Says Who??

Verstehen, through shared perspectives


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OPEN LETTER TO MAYORS, GOVERNORS, AND MEMBERS OF STATE AND FEDERAL GOVERNMENT

I don’t understand it. In fact, I find it deeply painful and disturbing. For months now, I have experienced the reluctance of most officials to hear the requests of chronic pain patients—and even of their care providers—to officially proclaim a Pain Care Providers Day on March 20th. They seem unable to open their hearts and minds to the reality of the huge difference between people who actually constantly suffer in pain, and people who use drugs recreationally whether or not they become addicted to them. They do not see the hundreds of dedicated men and women of great integrity who practice medicine with honesty and skill, because they are focused on the tiny percentage of people who obtained MD degrees for the sole purpose of opening up yet another pathway of delivering drugs illegally.

Historically and cross-culturally, recreational drug use has existed since earliest human history. Drugs and wine have been consumed ritually in religious and cultural traditional performance. Drugs and their use exist, and as we learned repeatedly throughout history, prohibiting them only results in increasing their illegal presence and use.

In contemporary experience, other countries have decided to legalize and regulate drugs, just as they have done with prostitution and other vices that disrupt societal stability. And it has worked great improvements, where carefully planned and executed!

Even in America, we are at least learning that addiction is an illness of the brain, and that it is less likely to occur in elderly people, or with people who suffer severe chronic pain. This is a huge step in our understanding, and if nothing else the campaign to acknowledge and show our gratitude for our pain care providers has helped to advance research in this area, and publicize the results. That is REAL progress!

Before I write another word, however, I must also state my profound gratitude to those officials who HAVE supported and proclaimed Pain Care Providers Day. The day will be observed by those of us (and we number in the millions!) who have benefitted from the patience, skill and dedication of physicians, pharmacists, physical therapists, physician’s assistants, nurse clinicians, nurses, EMTs, medical techs in all areas of medicine, nurse’s aides, and especially those who sacrifice many of their own needs to care for chronic pain patients in their own families or neighborhoods. What they do is life-giving, needed, and produces results that range from easing intolerable pain and/or doing for us what we are no longer able to do for ourselves, all the way to helping us regain the ability to be a productive member of society. Though it is insufficient to truly acknowledge the huge debt we owe you, we do say THANK YOU, AND MAY GOD BLESS YOU ACCORDINGLY!

IT IS NOT TOO LATE. FRIDAY, MARCH 20TH IS PAIN CARE PROVIDERS DAY. If you are an official with the power to proclaim the day, please…please have the compassion to do so. If you have not asked your mayor, governor or representative to proclaim the day, please take the time to think about your friend or relative who cares for someone in pain. Remember the medical professionals who care for these patients under great pressure from drastic regulations that threaten their very lives. And remember to thank those officials who have already had the courage and conviction to proclaim this day.

And don’t forget – on Friday, March 20th, the first day of Spring, do something special for your pain care provider. Send them flowers, or a thank you note, or just give them a hug! Let them know how very special and necessary they are to you and to all of us.

The US Pain Foundation has provided a sample proclamation for Pain Care Providers Day.  It can be found at http://goo.gl/qPsfCL.


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A VERY BLESSED CHRISTMAS

The first Sunday of Advent, four Sundays before Christmas, signals the start of the New Year for the Church. Throughout Advent we consciously await the Nativity, which is then joyously proclaimed through triumphant music, beautiful decorations and pageantry, and renewal of the reverence and faith that accompanies the wonder of the manger scene. Sharing this time together as a church community gives strength to our love for each other and for our shared walk in faith. It is both a fitting and necessary beginning to each new year.

Not everyone is always able to be present at the festivities, however. Many are shut-ins, too ill or disabled to attend. Others may be away from home, serving country and faith in other lands while being homesick, and being equally missed at home. Still others have either abandoned the church, or felt abandoned by it, and will not be a part of this renewal. Christmas is not always a time of joy for many reasons.

