Says Who??

Verstehen, through shared perspectives


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DISCOVERIES ON ANCESTRY.COM

For the past decade, my discoveries through the use of Ancestry.com have delighted, amazed, frustrated and humbled me. I have discovered that Queen Elizabeth is a 6th cousin, 3 or 4 times removed (I have forgotten the exact details). I have also discovered that Clyde Barrow of Bonnie and Clyde fame is also a remote cousin of similar connection. And those are neither the best nor the worst of it. The humbling part is that I can accept neither one nor the other without accepting both. My heritage contains heroes and villains, rich and poor, peasants and royalty, geniuses and the learning disabled—in other words, some of everything. But today I am most concerned to focus on a family relationship that I cherish equally with the members of my most immediate family.

Like thousands of others, I sent my DNA sample to Ancestry to learn more about family connections. I grew up in New York State, far from the southern families of my maternal and paternal heritage. I waited far too long to question the few family members I did meet, to learn much about my family history. I therefore set out to learn what the combination of DNA and recorded history could tell me. Thanks to Ancestry, there were also professional genealogists to help when I needed them. I soon learned more than I could have hoped.

Looking at the big picture, I found confirmation in the results of the Human Genome Project that supports Anthropology’s claims that there are more differences within the so-called “racial groups” than there are between them; that human ancestry can be traced back to its origins in East Africa, where we became human. This, by the way, does not in the least challenge my equally strong understanding of a Creator of the Universe and all that is in it, who also gifted everything in the universe with a portion of Himself, finally giving the first humans a portion of His spirit. The Bible tells us that the Creator longs for restoration with the portion of His spirit that is within us, explaining also our longing for Him.

But I digress. My point is that our earliest ancestors lived in Africa. Probably East Africa. When I visited Uganda a few times while living in South Africa, I heard over and over how its inhabitants believed Uganda to have been the Garden of Eden. Their proof is the amazing fertility of the ground in Uganda, such that I also heard that “our children may be naked, but they are never hungry!” Fruits and other growing foods are plentiful in Uganda, almost seeming to grow wild. Today, that is an unusual claim for any part of Africa. The Garden of Eden claim may just be local lore, but it brings home what has become a scientific claim: We human beings are all descended from the same family, and that family lived in Africa, and they were therefore black. And, I might add, they were also beautiful, and perfect. The Creator said so.

That is the big picture. Let’s focus in now on my personal ancestry, keeping the big picture firmly in mind.

After I sent in my DNA sample, an avalanche of names of new relatives hit my inbox on a regular basis that continues to this day. Some connections were easier to make than others, but one particular type of connection brought home to me the importance of remembering the truths of history. Names began appearing on the list that belonged to present-day African Americans. While my mtDNA history did not place any immediate ancestry in Africa, it definitely connected American African people to me. Our combined histories confirmed the stories of the past, where African women enslaved to the owners of southern plantations were frequently impregnated by those same owners and/or their adult male relatives. The resulting children were not acknowledged by these same men, and they were raised as slaves. If they survived to have children, the children of those children are alive today and are my cousins. If I had been alive during the era of slavery, they would have been my sisters and brothers.

So I cannot say that I had nothing to do with slavery, because still today it affects members of my own family. My ancestors and their families owned southern plantations, and owned slaves. Some of them fathered children by those slaves. I am definitely not alone in this reality. It happened everywhere.

So it follows that if I quietly accept the institutional racism of my country, and the economic injustice that has grown out of it, I am guilty of denying the blood of my blood–the children of my own forefathers–the justice I would seek for myself or my own brother. And if that doesn’t bring the reality of the brotherhood of mankind, who are children of the same Creator, into focus…well then, we are deliberately blind and fully deserve the consequences that will be visited upon us.

 Or, we could accept our responsibility for failing to stop and reverse the sins of the past, and work for the equality—social, economic and legal—of all who share this nation with us, until we are able to join those in the world about us who have understood that our fate as a human family depends on our combined efforts to honor and care for this planet and those who share it with us.

