I am normal.
OK, aside from that llama thing.
I have good days and bad. Some days I am content, connected, focused, and motivated. On those days I enjoy my job, I enjoy the people I’m with, I am willing to be inconvenienced by interruptions.
On other days…not so much. I wake up grumpy and (despite multiple cups of coffee) continue it through the day. I keep score of all the ways in which life has conspired to make the day difficult. Too many red lights. Too windy. Clearly terrible things going on. I am not patient with people, and am distracted by little things.
Like I said: I am normal. I do my best to not let these things stand in the way of the care I give, and I try to hide my emotions from my patients. It’s a necessary part of the job. But there are still days I’m better at it than others.
I recently went hiking in a beautiful national park outside of Columbia, SC. This park was in a swampy area and contained all sorts of wildlife (called “critters” down here) and plant life (called “trees and those other things” down here). When I was young, my dad would take us kids on hikes through the Adirondack Park in New York, and so being on hikes in nature hits my soul in a very deep spot. It’s emotional, it’s physical, it’s a treat to my senses, and it’s a spiritual experience for me.
The drug test came back abnormal. There was THC present. I walked back to Mrs. Johnson and raised my eyebrows.
"What's wrong?" she asked, not used to whatever kind of look I was giving her.
"Uh, you forgot to mention to me that you smoke weed."
She blushed and then smirked. "Well, yes, I guess I forgot to put that down on the sheet. I don't do it real often, but sometimes it takes mind off of things. I just get real anxious about my kids, my husband...and my heart problems. I only smoke one or two a night"
She's not your usual picture of a pot-head. She's in her sixties, has coronary heart disease, irritable bowel, hypertension, is on Medicaid, and is the essential caricature of the the poor white folk who live in the deep south. And she smokes weed.
"I want to tell you my story now," a patient recently told me, a woman who suffers from many physical and emotional ailments. She had the diagnosis of PTSD on her problem list, along with hospitalizations for "stress," but I never asked beyond that.
"OK," I answered, not knowing what to expect. "Tell me your story."
She paused for about 30 seconds, but I knew not to interrupt the silence. "I killed my husband," she finally said.
Howard died on Friday.
Howard was the general surgeon I preferred sending my patients to because he took good care of them. He listened to what they said, he joked around with them, and he took them seriously. He also was famous for wearing tie-died scrubs. This type of care is unfortunately difficult to find from consultants.
Yeah, I am still here. Sorry I left you with Bob the Llamaturkey as my last post to see. That is very thoughtless of me.
Many who have been reading my blog adventure as I build my new practice have noted a bit of a down mood in my writing. Yes, that has been there (not Bob the Llamaturkey, other stuff). The past two years have been quite a but more than I expected. They have definitely been more rewarding and fulfilling than I could have hoped, but they have also been far more anxiety provoking and exhausting than my worries could have conjured. The medical side of things has been wonderful, but the burden of starting a business from scratch is heavy.
Hence the absence of recent blog posts.
I think there is something in us that makes us want to make heroes. This is part of the attraction of sport and other entertainment. We want to see people doing things that are amazing, superhuman, and heroic. As a child, I imagined me hitting the home run in the bottom of the 9th inning, or hitting the basket with no time left on the clock. I imagined the adulation and praise of my skill from the adoring masses. I dreamed of being a hero.
As an incurable compulsive introspect, I tend to brood, ponder, contemplate, and (of course) muse on "big ideas," such as:
- What makes people choose things which cause themselves harm?
- Are some people better people than others, or are they just more skilled at hiding their problems?
- Is pain really a bad thing, or is our aversion to it a sign of human weakness?
- Do dogs watch Oprah?
- Does God ever wear a hat?
- Why is "big ideas" in quotes?
Lately I've been contemplating the nature of human awareness:
- Is self-awareness (the ability to think of ourselves in the first person) a uniquely human trait, and is lack of self-awareness the essence of mental illness?
- Is empathy, or other-awareness the highest of human traits? Is this what the biblical idea of being "made in the image of God" really means?
Yeah, that's a lot deeper than about dogs watching Oprah.
I have seen through the lives of my patients a pernicious belief that emotion must by unified. Either a person is happy or they are sad. Either life is good or it is bad. Either I like my full house of people or I don't. Either I am sad about my loss or I am happy. This simply is wrong
What does it take to succeed? Acclaim? Intelligence? Good luck?
No, it takes something far less exciting than those things...