My Magic Wand

When I was in active Pediatrics practice, anxious parents used to ask me all the time, “When will this get better?  Will it get worse?  Can you make it go away?”  This, usually in reference to some unpleasant chronic condition like asthma or psoriasis.  My answer to them was always the same:

My Magic Wand is in the shop with my Crystal Ball.”

This usually provoked a crestfallen look.  But I do not lie, I do not dissemble.  I tell the truth even when it is not what anyone wants to hear:

“Your child has leukemia.”

“Your child has meningitis (because you staunchly refused to give him the vaccination against that--but I would never say that.  They will either figure it out or not, but I will not increase the suffering of an already stricken parent.)”

“Although we did everything in our power, we were not able to save your child.”  That was the worst, the one I dreaded the most.  Where there is life, there is hope, is a true statement.  There are conditions which are dangerous, which are usually fatal, but where there is life, there is hope.

But the outcome, in the end, is not in my hands and I cannot foresee the future: my magic wand is in the shop with my crystal ball.

And now that I am the patient, I juggle these things.  Some things about my diseases can be predicted, and some can’t.  I think sometimes the most distressing part of having a disease is the uncertainty of how it will turn out.

Take Ebola, for instance.  The media has whipped the fear-and-paranoia quotient to the moon.  People are starting to fear each other on the streets.  There is talk of people wearing masks in public places, even though it has been proven that in order to pass the virus via the respiratory route, like a sneeze or a cough, someone would have to be so sick that they would be on life support anyway, not likely to be in the subway station or the mall.

Will the virus take hold in other nations, or will it peter out the way Bird Flu did, the way the previous Ebola outbreak did?

Sorry folks, my magic wand is in the shop with my crystal ball.

I am fortunate to live in two countries where one is relatively free to chose one’s own doctors, for many things, anyway, if one’s health plan permits.  If I don’t like my doctor, I simply fire them and get another one.

Very fortunately, my shrink in America, whom I have been in a cordial therapeutic relationship with on and off since 2001, is a funny, pragmatic man, who is just as likely to say “I don’t know” as he is to say “Hello, how are you?”  –which he says in a jovial yet businesslike manner, because he REALLY wants to know how you are.

Thirty minutes later I leave his office both confident and perplexed, which is the way he means for me to feel.  I am not sure our plan of treatment will work.  Neither is he.  His magic wand is in the shop with his crystal ball.

He must be in cahoots with my therapist, whose office is just the other side of his wall.  I give her a hard time, saying, “I could do your job right now.  Right now!  All I would have to do is rotate the following exclamations:  “Really?  No!  You HAVE to be kidding. [silence]”  She did not quite find that funny, but I did and that’s what’s important, especially if your DSM diagnosis was changed, without your permission, from Asperger Syndrome to Autistic Spectrum Disorder NOS.

But in reality she is a really good therapist, because she does indeed give me both space and support, and cognitive feedback, which I truly appreciate.

She DOES have a magic wand in her office, but it’s one of those fake ones, you know what I mean, with some kind of thick fluid and glitter than flutters down through it when you upend it.  But crystal ball, no, she leaves that part up to me.

My family doc in Israel is a one-of-a-kind gem.  He listens to me; he is open-minded yet erudite, and he most certainly owns neither magic wand nor crystal ball, and if he did he would have to lock them away from his kids.

Now.  I want you to know that luck played very little part in my finding my Medical Knights and Ladies.  I fired many a therapist, and several psychiatrists, before I happened upon the ones I have.

The position of Primary Care Physician in America is still open.

My psychiatrist in Israel, bless his heart, had a severe psychotic episode and had to be hospitalized, and I don’t think he’s practicing anymore.  I hope not.

Far be it from me to be anti a mentally ill psychiatrist; my shrink here has Major Depressive Disorder, and he knows how it hurts.

But my Israeli shrink started showing signs of paranoid psychosis while I was in his office, which was in a basement room with no windows and you had to be buzzed both in AND out.  Oh dear.  Nothing short of Magic Wand was going to help him, poor man.  He was kind enough to renew my prescriptions for three months, giving me time to find out there wasn’t anyone else on my health plan who speaks English.