It may not be too late.

photo of four persons uniting hands

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com


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“I SEE YOU”

 

Although I returned to the USA twenty-three years ago, my experiences and relationships in South Africa are still very much an important part of who I am now. The Apartheid regime that governed the country was still in operation when I arrived there in January of 1989, and the signs of its potential demise were only simmering underneath the appearance of Afrikaner control. The changes came about quickly, however, and Nelson Mandela was installed as the first African President of South Africa in 1994. I recall the day of his election vividly, as I sat glued to my TV watching scenes of Africans and Europeans (mostly Afrikaner and British) standing in long lines together–Africans patiently awaiting their very first opportunity to vote in their own nation of origin. The awe in the announcer’s quiet voice was obvious, as he stated “Today, PEACE broke out in South Africa.” Like our own nation, however, the peace was not a permanent characteristic. But it was a dramatic beginning.

I felt concern for my country only days after getting home just before Christmas in 1995. Had it only been seven years since I left? This does not seem to be the same country where I used to live. In fact, I noticed many unsettling events that reminded me very much of Apartheid South Africa. How I hate to report that over the next 23 years those similarities would grow in number and severity. I cannot escape the knowledge that while the histories of the two nations are widely different, the root causes of their worst similarities are exactly the same: (1) Blatant, deep racism; (2) A belief that God chose white, male property owners as the elite of the earth; and (3) Greed, for both wealth and power.

Granted, these false beliefs and the self-serving actions that accompany them are not unique to our two nations, nor to the four-century long histories they possess. They are not even universal in either country. But they are as old as time, for as primitives we humans feared others who were different from ourselves and believed in strengthening ourselves (in many ways, such as land, weapons, etc.) for the purpose of protection from the outsider. Along the way, fortunately for civilization, some groups began to understand that human beings were all one race, and our different languages, appearances, lifestyles and mores were mere expressions of the many possible ways of being human.

The Zulu, for example, use the word Sawubona as a greeting. I was told that the word was translated as “I see you,” but the Zulu explained to me that there was a deeper meaning: “I see you, and I recognize that you are a human being just as I am.” Now, I have unashamedly used this example as being evidence that the Zulu (and many, many Africans like them) had a precious understanding of what it means to be human in a human world. Which is true, and this particular greeting was used when I was greeted by many Zulus, and I saw and heard it used to many others who were not Zulu or African at all.

But like all good values and habits, there is a downside. What if the “other” is a stranger, or a member of a tribe with which my group is not in good standing? What if they belong to a group of oppressors, who have colonized my country and taken over its resources and governance, and killed my people? What if they just look and sound different, and I am afraid of them?

We humans are not completely civilized. Our primitive fears of the stranger, or the other, lurk in our subconscious. They arise fully established when we feel threatened. But if we are to accomplish our own growth as human beings, we still must look at any other human being and deliberately state with all the empathy and honesty we can muster: “I see you, and I recognize that you are a human being just as I am.”

Just as I am. Made from the energy and stardust of the universe, and imbued with the Spirit of our Creator, to grow out of our primitive fears and beliefs, protect the planet we all depend upon for our lives, and work towards peace with those other humans. To look people in the eye and see that Spirit within them and know that born in their place and time, we would be no different. To make sure that we do not take more from the earth than can be renewed, and that we stop fouling our own homelands to the detriment of its inhabitants. To remember that we all descend from the same roots in Eastern Africa millions of years ago, and underneath our differences we are the same human family. To build, instead of tearing down. To share, instead of hoarding. To speak with civility and respect to all, and receive the same treatment. To be thankful for our home planet, our neighbors and families, and our own lives. To nevertheless welcome the stranger, protect and care for widows and orphans, and work to empower others to become what they were meant to be, rather than punishing them and destroying any chance they might have to be a productive human person.

In other words, to REALLY look at the people we come in contact with, and to be present to them. To show respect, and eschew arrogance, as well as ignorance. To grow into a civilized world, respecting the lives and rights of all and whenever possible, to help others to do the same. To be worthy of the category HUMAN.


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STORMS WITHIN AND WITHOUT

pain photo

What a week it has been! Of course, seen in the broader contexts of the divisive national environment, natural disasters, global political and social issues, my own problems are barely a speck of dust on the scoreboard of the Universe. Nevertheless, they have soul-shaking impact on my personal world. As they say, major life events tend to occur in triplicate, and so it has been for me. Ending what had been an important and life-affirming relationship now turned toxic; having to give up working with a community group that was very important to me; and finally having a corporate relationship severed without warning—all within three days—pushed my stress and grief levels to what felt like lifetime highs.

