift of each breath.
Just stop.
And simply be.

I want to say:
this moment is ours,
this moment of weeping and sharing
and breath and pulse and light.
Shout for joy in it.
Celebrate it.
Be thankful for tears that can flow over grateful lips.

Stop me before I write,
because of my own anxiety,
yet another prescription
you don’t really need.

Just be–
and be blessed–
in the now and now.

The Mystery of Tears

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention.  They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.
~Frederick Buechner

I’m not paying close enough attention if  I’m too busy looking for kleenex.  It seems the last couple weeks I have had more than ample opportunity to find out the secret of who I am, where I have come from and where I am to be next, and I’m loading my pockets with kleenex, just in case.

It mostly has to do with welcoming our children and their friends back home for the holidays to become a full out noisy messy chaotic household again, with lots of music and laughter and laundry and meal preparation.  It is about singing grace together before a meal and choking on precious words of gratitude.  It certainly has to do with bidding farewell again, as we began to do a few hours ago in the middle of the night and will do again in two days and again in two weeks, to gather them in for the hug and then unclasping and letting go, urging and encouraging them to go where their hearts are telling them they are needed and called to be.  I too was let go once and though I would look back, too often in tears, I knew to set my face toward the future.  It led me here, to this farm, this marriage, this family, this work, to more tears, to more letting go, as it will continue if I live long enough to weep again and again with gusto and grace.

This is where I should go next: to love so much and so deeply that letting go is so hard that tears are no longer unexpected or a mystery to me.   They release the fullness that can no longer be contained: God’s still small voice spilling down my cheeks drop by drop.  No kleenex needed.  Let it flow.

 

Lenten Reflection–In the End, It’s All One

photo by Josh Scholten


Even in laughter the heart may ache, and rejoicing may end in grief.
Proverbs 14:13

Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Luke 6:21

Laugh till you weep. Weep till there’s nothing left but to laugh at your weeping. In the end it’s all one.
Frederick Buechner

I work in a place where there are kleenex tissue boxes everywhere you turn. On any given day hundreds of tissues cover sneezes and coughs and blow over 120 runny noses. That is reason enough, but they are essential for those tender and vulnerable moments when eyes start to well up and overflow, and the tears start to stream. There is nothing more helpless than crying and having it leak and puddle all around you with nothing to catch the stream. Handing someone a tissue is one of my most nurturing acts. My standard line is a variation of Buechner’s quote: “sometimes our feelings are so overwhelmed we aren’t sure whether to laugh or cry, so we end up doing both–just let it flow.” It almost always gets a smile and chuckle even from the biggest toughest guy who is sobbing his heart out over a lost love or his parents’ divorce, or the confirmed cry baby who has been designated the “town crier” by her roommates because she can’t not cry at every little thing.

I know something about this personally as I’m an easy crier as well, though these days it is primarily my family who is aware of it. In fact, it has become a contest to see how early on Christmas Day will Mom start to cry. Certain movies will always trigger my tears. Even certain commercials–remember those old Kodak commercials with the song “Turn Around”? And especially the whistled version of Greensleeves for the old “Lassie” show. Gets me every time.

Our joy and sorrow become so intertwined in our hearts and minds that we actually dwell inside both at once. That is the essence of Lent–the Bright Sadness of our long journey through His pain and suffering to find that His death–our death–has been transformed to eternal life.

Laugh through the tears and cry through the giggles. In the end, it’s all one.