All of this is to say:  We just don’t know.  We don’t know what will happen to us in the next moment, let alone days, weeks, months, or years.

I was in a traffic jam going up a steep hill on a two-lane road once.  When traffic finally got moving it became clear that a huge tree, its roots sodden with the torrential Monsoon rains, had fallen atop a Jeep, crushing both it and its occupant.  She died instantly.

After watching my father wither slowly away over years, months, weeks, days, and moments, it was hammered home to me: I don’t have a crystal ball, and I certainly don’t have a magic wand.  But I want that lady’s tree-falling-on-vehicle sudden death.  I don’t want to fade slowly into more and more and more pain, up till the very last breath.  If only I could have that crystal ball, to see my death, and that magic wand to change it, if it isn’t one I can live with.

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21 Comments

  1. So, so, so very sorry. Keeping you in my thoughts and my prayers. I hope that you have a long, full life that ends peacefully, not under a tree, not painfully withering away, not in acute psychosis. You are right, though, we have no magic wand, no crystal ball, only our hopes, our prayers, and, perhaps, our fears.

    Reply
  2. Hello Laura, Doctors have to play a tough role at times and I do not blame them if they at times sound stiff and unemotional, it is probably more out of self preservation than callousness.

    I know the media’s hype about ebola. In India we are taking some precautionary steps for people coming from African countries where the outspread is maximum. Otherwise we are chill,we have seen the hype of bird flu, swine flu, H1 N1 and understand that it is certainly not a chemical war where we have to roam around wearing masks.

    Oh how our fears, vulnerabilities and ignorance can be exploited by many……….

    Love and light
    Ashu

    Reply
    • Hi Ashu, during my short time in India I saw such raw and immediate threats to life, not exotic ones like the ones we’ve mentioned, but endemic, entrenched ones like dysentery and all sorts of infections, rabies, polio (which the World Health Organization says has been eliminated mostly, but I saw many cases), even leprosy which the government says has been eliminated but I saw many cases, just so many immediate threats that the transient ones are just not important. In smaller countries with health insurance, which does not exist in India (people have to pay themselves, which most people cannot do–I write this for my other readers who may not know this), it’s easy to track things like immunizations, and when someone gets sick with a contagious disease there is treatment readily available. Old fashioned methods that really do work, like quarantine, have mostly been thrown away in favor of more modern trends, and that is due to high immunization levels that make measles, mumps, meningitis, polio, etc. a thing of the past. I saw them as a young doctor, but today’s generation of parents AND doctors have never seen a case. This is huge, because when they do see a case they don’t know what it is. But in India, so many people are living in tent cities–have you seen the tent cities in Mumbai/Bombay that extend for hundreds of kilometers in every direction? I was shocked when I flew from Bombay to Coimbatore in a small plane, km and km and km of blue tarp tents, and in Bombay drove with an Indian friend all over the place and it was monsoon, and human waste just running down the streets, no sewer system, how could they not get dysentery? And if they need a doctor, where will they find one, except for the few scattered Western volunteer clinics? I love India deeply, and I see the difference between the “haves and have-nots” of the world. And I learned great lessons from the beggars on the streets, who were so kind to me and blessed me for the rupee I dropped into their hand, and the Sadhus who have given up all physical comforts in favor of the connection with the Divine, and I think, it’s the developed nations who are lacking here. We have good health care, but we have lost our true connection with life and death.

      This is not to say that I want people to be living in tents with nothing. It is to say that the connection, such an immediate connection, with life and death makes a person much less likely to worry about things in the news, because here you are struggling to keep your baby alive and Ebola is very far away.

      I don’t want you to think that I am saying bad things about India–far from it! I am saying that India knows what is a real immediate danger and what is not. I hope I have not embarrassed you, Ashu.