During the two dark and stormy days when life outside my windows seemed to echo the gloom and chaos within, I minimized my contacts with the outside world as much as possible. Perhaps not the best possible choice, given the inborn need for social reassurances and support that my sociological training might have suggested, but my awareness of a profound need not to allow my anger (part of the normal grief progression) somehow become part of the greater anger and hate of our environment informed that choice. My grief, especially for our nation, was already great. This added grief seemed unbearable, even mind-destroying.

Fortunately, I am an introvert. Isolation can be, and often is, healing for me. Having already spent the previous weekend enjoying a get together with friends, followed by spending the rest of the weekend in meditation and soothing music (including instrumental Christmas music!), I believed that I could achieve some balance in my life while at the same time honoring the pain and grief within. It worked, then.

Therefore, I returned to the soothing music and meditation, while experiencing the storm outside merging with the storms within. This time, meditation was wordless and almost without thought. I allowed the storms to purge the anger, and wash away the losses. For two days, while gloomy skies prevailed, the storms raged and abated until all was still and the snow gently falling outside revealed its beauty and peace to support cessation of the chaos within. Not that grief had passed, but now it had stopped owning me. I accepted that entire chapters of my life have been closed.

Because I still live, this, by default, means that a new chapter is beginning. At the present time I have no clue what that will be, nor am I ready to begin it. I need a period of healing, first. I plan to protect myself as much as possible from the outside influences that disturb my soul until I am ready to begin choosing my battles once more; until I can safely allow my rage against injustice to serve appropriate action without being destructive. I am not that strong just yet, but I will be.

 

I awoke this morning to bright sunshine and beauty outside my windows, and I drank it in though my eyes to the brightening of my very soul. Life is indeed about pain and loss, but it is also about beauty and opportunity if I allow it to be. When I open myself to observe and take all that is good within me, and refuse to succumb to the domination of hatred, I know I will be ready to deal with the world once more.

scenic piano


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I ALMOST WISHED I HAD DIED

lighthouse in storm

One of the major adjustments I have had to make as a retired Sociology professor is no longer having a captive audience for my carefully considered observations of American society: The problems and the joys. I do love writing this blog, which does not require the same degree of objectivity, but let’s face it. I am no Dan Rather (whose daily contributions to Facebook I look forward to reading). Thanks to social media, I am but one tiny voice buried in the cloud of articles hourly produced by everyone with a computer, cell phone or camcorder and an opinion to share. So, to be perfectly clear, I am writing today not to be read, or “heard,” or even to keep in touch with the world. I write today because I must. For me.

I do my best thinking when I write. This blog is for me, but if you want to read it, challenge it, agree with it, or ignore it…just feel free. But do not think that I am trying to take on the world. I no longer have that kind of energy. I just want to try to get all that I have internalized about our social environment outside of my head and heart. I am in sensory overload from being bombarded with angry, hurting, hating, yelling, profane, lying, manipulative messages from the world outside my apartment.

As I write this, I have received 13 emails already that are unsolicited ads for things I don’t want, don’t need, or don’t agree with. I am a registered Independent, so both Republicans and Democrats feel free to email and/or call me with requests for financial and electoral support. I am so very grateful for those quiet, caring people who are all around me when I turn off the tv, the computer and the radio and get out and share time with them. I don’t answer the phone if I don’t recognize who is calling, and I don’t open any mail not from family or friends (or bills I know I owe). When it all gets to be too much, I listen to my classical piano CDs, or drive down to the river and just sit in the quiet, now cool afternoon and breathe fresh air.

Many of my friends no longer really want to talk about politics. Life is so full and rich, relationships thrive and laughter once again seems normal, when I am with my neighbors and friends. So long as we don’t talk about politics.

Yes, there are pressing issues that must be addressed, must be advocated for. Babies in cages. Chronic pain patients losing their pain medications, physicians and pharmacists being threatened. Members of all three groups committing suicide at ever higher rates. Private prisons being filled with drug users who could become productive citizens again with the right treatment, but whose prison terms will leave them right back where they began and worse. Families, communities and organizations being divided by political differences. More problems than any one person or organization can possibly resolve. More finances needed to be directed toward rebuilding communities devastated by nature. It seems overwhelming. I can’t address all the things I am deeply concerned about, and I feel frustrated and guilty for neglecting the ones I can’t get to.

