Friday, October 23, 2015

The Woods at Dusk

There are eleven things worth living for today, I reckon.

1) Dogs. Dogs who like to run. Dogs who cuddle up to me during house calls. Border collies are always my favorite (sorry Miles). Dogs with names like Miles, which apparently is from the Germanic "Milo", meaning gracious. There is a local kid named Milo who is an amazing dancer, by the way. It could also be from the Latin "miles" for soldier. Or the Greek Miles for "destroyer". Or Irish meaning servant or Hebrew meaning gift from God. All of this is from the internet, so I don't believe a word of it. Tonight, running at dusk in the woods, he acted the soldier-destroyer once when a fellow (who seemed perfectly nice, btw) surprised us on the trail. Miles does not mess around. Phyllis is a good dog name too. Apparently derived from foliage (Greek), and might be linked to a woman who killed herself out of love for some guy named Demophon and then turned into an almond tree. The Phyllis I know takes no shit from boy dogs, so I am suspecting she is safe from becoming almond milk at Trader Joe's some day.

Miles and Phyllis, October 2015

2) Husbands. Specifically mine. I do not know how your's behaved today or on average in recent days, months and years. Mine is a saint. There is no internet derivation of his name, which is unusual and often misspelled. 

3) Friends. They are the people who show up every day, any hour of the day, without whining or complaint. They say funny things. They often are a lot wiser than I am, and they do not mind when my hair falls out, including half the hair of one eyebrow. Friends like their half bald, half-eyebrowed companions. You know who you are. 

Any bets on how bald I will be tomorrow?

4) Running. OK, I have not been talking enough about running on this blog purportedly about running! I am not as fast as I used to be, and in this town I was never that fast to begin with compared to the elites who seem to breath speed through redwood mist or something. But, I can run. I mean literally, I can put on shoes, go outside and run. There are many people that cannot do this physically. Or are so busy trying to just survive that the idea of spending time running in the woods is ridiculous. Tonight's run, in the woods at dusk, was nice. And every time I run somewhere beautiful, I feel better. Every single time. 

This is my back yard. Yes, I am boasting. 

5) Patients. Erma Bombeck once said "Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died". Which is why I never keep plants in my office. Seriously though, if your doctor has the time to tend their plants, they are not working hard enough! Your doctor should be oliguric, and preferably divorced because they have spent so much time with you that their spouse left 16 years ago and your doctor hasn't even noticed yet. Their children are all nuclear physicists and your doctor's last day off was at age 10 when they skipped piano lessons to ride their bike to Kwik trip to get an orange push-up. Seriously though, my patients are why I do medicine. And when I am with them, time melts away. Like an orange push-up on a summer day.

6) Children. Full disclosure here: parenting is harder than anything I have ever done in my entire life. This includes: 
a) childbirth, which is hard but temporary
b) standardized tests
c) learning Ravel Jeux d'eau
e) all of the marathons I have run, including the one NYC marathon where I cried all the way through Central Park

Children, whom I would lay my very life down for in an instant. They make me soar, they stomp on my heart, they can destroy me in an instant. Love them. 

7) Music. I am currently rereading, for about the 18th time, Song of the Lark by Willa Cather. It captures something about music and musicians in a very organic way. And I do not mean organic like Whole Foods, California, healthy, snobby, righteous organic. (I only buy organic). I mean salt of the earth organic. Music is at the very core of who I am. For some reason I shied away from it and decided to be a doctor. This could be why I get so sad sometimes. KIDS IF YOU ARE READING THIS: FOLLOW YOUR TALENTS AND PASSIONS. Unless they are illegal, in which case I suggest you get your shit together immediately. 

8) Books. I am surrounded by writers. My husband, my eldest child. Sometimes I think my poodle is writing a book in his head because, just like my husband, he will suddenly sit down and stare into space intently like there is something there he is trying to figure out. I can converse with husband or dog at these times, until I finally realize I am essentially talking to myself. Writers live on some different plane of existence. I am grateful for them because when I read, I too get to escape to a different plane of existence. As long as it is not a real plane, because I dislike those intensely.

