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.