Yet deep in my soul there is a calm, quiet place in the midst of this storm. A place where I know that all is not lost. That there are wonderful people in my world, and in the greater world in general. People who value honesty, integrity, caring, and excellence, the beauty of the gift of our natural world, and the shared intimacy with a loved one in a monogamous relationship. People who know that we cannot be truly human without being part of a community that works, plays, and worships together. People who accept me as I am, and who are in turn accepted by me as they are.

That is the beauty I see in my world, and it is more important to me and to my well-being than money or status. Because I live in a community where this beauty shines brighter than all the noise of the media and the political world, I regain my will to live on a daily basis. Once again, I can accept that I can only fight these battles on one front at a time, and trust that others will work where they are best suited to deal with other battles.

God did not bring us this far to abandon us. Today, I was tempted to say that I wished I had died five years ago, when undertreated chronic pain had brought me so near to that end. Then, I would not have had to see the devastation being brought about in my country. But I cannot wish that. These five years have been a great gift, and I have gotten to meet and work with people whose willingness to make a difference…no, not just willingness. Determination. Whose determination to make a difference to those who are being marginalized, stigmatized, pushed aside and left to die is greater than any I have seen in this country in my nearly 78 years. Policies we have lost by reversal in the last two years cannot compare to what we are gaining in finding the deepest good within ourselves and our families, friends and neighbors. In our communities and states. Soon, hopefully, in our nation once again.

Yes, it is hard and frustrating. But we come from good stock from all over the world. Our ancestors knew worse times and better times than these, but they persevered. We know that, because we are here. The way ahead is in our DNA: not in specifics, but in inner strength and outer relationships.

I am so glad I lived to see it begin.


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AN URGENT PLEA TO END THE WAR AGAINST PHYSICIANS AND PATIENTS

UPDATE 12/5/17:  A revised (shorter)version of this blog has been posted in KevinMD, at the following location.  Thanks, KevinMD!

https://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2017/12/stop-opioid-crisis-war-physicians-must-end.html

 

 

Crimes against humanity are widespread on this planet, and too many to count.  Over the past decade diligent researchers (by diligent I mean those who verify sources and results) have uncovered the roots of some of our more persistent and frightening social problems, and published reputable accounts thereof.  Many such problems are actually the result of conspiracies set decades ago, like the rise of private prisons for the purpose of incarcerating a specific race of young people because of socioeconomic issues (read racism), and calling it a War Against Drugs.  But the drugs continued to take over our nation—not just because of those young people, but because of the greed for money and power in the pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and politicians that has grown exponentially, unchecked.  Nixon’s intended outcome—that of getting minorities off the streets and severely impacting their ability to live normal lives outside of prison—also suited well the baser needs of other groups in our society.

Other groups, in fact, began to see the financial success and knowledge of physicians to be a major threat to their own greedy plans.  They deduced that chronic pain patients, now acknowledged and receiving treatment for their pain, could be both blamed as a source of street drugs and used to help bring down honest physicians (and to support the pill mill “doctors” who supplied the patients with enough medicine  to both use and sell).  Eventually, we begin to see “statistical reports” that “prescription drugs” were the cause of abuse and overdose deaths in specific regions of our country.   For a short time, they may have been.  But when the deaths began to occur in White Middle-Class families, the outcry to increase the efforts of the War on Drugs became deafening.  There had to appear to be some effort to control the drugs, so we see draconian measures being set—in some states by law, in others by regulation—that were targeting the legitimate physicians who prescribed for pain patients, and ultimately the patients who were frequently cut off without warning from their pain treatment.  Despite the outcry against punishing patients and physicians, and the evidence showing the futility of this approach to the War on Drugs, this situation continues to threaten the lives of both patients and their physicians, every day.

Despite scientific proof that Substance Abuse Disorder (being addicted to a substance) is an illness of the brain and can usually be well managed by an addiction specialist, legislators and law enforcement officials alike still only see “drunks and addicts” and still, after DECADES of failure, claim that incarceration/punishment is the only way to fight the war on drugs.

Despite, also, the logic that if you are fighting a War against a crime, you go after the source rather than innocent bystanders.  If we don’t get rid of the sources:  drug cartels, the dealers, and the creators of the drug,  how much good is it going to do to punish the people who use them?  Sadly, these sources have never been the primary targets.  Just as now we see heroin and fentanyl actually being the greater cause of overdose deaths (because they are cheap and much more potent than earlier versions), we still hear and see stories about prescription drugs being the cause of these deaths.  We are still subjected to so-called charts describing dubious statistical proof that prescription drugs are the main cause of overdoses, when more reliable research shows that it is street heroin and fentanyl.

