Purim and PTSD?

March 20, 2019

Be strong.  It’s all right to cry.

You can’t live in the past.  You can’t walk away from who you are.

Blot out the memory of Amalek.  Never forget.  (Deuteronomy 25:17-19)

Read More

A Sacred Space for Healing

                Science fiction author Douglas Adams once described something he called a “Somebody Else’s Problem Field,” a kind of force field that could be dropped over an unpleasant object so that we could all safely ignore what was clearly “somebody else’s problem.”

                I’d be lying if I told you I don’t sometimes wish I had one of these.  Lou needs a new knee, so badly that he cannot get in and out of his house because he lives in one of those impossible Pittsburgh residences with 164 steps leading to the front door and he can neither walk down them nor be wheeled out in a wheelchair.  If I send him to the orthopedist for an appointment he will not go.  Yet if he arrives in the hospital due to inability to walk and inability to care for himself at home, he will be admitted briefly, orthopedics will see him and say, “yep, looks pretty bad.  Follow up in the office in two weeks so we can schedule the surgery,” and clear him for discharge.

Read More

Sinai and Synapses and … Strep Throat?

Sinai and Synapses is an organization devoted to the synergy between the sciences and the spirit. After months of schedule conflicts, postponement due to tragedy, and technical difficulties, Rabbi Geoff Mitelman and I finally sat down via Zoom last month to compare notes about how the practice of medicine fits into this picture. I’m really proud of the results and thrilled to share it with you all today!

My Stethoscope is Praying

My Stethoscope is Praying

They crossed the bridge again today.

Fifty-four years ago this week, March 7, 1965, the marchers in Selma, Alabama crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge to demand equal voting rights.  Today, March 3, 2019, some of the original marchers, led by Congressman John Lewis, joined a new generation in crossing that bridge once again, in celebration of a victory and in recognition of work yet to be done.

Among those original marchers was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a friend to Dr. King, who remarked afterward to his daughter, “Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.”

The year before the march in Selma, Rabbi Heschel spoke before a meeting of the American Medical Association, as part of a discussion entitled, “The Patient as Person.”  Heschel spoke as reverently of medicine at that conference as he did of the work being done in Selma the following year.

Read More

The Man on the Flying Trapezius

The Man on the Flying Trapezius

I can feel those tell-tale ropes, lashing the base of her skull to the middle of her spine, running from the nape of her neck to the tip of her shoulder and along the inside margin of her shoulder blade.  I don’t have to hear her tell it to know how she spends her days at work – hunched forward over a computer terminal, shoulders around her ears as they rise in tandem with the tension and anxiety of her day-to-day life.

Read More

Our Revels Now Are Ended

Three-quarters of the way through the show I recognize that Prospero’s staff is, in fact, a caduceus.  In the same instant, I understand for the first time that the brooding, vengeful wizard’s sudden change of heart, the decision to forgive and to mend instead of to punish and to destroy, comes about because Prospero is dying.

Read More

Lasting or Living?

Lasting or Living?

What is the difference between living forever and just lasting forever?

One of my students posed this question in class last week, and I think she nailed it exactly.  We were discussing Robert Heinlein’s story, “Methuselah’s Children,” where his biblically long-lived characters, called the Howard families, encounter a race of immortals who survive through a hive-mind that erases their individual identities.  Are they living forever, or just lasting forever?

What would make us immortal?  Being aware forever?  Being physically able to walk the earth forever?  Or having our words, our memories, or our genes persist through all time?

Read More

My Brain Made Me Do It

Every innovation has its unintended consequences.

In Chapter 1 of Healing People, Not Patients, I talk about the revolutionary new curriculum at my medical school in 1999, which taught the basic sciences of medicine by organ system, instead of the old arrangement of anatomy, physiology, pathology, and pharmacology.  We got all four of those at once, system by system.

Read More

Answered Prayer?

Answered Prayer?

In Hebrew the word for “answer,” teshuva, comes from the same root as the word “return,” shuv.

So when someone returns a prayerbook to you, is it an answered prayer? You remember the one – the one I thought would never come back, the one that was a silent witness to a massacre. It came back to me this week, wrapped in white archival paper and tied with a string. My most heartfelt thanks to Eric Lidji, from the Rauh Jewish Archives, for putting the pieces together when he read my previous post about it and realized he had seen the book.

I am praying from this book again, feeling like it is possible to once again feel that I am my prayer. I am hearing by email from the friend who I prayed for in that piece. I am able to feel hope again.

I see people every day who were broken by tragedy, devastated by illness. sometimes decades ago. This week I feel like even for them, there is still hope we can return them to wholeness. We can give them an answer. The world may never be the same – but it will be better than it is now.

The Empathy Switch

What position is your empathy switch in?

I’m a few chapters into Brian Goldman’s new book, The Power of Kindness, about his journey to figure out what happened to his capacity for empathy over a career as an emergency physician.  Goldman’s first stop takes him to some researchers from Laval University in Quebec, who tell him that everyone empathizes – that it’s natural and instinctive for human beings to feel what others feel.

Read More