      Reply
  3. Some things never change, do they Laura? I often wonder at the insanity behind the long suffering ends we sometimes have to go through.
    There must be an answer somewhere, beyond we chose this, or its a lesson and best of all what doesn’t break us makes us stronger. PHOOEY!
    G-D BLESS LAURA.
    Susan 💖

    Reply
    • Hi Susan–there is an explanation in Deep Torah, but even that is hard to swallow when you watch someone die bit by painful bit. I don’t believe that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” BS, because I have seen close up and personal that if you suffer a strong blow and it doesn’t kill you, then it debilitates you, takes you down one step, then another, then another, until your body is finally so weak that you can finally take that last downward slide and be done with it. My father suffered until his last breath exhaled. I have seen a lot of suffering in my life, but rarely, very rarely, that much and that long. I pray for us all to have a sudden, peaceful death and transition smoothly to Whatever Comes After.

      Reply
      • Laura – I know precisely what you mean. I try, often unsuccessfully to believe that but feel exactly as you do. Dad had Multiple Myeloma and it was a horrid two years as he slowly passed away from us.

        Mum had Emphysema and was a chronic asthmatic… slowly choking day by day and fighting every step of the way. It is beyond cruel and I still can find nothing which mitigates what some people have to suffer through in the name of – what? Is it humanity to make them stay and suffer? I would never advocate “killing people but surely there is a place where mercy exists in this life of ours.
        I have no answer but many questions whch last often into the wee hours. By the way…. Mum had this condition for almost thirty years. She was a strong lady and reused to give in. I havw no idea where she found her strength but I’m afraid I don’t have it.
        It cannot help, except to say I understand what you must be feeling and gooing through.
        Prayers and Blesings Always,
        Susan ❤

        Reply
  4. EJ

     /  October 29, 2014

    I have a question for you with your medical expertise and your mental health training. My Pdoc has recommended ECT and frankly is scares the crap out of me. I can’t seem to find any stats on just how successful it is. His take is that if it isn’t successful that the doctor will then recommend Ketamine infusions. I am o.k. with the ketamine process, but not so o.k. with the ECT. I welcome your knowledge on the subject. Thanks so much for your heartfelt blog.

    Reply
    • HI EJ, I’m not sure I should answer this since I don’t know you. But since you have me thinking about this, if it were ME and I am speaking ONLY for myself, I would DEMAND the Ketamine, because it has been shown to instantly knock out depression, with no long-term side effects. I have personally declined (and it is in my Living Will and my Healthcare Power of Attorney that I DO NOT want ECT, ever, for any reason) to have ECT for many reasons. I recommend that you do your own research and make your own informed decisions. I am not qualified to make any recommendations for you or anyone else regarding any health issues including mental health. I hope this has been helpful for you.

      Anyone else here have any personal experience with ECT or Ketamine that you would like to share with EJ?

      Reply
      • EJ

         /  October 29, 2014

        Thank you for your reply. I have been wanting Ketamine, but unable to gain access to it without going through a failed ECT. I appreciate your quick response.

        Reply
        • Are you in a position to fire your shrink and get another one who takes your wishes more seriously, as a partner and not an autocrat?

          Reply
          • EJ

             /  October 29, 2014

            I certainly could but I really like the dr. I have been with him for two years. I cycled through many drs. before who certainly didn’t listen. i will certainly talk with my dr. Thanks again for your support.

            Reply
  5. I’m in a bit of a rush today, so haven’t had the opportunity to read the comments section (will come back another day and catch up), but wanted to take a moment to say that, first, this was very well written. You conveyed your thoughts in a very clear way.

    It is completely normal that after the death of your father, that you would contemplate your own death, and have strong ideas about what you consider acceptable or tolerable, versus intolerable or dreadfully painful. After my parents both passed away, for maybe a few years I spent a lot of time contemplating my own death. Especially with my mother slowly and painfully dying over a period of several years, the last six months of which were particularly difficult to witness, I was horrified that I might suffer a similar death of my own. Such thoughts caused me to frequently contemplate suicide, in order that I might have some measure of control over the kind of death I would experience.

