With a Prayer

St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City

I have prayed out loud with a few patients over the years at their request. I will admit, however, that I am personally very uncomfortable with public displays of my faith. I am not sure my prayers carry the weight and power that some people believe that they should. I feel somewhat hypocritical for that reason, as if I am selling a faulty product. 

That being said, I do pray privately for patients on a regular basis:

Please, God, protect my patients from my mistakes. Help your love for them to show through me…

When I pray for others, do I believe I am swaying God in any way? Not really. Prayer is not so much about others as it is about me, a sort of mindfulness. I need a reminder that I am a fallible human being and that I must demonstrate compassion to those who are vulnerable. I struggle with that from time to time, just like the next person. 

I could write a book on the various things people do to bargain with their God when they are desperate and in that respect I am just like them. I have my own rituals and my superstitions, my own pleading bargains that I have made. Some may mock me for that. 

Faith, though, keeps me sane. 

And that is good.

Jesteś całym moim światem…

  

She last visited him at the Vatican the day before he died.

What did she say to him after all of those years? 

What else could she say?

Jesteś całym moim światem.

Thirty years of friendship, longing, love, bittersweet joy, and sadness. 

With a pope. 

Now a saint.

It doesn’t matter if there was a physical component to their relationship. Sometimes love transcends the physical. It transcends time and distance.

Love.

Love is immortality. 

Love is sainthood.

GOD is love.

Upwards

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“Mommy, I don’t want to die!” I could taste the fear in my son’s voice.

“Sweetie, you aren’t going to die.”

“But mommy, little kids die. I’m a little kid.”

Where did this come from, anyway?

I deal with death a lot. I have always been at peace with it in the clinical setting. I grieve, but there is peace.

I attended my first funeral at age four when my little friend from church nursery died from a degenerative neuromuscular disorder of some sort. I had seen her waste away over the months and I remember being terribly sad for her that she could not run or walk or even feed herself anymore. Even then I imagined that she was probably pretty happy about not being in a wheelchair even if she did miss her mommy and daddy. I didn’t cry when she died.

Now, as an adult, with my own mortality creeping up on me, deaths of friends and social acquaintances can hit me pretty hard.

So what to do about my son right now? How honest am I supposed to be with a four year old about death and dying?

I decided on being open about it. “Yes, hon, babies die and little kids die.”

“But mommy, I don’t want to die…” The sob was starting to edge into his voice.

So we talked about dying, how mommy has been with many people, even kids, as they were dying, what happens and why and that one way or another mommy would be with him if that ever happened.

Then, we talked about heaven. Streets paved with gold, pearly gates, mansions…he wasn’t digging it. I thought he might, given the fact he was in the midst of his pirate obsession, but nope. So I told him there would be corn dogs…all of the corn dogs he could eat (with ketchup) if he wanted. That was the ticket. Within two minutes he had relaxed and drifted off to sleep.

So there you have it, folks. Corn dogs. Corn dogs in heaven? I think heaven HAS to be different things for different people. For my son it will have corn dogs.

Do you believe in heaven? What will heaven look like for you? 

If this looks familiar, you are not crazy. It is a rewrite of an old post from last year…

Malpractice

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“There is something else going on, isn’t there?” She was not taking her medication again. She always stopped when something else was going on at home. A breakup. Money trouble. Unemployment. It was a good bet.

“Doc, I can’t do it.” There was a quiet sob.

I looked up from the computer. She had tears streaming down her face again. “Do what?” I had seen the tears before. I felt annoyance rising up inside me. I put the computer down on the counter and handed her a box of tissues. 

Then, the whole bloody mess came spilling out.

Her father had molested her repeatedly for years. In fact, she had been impregnated by him when she was twelve and the baby was put up for adoption. Now, as a young adult with two small children, her father was trying to reinsert himself into her life. Seeking counsel from her pastor she was told she had to forgive him, to allow him back, allow him access to herself and her children. 

If she did not, she would be damned forever.

“I just cannot do it.” She moaned through clinched teeth, “If he touches my kids I will kill him.”

I will help you.

“That is not what forgiveness is.”

“What do you mean?” Her eyes bored into me. 

“That is not Biblical forgiveness, being told you have to allow him back into your life in order to curry favor with God.”

“How…”

“How do I know? How can I question what a pastor says?”

“Yes.”

“I have a personal interest in forgiveness, particularly Biblical forgiveness. Forgiveness is for you, not him or anyone else. It is something that happens inside of you and cannot be mandated by anyone. It does not demand that you maintain any sort of contact with that man and it certainly does not demand that you endanger your kids.”