To that, I would ask the reader to please follow the hyperlink below.  The author of this piece has provided a thoughtful and well researched discussion of what is really causing overdose deaths, and why the propaganda we are getting is so dishonest:

https://www.acsh.org/news/2017/10/12/opioid-epidemic-6-charts-designed-deceive-you-11935

Having read this article, consider well the facts that every year more than 400 physicians commit suicide;  that thousands of chronic pain patients suddenly deprived of their medication have either committed suicide or gone to the streets to get their medication; and that many of these have also suffered unintended overdose deaths.

These measures that make practicing good medicine so difficult, and the law enforcement mentality that believes physicians are guilty until proven innocent,  are not the only reasons physicians are either opting out of practicing medicine, or opting out of life altogether.  The War on Physicians and on Patients is real, and it is devastating.  The pharmaceutical houses and insurance companies may actually believe that we can survive without trained doctors; Artificial Intelligence will be just as good if not better, they believe….but check out this article:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-social-life-of-opioids/.

We read here that there is well-researched, scientific proof that a caring and trusting relationship between patient and doctor is a necessary, (but not sufficient), ingredient for best medical practice—AND for healing!  As one incredible physician has noted:  “They (the patients) don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  Artificial intelligence hasn’t managed the caring part, and even if it does I don’t see much healing effect to be expected from a robotic hug.

The crime against pain patients who are now not only being vilified in news media, in pharmacies, and in social media, is certainly heartbreaking.  If you happen to be one of those pain patients, it is also a return to the terrors of intractable pain, inability to function productively in society, and a potentially horrible death.

If you are a physician who has spent at least half the normal human life span studying and preparing to make life better for those who suffer, life may be  becoming a nightmare.  Insurance companies dictate what treatments are allowable, how often, and how long such treatments will be permitted.  They do not refer to medical societies for their information.  They refer to bottom line profit indexes.  Legislators who pass laws (when medical board regulations would more properly suffice) that limit what physicians can prescribe, and how often—arrange that physician’s offices and lives will be disrupted, the physicians in question treated as guilty before having a chance to be proven innocent.  As usual, those who are charged with the felonies that have been put in place as a weapon in the War on Drugs never quite regain their previous status of innocence, even when proven so.

Does it matter to the insurance companies or the legislators that these laws have only created chaos and confusion, betrayal and mistrust?  Does it matter that physicians are already reeling from finding themselves backed into corners where they have to “sign on” to corporate health care entities that are run by non-medical administrators who decree when and how often they work, how many patients they will see for how long, and determine bonuses based on computer-run quotas and outcomes?  Does it matter that medical students are so disillusioned that they drop out, and that some commit suicide?

And finally, adding to the fears of losing their practices, their licenses, and the meaning attached to their life work, physicians in increasing numbers are being attacked and/or killed by frustrated, angry patients or their relatives.

Why is this ethically, morally, and even logically wrong approach to our drug crisis—which MUST be separated in our minds from medical care for chronic pain patients—continuing to exist as a modus operandi?  Why are physicians who serve our communities targeted as criminals at worst, and problem employees who must be managed at best?  Sociologically, physicians have historically belonged to one of the highest prestige vocations in America.  Their demotion to the present state is not through fault of their own, but through others’ sociopathic greed for money and power, combined with the attitude that allows so many to hate anyone who differs from themselves, to create this totally inhumane situation.

It is not “liberal” or “progressive” to respect and care for others.  It is Christian, and Muslim, and Hindi, and Jewish—it is a basic precept of many world religions and predates organized religion itself by centuries.  Of course, being human and egocentric, we do not always succeed in living up to these standards.

It is my opinion that the proof of our own individual humanity is the maturity, intelligence and self-motivation to care for others as we care for ourselves.

I could go on for pages about why so many people have lost the human characteristic of empathy, but there are enough people who retain it who could help our country become human again.  Who still respect the dignity of other human life, and who realize that “together, we stand; divided, we fall.”

It is definitely in our best interests to respect and protect the lives and experience of our physicians; it is also in our best interests not to stand by and leave them or their patients to live and die in misery when it is all so unnecessary.  And inhuman.

