Words that heal

Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.

There once was a physician who had twin daughters. One grew up to become a psychiatrist. The other developed schizophrenia as an undergraduate. She poured out her anguish through words with pen on paper. Eventually, she became a published poet. Of the two daughters, which one was the healer?

In order to diagnose, a psychiatrist must learn to listen to the patient. Now there are many practicing psychiatrists who base their pharmacological treatments on symptoms alone. Medication regimens are adjusted based upon the patient’s response to the drug. Sometimes the dose is increased to enhance the effect of the drug; other times the drug is discontinued because of untoward side effects. Much of pharmacological treatment comes down to trial and error. Many times medication can help, but in the end a pill cannot heal a soul.

Freud, regarded by many as the father of psychiatry, once wrote: “Wherever I go, I find a poet has been there first.”

Throughout the centuries poets have pursued the art of crying out, of putting pen to paper (or stylus to papyrus), crafting words as conduits to transmit their anguish, their deepest longings, their joys, their sorrows. Many have written in part to help themselves to heal. When we read their words, we enter in to their anguish, their longings, their joy and their sorrow; and when we do, we ourselves may experience some degree of healing as well.

It doesn’t take a college degree to become a poet. One must only open oneself up to the suffering of the soul, to face one’s demons, to record the emotional truth of the spiritual state, to capture the passion (and in this instance I refer to the root meaning of that word: to suffer) in a few brief lines which may, if one is lucky, last for an eternity.

The Present

The present arrived at Christmas,
Bound with bow,
A white ribbon tied just so,
Caressing the slender tome
Of Emily Dickinson poems.
Carefully, I undid it,
Teased the knot free,
Tossed it to the
Back of the bookshelf,
Out of sight,
But not
Out of mind.

Months later I searched
For a sash to bind up
A bouquet of white roses,
A gift for the grandmother
Of a 10-year-old boy now dead.
The white ribbon lay
Exactly as I had left it.

Gently, I wrapped the roses,
Bound with the tie that binds,
Placed the bouquet
In the grandmother’s arms,
Where it rested like a newborn
Now fast asleep.

Later, I let the gift giver know
I had recycled the bow,
Passed the tie on to the next in need.
When my text came through,
They were steeped in
Multiple trauma cases in the ED:
A motor vehicle accident victim;
Two gun shot wounds, both children.
“Your anodyne arrived when most needed,”
She said.

We hand each other along in life
Until the circle completes itself,
And we recognize the ribbon
For what it has become.

2/20/2017

white-roses-on-red

The Art of Medicine: Our daughters, ourselves

There she sits, fully clothed, on the examination table. She’s tall and lithe with long straight hair, high cheekbones, and slender fingers. I introduce myself, smile, and offer her my hand. It’s all she can do to flash a fleeting smile back. more»

Interested readers can now access my latest Art of Medicine column — Our daughters, ourselves — recently published in the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

Please note that all of my previously published Art of Medicine pieces can now be accessed here.

“Daisy, no!”

New puppy pounces on tossed toy,
trots it back,
paws pounding on wooden floor;
mouths, chews, searches for squeak;
dashes behind sofa—
head protrudes below skirting,
upside down!
disappears, darts out,
gnaws the wooden foot;
launches herself
onto the white pillow at my wife’s feet;
tracks the single strand of yarn
dancing to the crochet baton above;
barks;
attacks ball in basket and sprints,
paws thumping on rug;
suddenly somersaults
bumoverteakettle,
intertwined
in a woolen mesh.

2/18/2017

daisy

Valentine’s Day

The eve of Valentine’s Day he died,
Hours before the mad rush for roses began.
We learned of his death this morning—
Valentine’s Day—
When the belated e-mail arrived.

Red roses for beloveds,
Yellow for friends,
Lavender for mothers,
White for the departed.

I bought a red rose for my wife,
A burnt rose for my daughter,
A white rose for the little boy.

Years before I had inscribed him
A copy of Maggie Brown’s “Runaway Bunny”
And left it with his grandmother.
(The author, to demonstrate
Her robust surgical recovery,
Leapt out of bed,
Gave a Can-Can kick in the air,
Threw a pulmonary embolus
And promptly died in Nice.
No one expected her untimely death at forty-two;
We knew the boy was dying at nine.)

Our new puppy fetches
The old toy again and again;
Silently, we eat a hot meal
To ward off the wintry chill.
In fading sunlight
The white rose
Sheds its petals,
One by one.

2/14/2017

Wings of eagles

“I saw the eagles again today.”

I looked up from the plate of food resting before me on the dinner table. “Where?” I asked.

“They were gliding in the air overhead just this side of the mountain,” my wife said. “I was out for my morning walk when I looked up, and there they were.”

Individually, we had sighted eagles in the village over the course of the past year, but they had always been solitary birds, sometimes perched or soaring above the river. Earlier this month was the first time that my wife and I had seen two mature birds together in flight.

“Where did they go?” I asked.

“They kept circling, then eventually they disappeared over the ridge.”

Quietly, I closed my eyes and watched them: circling, soaring, clockwise and counter-clockwise, currents of air pulsing through the tips of their long wings, white heads and tails glistening against the morning clouds.

Ever since I was a boy, I had always dreamed of seeing an eagle. I had studied plenty of pictures, emblems on the national shield, photographs on postage stamps, drawings in books on birds of prey.  I had watched native American dancers whirl about to the beat of drums, their headdresses adorned with eagles’ feathers twisting and turning in the air. Later, as a sojourner of sorts, I had kept a watchful eye over the course of my travels, always on the lookout, hoping one day to catch a glimpse of a mature eagle in flight.

Decades passed before I finally got the chance to see a one; and now here they were in pairs, soaring  above the small village that we have come to call home for nearly forty years.

Hope can bring us a long way.  Sometimes we wait years to witness our childhood dreams fulfilled. Perhaps hope requires a healthy measure of time to bring us to the point where we become capable of appreciating such gifts, long-awaited but yet unseen.

The Art of Medicine: A poetic tongue in cheek

Twenty minutes before closing time, a purple car rattles into the empty parking lot outside the after-hours care center. From my perch near a side window, I observe the young couple as they gather their toddler from the back seat. more»

Interested readers can now access my latest Art of Medicine column — A poetic tongue in cheek — recently published in the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

Please note that all of my previously published Art of Medicine pieces can now be accessed here.