Her whole life, all of my experiences with her over the years, fell into place. The burden this woman was carrying around, weighing her down… Now some prick involved in spiritual malpractice?

“You ever get counseling?”

“I had to see one that wasn’t worth crap back when it all happened.”

“You need to find a new church.” She nodded as she wiped snot from her nose. “And you need a real counselor.” 

Except that she was at the free county clinic seeing me. She floated from one part time job to the next, no high school diploma. There was no counseling available to her. I still worry about her and where she is now…

Oopherectomy

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Every month, like clockwork, my body returns to the memory of you. Logically I know it is hormonal. Even though my child bearing days are over, my body is not yet ready to let you go. I cannot argue with it. I cannot rationalize it away. I have to ride it out, wait for the surge to pass.

During these times you seem saintly. Gone are your flaws. The way you would look at me as if I were stupid? Erased. How you would speak to me with that tone, slow and deliberate, that implied I was insane? The fact is it was you who drove me mad. Your stubborn, bullheadedness? It seems so endearing when I recall it through the hormone laden haze of ovulation.

I still long to feel you growing inside of me. The shame of that wanton desire weighs heavily across my pelvis. Tomorrow, maybe, I will be free of your memory again. Until then, every thought I have is laced with you.

I Am Love

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A group of nuns stood off to the side, worn out from whatever trials their pilgrimage here had entailed, eyes wide with wonder and awe. Clearly overcome with emotion, one started to sing and then several others followed. Soon, the entire interior space of Saint Peter’s Basilica was swallowed up by the sound of angelic voices lifted in hopeful praise, an offering of sorts…

My heart ached from the beauty and sadness of it all.

God, where are you?

Notre Dame in Paris. Rainy day. Almost no one was there. I was emotional anyway. It was my last day in France and here I was standing in the middle of one of the world’s greatest icons, a place I never thought I would ever visit. As I was putting my camera away to leave, the pipe organ started to play. The richest, most beautiful sounds poured forth and seemed to shake the very foundation my soul…

My heart ached from the beauty and sadness of it all as I sat down and closed my eyes, letting it all wash over and through me.

God, where are you?

I was the only person left in the room in the ICU. The nurses were busy tending to other patients. The ventilator had been removed. The IV medications were all turned off. There was no family. I held her cold, wrinkled hand for the next two hours until she finally passed away silently into the night. I cracked open the window to let her spirit leave, feeling the cool breeze wash over my face…

My heart ached with the beauty and sadness of her.

God, where are you?

I watched his face as he made love to me in the floor. There was pain there in his eyes. Pain and love and longing and grief and lust. Gripping hands so tightly, afraid the other might slip away and expose our nakedness. A whispered name. Sweat dropped off of his bare chest and onto mine just before ecstasy took over…

My heart ached with the beauty and sadness of that moment, lying there in his arms, feeling loved, knowing that he would not be here tomorrow or ever again.

God, where are you?!?!?

And so I have found that God lives in music. God lives in life and death and in love itself.

My heart aches.

Time Travel

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I was curious. How many of you had time travel fantasies as kids? 

Once upon a time, I stood in the center of old Fort Parker and closed my eyes tight, both hands balled up into tight fists. My life was miserable and I wanted an escape route. If faith the size of a mustard seed could move mountains, well I could surely believe hard enough to travel back to the mid 1850’s.

To be honest, I was too young and naive to have thought it through. The civil war was coming. Texas without air conditioning? Shoot me. I would also need an everlasting supply of red hair dye, deoderant, razors, tampons, and birth control. Toothpaste. Can’t forget the toothpaste. 

“What are you doing?!?!! Keep up!”

Fortunately, wishing (even if you wish very hard with every fiber of your being) is not the same as faith and so I never had to regret my decision…

So….. Am I the only one who ever did this? If you did, too, why? What time would you travel back to?

Cupcakes in a Tornado

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My daughter is still fixated on the fact that she believes she was baby Jesus’s little sister in her immediate past life. It started at Christmas (see this post) and has continued to evolve…

“When Mary had me and I was eating cupcakes with Joseph, the wind blew the door open because it was tornado season.” She says this while eating a cupcake after reading a book on tornados. Apparently that is what you do in a tornado when you are three, forget the flashlights and the cupboard under the stairs.

“Oh, really? Where was baby Jesus? I hope he wasn’t out in the tornado!”