And, a last plea……

 

 

RESOURCES:

Alexander, Michelle.  The New Jim Crow:  Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.  2012.  The New Press, NY

Bertram, Eva and Morrris Blachman. Drug War Politics: The Price of Denial.  1996. University of California Press.

Bateman, Dustin.  Neurobiological & Sociological Aspects of Addiction

Levinthal, Charles F.  Messengers of Paradise.  Opiates and the Brain.  The Struggle Over Pain, Rage, Uncertainty and Addiction. 

Meier, Barry.  A World of Hurt:  Fixing Pain Medicine’s Biggest Mistake.  2013.  New York Times Company.

Parsons, Talcott.  “Illness and the Role of the Physician:  A Sociological Perspective.”  American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 24 March 2010.  Copyright © 2010, John Wiley and Sons.

Quinones, Sam.  Dreamland:  The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic.  2015.  Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Sternheimer, Karen.  Connecting Social Problems and Popular Culture:   Why Media is not the Answer. 2nd Ed.  2013.  Westview Press, Perseus Books Group.

Webster, Lynn R.  The Painful Truth:  What Chronic Pain is Really Like and What it Means to Each of Us.  2015.  Webster Media LLC, PO Box 581113, Salt Lake City UT 84158.

WEB ARTICLES, including peer reviewed

Pain Medicine News – How Did We Get Here? http://www.painmedicinenews.com/ViewArticle.aspx?d=Guest%2BEditorial&d_id=351&i=March+2014&i_id=1042&a_id=26043&tab=MostEmailed#.U3PLVV6vdyI.twitter

Report: Chronic, Undertreated Pain Affects 116 Million Americans http://ti.me/AAfT7q  via @TIMEHealth

New Pain Management Rules Leave Patients Hurting http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2016035307_pain28m.html#.U2mA77bwJzQ.twitter

Chronic Undertreated pain affects 116 million Americans: http://healthland.time.com/2011/06/29/report-chronic-undertreated-pain-affects-116-million-americans/

Our Fear of Opioids Leaves the world in Pain  http://edsinfo.wordpress.com/2014/10/27/our-fear-of-opioids-leaves-the-world-in-pain/

MT @toni_bernhard: My new piece. It should be of interest to anyone whose illness is questioned: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/turning-straw-gold/201410/i-m-sick-what-is-wrong-me …Dr. Paul Christo @DrPaulChristo  ·  Oct 27

California Doctor….    http://paindr.com/california-doctor-unveils-painful-abyss-facing-patients-in-pain/

Physician Suicide:  http://t.co/4vhF63eD6N

Physician Risks:

The damage done by the war on opioids: the pendulum has swung too far http://www.dovepress.com/articles.php?article_id=16781 …

Trial Verdict:  Dr. Baldi Not Guilty on All Charges http://whotv.com/2014/05/01/baldi-trial-not-guilty-on-all-charges/

What are Patients to do when Law Enforcement Closes Clinics?  http://missoulian.com/news/state-and-regional/ravalli-county-health-officer-says-patients-of-raided-florence-clinic/article_cf2e1690-bac0-11e3-848e-001a4bcf887a.html

Killing Pain in Perry county http://www.kentucky.com/2009/12/12/1056711/killing-pain-in-perry-co.html

Patient role in helping physicians:

“Unless patients wake up and fight for the providers of care, we are headed for the sickest system in the world.” http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2014/03/dissatisfied-doctors-provide-good-patient-care.html …


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CAN I SAY–“I QUIT!”?

25.  And hearing, the Master was glad, and gave thanks and came down from the hilltop…when the crowd pressed him with its woes….[the Messiah] smiled upon the multitude and said pleasantly unto them,

“I QUIT”

-Richard Bach, in Illusions, The Adventures of A Reluctant Messiah.

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How does one begin to talk about our nation’s social, economic and political problems?  What are the words that have not already been said; where are the moral imperatives that have not been rendered impotent; the facts that have not become “alt-“ and the news that has not become mere opinion?  Who, and what, can be trusted and believed?

Overcome with sensory overload, one feels sorely inadequate to the task of sorting out fact from fiction, truth from propaganda.  As time goes by and the “evidence” piles up, pro and con, on so many vital issues;  as the threats and disasters mount,  like Bach’s Reluctant Messiah, we soon long to say, “I Quit!”

