Wednesday, April 22, 2009
One of the small perks of my blogging -- mainly related to Surgeonsblog -- has been the occasional request to review a book, sent in hopes that I'd mention it on my blog. I'm reading one of those now, and one chapter struck a chord.
For now, and maybe forever, I'm not going to mention the name of the book, because at the moment I'm not sure I'd give it a favorable review. It's written by a surgeon, and its theme is spirituality in surgery; but to me much of what he sees as evidence of a higher power is unconvincing -- even more so in that he states clearly at the outset that he's burdened with OCD, a characteristic of which, by my reckoning, is believing in causal connections where none exist. Still, I liked this story:
In brief, the author had had a young patient die of cancer, and in the final days, he (the surgeon) had canceled a family vacation to be with the young man -- that feeling of indispensability that many of us surgeons have had, only to find out how wrong we were... It seems the author also had a bad back, often wearing a brace while operating (me, too!) Some time after the death, the surgeon had a particularly sudden and incapacitating episode of back pain. By coincidence (?), a friend of his, a Native American (Navajo, as I recall without picking up the book to look), happened by his house as he lay immobile on the floor. The friend took a look and left, saying he'd be back with help.
The help, it turns out, was a medicine man, who insisted on gathering the surgeon's entire family in the living room to share in a ritual (small kids, past bedtime.) Lighting a fire in the fireplace, chanting, doing stuff with the smoke and feathers, he announced that there was a young man whose spirit was angry at the doctor for refusing to let him go, to let him get to the spirit world. It struck the surgeon hard, and he knew immediately who it was; he began to sweat and to sob, freaking out his kids, during which time he eventually began to notice his pain was ebbing...
I've made it pretty clear: I'm not much on religion. But I think the need for spirituality is universal, and stories like this appeal to me greatly. I can go only so far to "explain." Maybe the friend knew of the doc's sadness over the loss of the patient, and mentioned it to the medicine man. Without doubt, many kinds of pain syndromes are affected by psychic stress...
When I was in Vietnam, concerned mostly about the world that was within three feet or so, a friend sent me a book, "Remember, Be Here Now," by Ram Dass. I could go on at length: at the time it affected me greatly. Suffice it to say that only about one third of the book is comprehensible, and much of that is devoted to Ram Dass' (formerly Richard Alpert, colleague at Harvard of Timothy Leary) experiences with his guru-to-be, Baba Ji, in India. Heady stuff. If the events are true (one might well question the memories of a life-tripper; but a friend from college, who seems a pretty earth-bound sort, tells me he read the same book and was so impressed he went to India to study with Baba Ji, and witnessed similar things) it speaks of mental powers way beyond the norm. Mind reading, would be a mild way to put it. Great stories. In Vietnam, where life was often nasty and scary, viewed through the other end of the telescope, opening the book was like entering a cool room on a hot day. A reminder -- a hope, at least -- that there was something more out there; maybe, eventually, available to us all.
A favorite phrase around our house is "How was the cookie?" Too long a story to tell you why.