Today, Christmas Day 2014, although I had planned to participate in all events at my church home, as well as get-togethers in the homes of friends, I am confined to home on this day. Despite having had two flu vaccinations in the past ten months, I was afflicted with the particular strain of flu that this year’s vaccinations won’t protect against. For once, I was grateful for email and the telephone! Friends and family kept up with me, kept me entertained, and projected the warmth of their personalities into my days, even when they were mad a me for refusing to let them anywhere near me. If nothing else, I was going to make sure that the particular bug that infected me would not infect anyone else!

That still meant a lot of time alone, and time to reflect on present days and past blessiings. As I relived this past year, I recalled so clearly the long days and nights of a year ago when in my pain and illness I begged God to deliver me from this life. He did, but not as I expected. For most of this year my pain has subsided to very manageable levels, and my activity has returned to near normal. My various physical conditions have been identified and treated, and in the New Year I will begin teaching again as an adjunct at a local University. The year 2015, unlike its predecessor, is a year filled with hope and purpose for me.

I am reminded of a similar year, half a lifetime ago, when at the end of my resources and without hope I made a decision that took me on a 33-year journey of challenge, adventure, and great satisfaction in life. https://maryleejames.com/2014/06/19/this-is-why-it-matters-to-me/   The satisfaction came from knowing that my purpose was to share with others the gift of education that had been given to me, and I have been allowed to do that on two continents.

Now it appears that I have been blessed with a third chance to rise from the shambles of my life, escape the worst effects of chronic pain and illness, and live again. This time, in order to give back, my time and efforts will be made on behalf of that huge segment of our society that lives in chronic pain and is way too often discriminated against by a range of people within their own families and friends, all the way to departments in our state and local governments. Equally distressing, the very physicians who actually do listen and try to help them are also targeted for discrimination, if not actual harassment.

Some progess has been made, but not nearly enough. At some point, we must stop blaming inanimate objects for our social ills and accept the facts that guns, pills, alcohol, cars, computers, cell phones , money and other material things are not at fault for our misuse of them.

Today, I realized anew that the pageantry, decorations, music and companionship are not the real Christmas. The real Christmas is within me, and has filled me with peace and joy on this blessed day.

I humbly pray for the same for all of you. A very blessed Christmas, and renewed peace and joy for the New Year!

 xmas scene


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THE HEALERS

Wood-carving-pointing-at-the-Great-Zim-Ruins-590x393He was a handsome Shona man, in traditional dress, and he spoke English fluently with a refined British accent. His dark eyes could not hide his amusement at finding a middle-aged white female American in his place of business: A traditional healer’s hut, just outside of Harare, Zimbabwe. He was the traditional healer, and I had cajoled a Shona colleague into taking me to visit him because I was–as usual–almost terminally curious–this time, about exactly how the widely-known and respected traditionalist had so much success in his practice of the art of healing. I had just explained this to him, and asked if I might have a consultation.

“Certainly, you may” he began, “but you must understand that I cannot work with you the same way that I work with my own people, because you would neither understand nor believe everything that I tell you. I am willing to help you and talk to you as the white American person that you are, if you desire, and come as close as possible in that way to giving you the experience of the traditional healer that you seek.”

Now I was really interested. The Healer (I was beginning to think of him in capital letters, now) was obviously well educated, extremely intelligent, and willing to provide me with at least a glimpse into the world of his Shona ancestry. Yes, I wanted to see and hear what he had in mind.

trad healer workHe invited me to sit on some rugs on the floor in front of him. We were surrounded by the anticipated tools of his trade that he would routinely use to divine the causes and cures of the diseases of his own people. He did not use them with me.   Instead, he began by detailing a number of physical problems that I had:   I had suffered back pain for a long time, he told me. OK, I thought, that is good observation–I moved and walked like a person with back problems. Then he discussed the problems that I have with my right foot. He was continuing to be very observant– the scar from the surgery to correct a trimalleolar fracture three years previously was now very, very faint.

He progressed in this vein for a short period of time, then, smiling mischievously, he informed me that my (long deceased) maternal grandfather was providing him with information about my spirit that needed to be addressed. I was suitably impressed with facts from my personal history that he then presented, but I was also aware that fortune tellers in my own country are often able to elicit and/or supply the same kinds of information with equally uncanny accuracy.