Granted, Bach’s Illusions was more about our own illusion that we can and should save everyone, than it is about our present situation that seems to lack “Messiahs.”  Our advocacy, our pleas for justice, our outcry against downright sinful oppression has, in fact, become a battle to save ourselves—or to find someone who will do that for us.  Sadly, the very people we look to for salvation from our medical, economic, and social woes—to say nothing of the potential nuclear holocaust threat, the daily terrorist threats from home and abroad (I include cyber threats), and our planet’s efforts to pay us back for all the harm we have done to it—are all too often the very people whose only goal in life seems to be to wipe us from the face of said planet while causing the worst kinds of misery imaginable. How do we find the stamina to keep working for change?

During my lifetime, I have been an advocate for many social issues.  I have also worked in the service sector, seeking to do my best to make life better for my family, for my community.  One day while I was working as the nurse in the county jail, a couple of prisoners said to me, “You believe that you are helping us by working here, and by treating us like real people.  But in fact, you are motivated by the need to feel good about yourself; you need to help people worse off than you, so you can feel good.”

I thought about that for quite a while, finally deciding that yes, it did make me feel good to be of service to others.  But what was the alternative?   Would I feel better watching them starve, or be beaten, or fail to escape whatever ill came their way?  Of course not.  I finally figured out (with the help of Gospel readings, a PhD in Sociology and a Master’s in Theology, and continuing to actively live my philosophy of doing what good I could do, where I could do it) that being happy about helping others is a necessary by-product of community building.  And community building is all about making sure that the community is protected from greed, murder, neglect, shaming, and other crimes against the human family.  Because I am part of the community, I do also benefit from whatever service or good I am able to provide.

Having followed this moral imperative, however, I presently find myself threatened by the magnitude of crimes against humanity that demand my righteous anger; that call for me to add my voice to those whose anger is also shouting out against an unfeeling and unheeding leadership.  But now we are a sharply divided nation, with no inhibitions against verbally abusing people who disagree with us.  While this perfectly suits the darker intentions of our leadership, it fractures families, communities, and organizations.  Which also suits said leadership.  Perhaps, in fact, I should not refer to “leadership” because that is certainly not what is occurring in our government—far from it.  Use of the term is simply habit, and one we should not use until we have corrected our past errors and placed men and women of good character, intelligence, integrity and moral excellence in places we could then refer to as “leadership.”

I hate living in a society where the death and destruction of entire ethnic and socio-economic groups can be celebrated by the rich and powerful, and ignored by too many others—some of whom have just said “I Quit” for all the wrong reasons.  In Richard Bach’s book, the “Messiah” quit because he was trying to save the world and he was tired.  Also, we learn, because that is not the way to build community and it feeds our own brains with all the wrong information about who we are.  For too many people today, their “I Quit” is the result of feeling overwhelmed, or from a sense of helplessness against the sheer magnitude of the problems, or even from the acquired nihilism brought on by the culture of fear generated by all the propaganda.

But “I Quit” can’t be the answer today.  Not for me, and not for anyone who once had a dream about participating in creating a wonderful future for our nation’s children and grandchildren.  Today, all I could do was write this blog.  Perhaps no one will read it, and if they do perhaps they will disregard it.  That isn’t the point.  The point is that I have not given up, and I won’t quit.  Not as long as there is at least one thing I can do to make even the least important situation a better one, in some small way.

It does make me happy to do that.  And with any luck, it may also make someone else’s day a better one.  And best of all, with enough people happily doing what they can do, we may see a ripple effect of concern and support for one another that is strong enough to defeat those who prefer destruction over construction; death over life (for others), and ivory tower solitude over community.

I know it is possible.  In the face of lack of funding and support in so many disasters of our immediate past I have seen countless men and women whose first thought was for the victims.  They headed into disaster areas with disregard for their own safety, the cost of being there, and the magnitude of the disaster.  They just did what they could do, then and there, because it was the right thing to do.  They are heroes, and nation builders.  They didn’t quit.