    Now some time has passed (she died in 2009) and these days, although I still have strong feelings about not wanting to suffer a long and extracted death, I think I’m finally a bit more comfortable with the idea of allowing for the natural order of things. I pray that I might die uneventfully in my sleep, but am trying (in the best way I know how) to allow my thoughts to stay focused on attempting to live a better life, rather than spend too much time contemplating my own death. As someone who struggled with suicidal thoughts over a span of many years, it requires me to be aware of my thoughts, and make an effort to redirect the death-focused thoughts to ideas about how to live a better life.

    I’m sorry, again, about the recent loss of your father. As you move through the stages of the grieving process, I hope you’ll remember to show yourself some kindness along the way. It’s been a rough journey for quite a while now, and your body and mind need rest. Sending you thoughts of peace, and tranquility. Hang in there.

    Reply
  6. No Laura, not at all. Its the reality. There is so much of uneven distribution of wealth that it can baffle. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. The laws should be stricter but at the same time I feel these are the lenient laws which make situation more ironical. I am appalled when beggars and people living below poverty line produce kids in hordes, they do not have the awareness and the education to be more practical and there is no strict law which compels them to go for compulsory sterlization. In all its an ironical situation.

    Laura, you remind me of’ Gregory David Roberts’ . Your feelings resonate with him. I recommend a book ‘ Shantaram’ to you, do read it when you get time coz its a 1000 pages novella. :-)))

    Love
    Ashu

    Reply
    • Ah, I will certainly attempt that book, as I am hoping to get back to India as one friend has got married, she never thought she would as she is “too old” (in her 30’s), another friend has had a baby, and these are always good excuses 😉

      Reply
  7. After reading this post and your responses, I can say I like the way you speak out, and are sensitive to others thoughts and opinions! The loss of your father and your suffering saddens me. It brings back memories of my parents deaths, because I was not there with them when they died. Yes, it might have been more painful, but it seemed worse not to be there. What I’m dealing with now is my own chronological age and death. I have about 20 more years left to get done what I want to get done! I don’t have a magic wand to make magic things happen, or a crystal ball to see into those years. It seems better to stay “in the day” and do things that matter to me! Not to make light of a heavy subject, but I do have a whimsical fairyland and fairy dust to fall back on when I have a mind-block in writing. Maybe that’s the answer. Something about humor keeps those death demons at bay!

    Reply
    • I must say I weighed the pluses and minuses of “being there vs. not being there,” as at the time my father got really sick I was living in Jerusalem in a beautiful house in a beautiful neighborhood, with beautiful friends, many of whom were also my patients. Not everything was completely beautiful, as I was also very ill at the time, both physically and mentally, but I had a great support system and that made it bearable. So when The Choice came upon me, to go our not to go, it was a struggle. Now I’m very glad that I took those years out of my life to be there for Dad, and a bleak few years it was, too, except for the time I spent with him. Now my work here is almost completed and I am very much looking forward to setting about rebuilding my life. I am not keen on spending the rest of my life on my mother, who does nothing but try to tear me down, so it seems she will have to figure that out on her own.

      Reply
      • Wise to know which parent to spend affection and time (watchful waiting) on. Unfortunately, we can’t schedule the giving into our lives when it’s the best time for us. Mother seems to be another story. So much like other mothers and daughters relationship struggles. Probably in the end you’ll decide what you can live with and adjust that giving, not necessarily physically near her. Does setting about rebuilding your life mean a stay in place or a move?

        Reply
        • Wise words from a wise woman who has lived lives. For me, it’s back to my life in Jerusalem as soon as may be! There is nothing for me here in the States anymore. I just came here for Dad. I long for my people, my country, my faith, my way of life, and I’m making plans!

          Reply
          • That’s pretty much a perfect plan! Go back where you have roots! I’m looking forward to your writing from Jerusalem. In the meantime, I’ll wait for more writing on the transition. Always interesting to hear where the mind goes with the body during change.

            Reply

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