Monday, March 25, 2013

Patient, Heal Thyself

I’ve often been referred to as a renaissance man. A renaissance man is basically someone who has a lot of different talents and a broad base of knowledge.  For people who know me, the description fits me to a tee.  The military career has the effect on creating an entire force of renaissance men, especially in the officer corps. No doubt, the TV series McGuyver had to have been based on this concept. I may have been trained to operate and navigate a naval warship and to pilot aircraft as primary warfare specialties, but while I wasn’t in the pilothouse or in the cockpit, I had a never-ending list of tasks that only had a tangent to my specialized training in the air or on the bridge. But, of course, it’s never good enough to simply get a job done. We had the material inspections, the planned maintenance, the scheduling, the jump-through-the-hoop-for-the-admiral things, and then we just had our regular jobs. We had to be good at everything. We were trained to be the ultimate renaissance men.

One of the many things I’ve had to pick up and become proficient as of late is the area of medicine.  It’s not enough that I understand simple things like acetaminophen is Tylenol or the major components of blood chemistry. I’ve had to understand my own physiology and make sense of the many, many interdependences of what different medications have on my systems and why I should take them or why I should refuse them. I’m not a doctor, but I *have* to be smart enough to ask the right questions and propose a different course of action if I don’t agree with what I’m hearing. As a parent of a child with a congenital heart problem, I had to get up to speed on cardiology. Without doubt, hover parents have nothing on a parent with a sick child. I got to the point that I briefed the medical team as well as the interns during their rounds (that is what the attending physician told me). I knew every detail when it came to my son and while I never interfered, the doctors knew I was engaged…and they respected that involvement. And as a patient now, they demand it and I am happy to participate.

Participation in one’s own healing, I have come to see, isn’t optional. I’ve been working my way through Norman Cousins’s Anatomy of an Illness which was published in 1979. He worked with his physician in stepping outside the medical norms of the day and made laughter part of his therapy and found that it actually made a physiological impact. He posited that ten minutes of belly laughter was the equivalent of at least two hours of pain-free sleep for him. He and his doctor took data on his condition and found that laughter also directly affected inflammation as well. While I’m certainly not suggesting withdrawing from traditional western medical practices and take regular doses of slapstick, it’s clear from my own experience and that of many others that attitude is so critical…and that laughter truly is the best medicine. And that, dear readers, is but one of the reasons I keep placing such a strong emphasis on being optimistic and keeping me smiling if not outright laughing.

When I was admitted this morning for consolidation chemotherapy, I was delighted that my favorite people greeted me with hugs, smiles, and laughter. Despite coming back to a hospital for more toxic fun, the people that kept me smiling were the ones that were authentic, compassionate, and full of life outside their job.  Two of the med techs had even gone skydiving the day I left last week and have pictures to share. The nurse who got me settled in was already launching into jokes and before long, it felt like old home week rather than the Hotel California where I was about to get a needle inserted into my spinal cord. I’m not particularly excited about ingesting poison as a check to the leukemia, but I know I’m in a safe place as paradoxical as that may sound.

As much as I’d far rather be at home, I’m happy to be in a place where the people who work here not only are suited for their work, they are full of life and they enthusiastically share it. And realistically, doesn’t that describe the kind of people you really want to be around?  Who wouldn’t want to be around genuinely happy people who choose to live rather than exist? And here’s another one of those parallels where you don’t have to be in my hospital-issued traction socks to figure that one out.  You know the people around you who add to your life, who make you smile, who are the renaissance men (and women) who just seem to be able to do it all and enjoy putting you on the business end of their kindness. Seek these people out and be like them. You’ll find yourself helping others with gusto and an authentic smile and in so doing, you’ll find that you’re unwittingly helping yourself.

Be well, stay strong, much love to you all!