Dedicated with love, to the heroes who care, and who don’t quit.

hands, heart


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PERSPECTIVES ON PAIN CARE PROVIDERS DAY

As I write this post, the date is February 1st. When I noted the date this morning, my reaction was “Finally! February is here. What a relief!” I surprised myself. The first 28 years of my life were spent in western New York State, so I can assure you that this is not my normal reaction to the first day of February – or any other day in February, for that matter. February was always the month when Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) reached its peak: Gray days, dirty gray snow, cold days and colder nights, chapped skin, shoveling snow day after day – by the second month of the year the reality of winter was enough to send me into at least a minor depression.

…Until recently. Chronic pain has for years held an even greater power in my life for bringing on depression, especially after a few long months of winter weather. However, once I had become convinced that my thought patterns and beliefs could actually make my pain even worse, I decided to try an experiment. Last year, I decided that instead of suffering through the blues of February – or grays, if you prefer – I would welcome the month as a certain sign that we were on the downside of winter, and better days were ahead.

That was actually true for me in several ways last year. I did concentrate on thinking positive thoughts about February, which was no small achievement. I also met my pain management physician that month, and had two epidural procedures which alleviated my pain enough to allow me to manage several other medical problems over the following months. I didn’t think any more about my experiment until this morning, when I surprised myself by welcoming the thought of February. My perspective has certainly changed.

All this soon led me to thoughts of chronic pain, and the Pain Care Providers Day campaign. I thought how over this past year I have watched and read about chronic pain patients who have joined their voices and efforts to bringing about national awareness of the hundreds of thousands of people who exist with daily, even constant, severe chronic pain. I thought of those professionals and clinical personnel who have joined to champion the cause of those people that they care for, day in and day out. And I remembered the families, and friends, and neighbors who join in to assist people who cannot always manage on their own, and who have also supported this campaign.

As I looked back over the year, I realized that attitudes are changing. Perspectives are changing. Many people who have been victimized by both their own bodies and by unreasonable laws and regulations regarding their care have refused to be labeled victims. They have found their voices, and are speaking out, demanding to be heard and treated fairly. And they are being supported by the voices and efforts of their caretakers.

Physicians are pushing pharmaceutical companies to produce medication that will not harm their patients. Medical societies are pushing for multidisciplinary approaches to treatment for chronic pain patients that will be more effective. During the month of September 2014 we celebrated Pain Awareness Month, and more people joined the efforts to bring new resources to the treatment of chronic pain.

So now, on March 20th, 2015, we will celebrate Pain Care Providers Day (PCPD).

What is this day all about?

It is definitely NOT about drugs. It’s not even about chronic pain patients, per se. It is about celebrating the steadfast and selfless gift of presence and help by all those who have cared for us all these years when we have generally been thought of as malingerers, hypochondriacs, drug seekers, or worse.

Admittedly, we chronic pain patients are not always easy to deal with. Sometimes it is difficult to discover what has caused our pain. Sometimes we are cranky, angry, depressed, uncooperative, or downright mean. Sometimes we are hopelessly fatalistic. Sometimes we are suicidal, because the pain and isolation is winning out over any potential for loving life. Yet our caretakers and providers are still there.

But there is hope—which for many of us, is an entirely new perspective.   Awareness is happening throughout the nation, thanks to the campaigns, and more changes of perspective are taking place in unique places. Some people are actually changing their opinions about pain care providers and their patients. Of course, it takes longer for government agencies to adjust their perspectives, but with all our voices together, we can and will be heard. And those who have cared for us will still be right there, working alongside of us. And on March 20th, the first day of Spring—a day of hope—we want to celebrate their presence and work in our lives, and what it has meant for us.

 For our pain care providers, and for those who will join their ranks in future generations, I offer the following statement in support of these achievements, and these changes in perspective. It was written by Henri J. M. Nouwen, and I have borrowed it from his delightful book Bread for the Journey:

 Joy is hidden in compassion. The word compassion literally means “to suffer with.” It seems quite unlikely that suffering with another person would bring joy. Yet being with a person in pain, offering simple presence to someone in despair, sharing with a friend times of confusion and uncertainty…such experiences can bring us deep joy. Not happiness, not excitement, not great satisfaction, but the quiet joy of being there for someone else and living in deep solidarity with our brothers and sisters in this human family. Often this is a solidarity in weakness, in brokenness, in woundedness, but it leads us to the center of joy, which is sharing our humanity with others.

 

Please join us in celebrating Pain Care Providers Day on March 20th. Tell your friends and neighbors, and encourage leaders to proclaim the day. It is our day to share our humanity with others. It can be a day of joy.

justinhighrock