“Oh, no, mommy. He was in the manger. He was bad and couldn’t have a cupcake.” 

(I am not sure church indoctrination is going all that well.)

She argues vehemently with her big brother over these things and I cannot tell if that is because she truly believes the story or because she wants to argue with her brother and quash all dissent as a means of imposing her will. If it is the latter, I have no idea where that would have come from…

Structural

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Kevin Morris at Newauthoronline issued a challenge to write a post about our favorite book. He is a great writer with a fascinating story so I encourage you to check him out.

So many books have passed through my hands and formed the foundation of who I am today, that it is immensely difficult to pin down just one that reigns supremely above all others.

The first book, though, that I remember affecting me deeply was The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper. 

I am somewhat embarrassed of the story of how I came to even read it but I think it is important to start even before that for some perspective.

We made frequent trips to the library as kids. My mother would park at a local shopping center and we would take the train into the downtown library branch, thus avoiding parking meter fees. My mother would screen all of the books we picked out before we took them home. Judy Blume was off limits, among so many others. 

In ninth grade, my first year in public schools (a place that I had been led to believe was a veritable den of sin and iniquity), To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee was on the class reading list. 

As we were about to begin the book the teacher made a big deal about the fact that there was some profanity in the pages. There was a permission slip to go home that parents had to sign. 

Of course there was. 

If you do not read this book, an alternative assignment will be given.

“What do you think you should do?” my mother asked. Her question seemed to indicate that she would sign the slip if I desired since she was asking me but without saying so much in words. She had never before given me the control. Did she mean it? It felt like a trick question, a test. 

I wanted to read the book as I was not relishing the getting singled out backlash bit, but I believed she wanted me to say no, to refuse to participate in something “evil.” God surely did not want me to do this, either. Reading it would be sinful, wouldn’t it? If I said yes, what would really happen? In the end I was too afraid to find out.

I requested the alternative assignment. 

As I was reading through the intro of The Last of the Mohicans, I was unimpressed. The first chapter was meh. So was the second chapter. This was going to be torture.

And then…

I was running through the trees, dodging bullets and knives as the characters came alive. I could smell the fires and the blood and the gunpowder.

It is really a tiny subplot in the book, the fact that Uncus, an Indian, falls in love with Cora, a mixed race daughter of a general, and they both die tragically in the end…but it hit me hard in the chest as I read those last few pages.

(You should know that the movie is a beautiful yet utterly unfaithful watered down adulteration.)

It was then that I realized that the desire for love transcended everything. Race. Time. Space. Even physical disabilities like my father’s polio. He wanted love, too. He was human. A mean, bitter human but a human nonetheless, a human with dreams and desires that he was probably not “allowed” to live. I found compassion in that book. 

And then I started to make sense to my own self. I just wanted to be loved. Protected. Cherished. Died for. This was the root of so much of my angst. It was then that I fell in love with Uncus. Well, not so much with him as the idea of him. 

And in case you were wondering, I did manage to read To Kill a Mockingbird.

Gilding the Conscience

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I was reading an article in the Atlantic the other day about tubal ligation, an extremely common form of surgical sterilization, not being allowed in the US at Catholic hospitals. You can read the article here. Truthfully, at the time it went in one eyeball and out the other. Yeah, yeah, that’s not news…

Today I was thinking, though.

Remembering, actually.

So here I am posting.

I never learned how to place an IUD in residency. We were not allowed to use them because of religious stipulations placed in the residency program’s charter. Or some such thing. So an extremely reliable, safe, and popular form of birth control was off the table for the physicians in training at the program and therefore also not available for their patients.

Along those same lines, a fellow resident approached me within the first week or two of residency, asking me to write his birth control prescriptions for him. He was planning to join a religious order upon graduation and had a moral issue with the whole concept of birth control.

So I agreed.

I often wondered how he delivered the news to his female patients. He was a good fellow. I don’t imagine he said, “I am sorry, I think birth control is sinful and you are going to hell.” Still, how did he have that kind of conversation? How did his patients feel about his views and about themselves afterwards?

I have prescribed the morning after pill. I have also refused to prescribe the morning after pill to the same person. I have placed IUDs. I am a huge fan of birth control. I do not think abortion should be illegal, but I don’t ever wish to perform one.

At any rate, what role does morality have in medicine? What is the difference between morality and ethics? Is there a difference? What do you want to see in your own physician? If your own morality can be influenced so much by family, friends, religion, politics, etc., can it even be trusted?

Tell me what you think.