At the end, though, he began to advise me about how to correct some actual imbalances in my life. Here, I was able to completely appreciate traditional medicine’s understanding of the reciprocal relationships between the health of the individual and the health of the family, and/or the community. Additionally, his advice included definitive steps to renew a relationship with the earth itself, and a new understanding of the value of doing that. When I finally took my leave from him, I felt renewed and refreshed, yet he had done nothing but talk to me, reflecting back to me how he saw my life and how I could optimize my physical and spiritual health. (Note for Epilogue: It worked.)

Later that week, while on the plane returning to my home in South Africa, I reflected on questions of how this healer had both exemplified the traditional qualities of the Healer ever since ancient times, and used very modern understandings of the potential needs of someone from a culture not his own. I compared my visit with him to my experiences both working with and professionally consulting physicians in my own home country of the USA. When did the most effective Western healers I knew utilize similar tools to those of this Healer who had the wisdom and knowledge from ancient times, combined with very modern knowledge and skills?

  1.  Acknowledging my cultural roots, the African healer immediately and consistently maintained eye contact with me. This was all the more useful to me, because for months I had struggled to properly show the respect of downcast eyes demanded of many southern African peoples in the presence of a superior; in this instance, his being both male and having the status of Healer, I should have maintained this respectful position. If you who are of my culture believe that this is easy, you should try it sometime! I had learned that I must ignore my compulsion to earnestly seek eye contact with male African leadership (in order to allow my honesty and concern to be evident). In those situations, it would have proven the exact opposite and offended the one whose support and trust I sought. This Healer, however, set aside his own pride and dignity to allow me to be myself and to gain the most from our visit. Western physicians who maintain eye contact—who actually SEE their patients, and allow themselves to be seen in this personal intimacy—are already ahead in the process of healing. Western healers who are also well informed about the cultures and habits of the populations they serve, are best equipped to provide real healing to those peoples.
  2. The African healer, prior to any real conversation, conducted a visual examination that was both careful, yet discreet, but thorough enough to pick up on major issues of my medical history. He then confirmed his observations verbally with me. While Western physicians rely on carefully questioned medical histories, regarding both past and present issues, the most effective of these also incorporate information gained from careful and complete visual examination of the entire patient, including how they walk, move and sit. Even though the information acquired may not be immediately relevant, they might take the time to confirm their observations with the patient.
  3. Having dispensed with any possible physical symptoms that might need to be addressed, the African healer moved on to more spiritual, and/or psychological problems. Again, he provided an overview of his observations (as revealed to him by my grandfather, in his interpretation), and began discussing how to address any that I agreed needed to be addressed. The most effective Western physicians of my experience incorporated a concern for their patient’s total well-being, and sought to first verify, then connect any need to integrate this knowledge with their treatment of the current condition.
  4.  Both physical and psychological/spiritual issues were connected to my family and my physical environment by the African healer, who utilized both my family history and my present environment—including the earth itself—in his treatment plan. Western medicine acknowledges these elements of many illnesses, but traditional cultures never separate the patient from family, community, and earth in the diagnosis of illness, as well as in the treatment thereof. In Western medicine, if we have to address these “side” issues, they are usually referred to other specialists. From my experience, however, effective physicians still retain a healthy respect for the role of the social and physical environment of their patients, and how these may powerfully effect healing.

 

For a long time, I missed the experience of a number of these comforting and important characteristics of the Healer when it was necessary for me to seek treatment for the ailments of increasing age. It has been both a blessing and a deeply healing experience for me to find myself in a place where so many physicians, as well as other health care providers at all levels, consciously hold to the highest and most humane standards of the sacred calling of Healer, even while embracing all that modern medicine adds to that calling. I can’t praise them enough for their courage, and for being willing to add all these things to the time-consuming and demanding professional lives that they must keep in balance.

8783005-surgeons-and-medical-assistant-wearing-mask-and-uniform-operating-patient Nor can I stress with enough force and determination my belief that this calling, and the fulfillment of the vocation in its highest standards, is allowed only to human beings who have been gifted with the empathy, compassion and commitment to carry it through successfully.

 

IT CANNOT BE FULFILLED BY INSURANCE COMPANIES, LEGISLATIVE BODIES, BUREAUCRATIC STRUCTURES OF MEDICAL CORPORATIONS, OR COMPUTER PROGRAMS!

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