9) Rocks. Literal and figurative. I can spend hours collecting rocks. I can also appreciate the solidity of them. Today I bought a couch for my office. It represented to me the solidity of the decision I have made around work. A couch is kind of a sign of commitment. Nothing is really set in stone, and stones actually change with weather and water and time. But they are so nice to hold in ones hand. And a good, solid couch? Let me explain, my couch is not made of stone. It is actually comfortable and soft. I just think couches represent solidity. 

Stones. October. Woods at Dusk.

10) Hats and the people who make them. 

Do you like my hat?

11) The Woods at Dusk. This is when the mountain lions are said to prefer eating people. I never worry though, as I have lightning speed and a fierce poodle and West Highland Terrier to protect me. The woods are good anytime, but early mornings and late evenings are the best. The light is ever changing. The redwoods split the light, which is one of their superpowers. It is quiet and usually few others are around. It is like a cathedral, but with big hills which suck the living air out of your lungs and make your heart almost explode. It is a labyrinth with cut backs and fern canyons and redwood droppings as soft as pillows underfoot. It is not for the meek of spirit. It renews your soul and kicks your ass all at the same time. It can save lives.

I have a cathedral in my back yard. Nyah, nyah.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Lippity-Lippity-Not Very Fast

Peter Rabbit crying, Attribution:

"I am sorry to say that Peter was not very well during the evening. His mother put him to bed, and made some camomile tea-and she gave a dose of it to Peter!
One tablespoonful to be taken at bedtime.
But Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail had bread and milk and blackberries for supper."
-Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

Fictional mothers are rock stars. Peter Rabbit's Mom, for instance, can solve everything with camomile tea. Granted, Peter lost yet another jacket and with Mr Rabbit already baked into a pie by Mrs. McGregor it is all she can do to keep the family clothed, fed and housed. 

Then there is Little Bear's Mother. She cooks, sews, tells stories, never gets angry and generally kicks ass. Little Bear is well-adjusted, kind and high achieving. And they are all drawn by Maurice Sendak. Sometimes I wish I was drawn by Maurice Sendak.

Image result for little bear mother bear

Perfection in parenting is all around us. In the doctor's lounge, it is manifested by tales of science fair victories by future nobel prize winners. At sporting events, it is a gaggle of future olympians, bringing honor and glory to us all, with parental button-popping serving as a serious threat for eyes being put out all over the place. Which is why I ALWAYS wear protective glasses to children's sporting events. On Facebook, which I personally am quite fond of, it is happy, shiny people with happy, shiny children and happy, shiny dogs. Guilty as charged. 

I spend my days with people. Which seems like a stupidly obvious statement because unless you live on an island that is yet undiscovered or unless you are one of those Humboldt hermits, you too probably spend your day with people. But I am an introvert and I am telling you I spend my day WITH PEOPLE. Like up close and personal, getting right to the intense stuff because generally there is no time to waste in end of life care and/or geriatrics. And here is what I can tell you about the state of people: they suffer.

I think Maurice Sendak might've been trying to get at that concept with Where the Wild Things Are.

Image result for where the wild things are

I am, in general, not in favor of suffering. 

But without suffering, there is no sense of relief. Like the pleasure of gulping water when thirsty, of an ache that subsides, of a heart break that slowly becomes nostalgia, then a portal to something bright and precious that has been crystallized by time and the searing heat of tears and intolerable grief.

I was running today (this is a blog about running, after all). It was in the woods, and it was with dogs. They and I meandered. They gained on me on the uphills (dogs seem completely oblivious to the hell of incline), and fell behind when I went down. I have been in a deep state of grief in recent days, but today I laughed twice. Not just a giggle but an unexpected eruption of hilarity. First time was at the car wash. I was out doing housecalls and my car was so dirty I could barely see out my window, so I went into the automated carwash. I was listening to Beethoven's Choral Fantasy during this and it was so in sync with the massive red brushes and dramatic shower of water on my car that it was actually kind of idiotically spectacular. I could totally see it as a scene in an avant garde film. I hereby claim this so don't try to use it in your next avant garde film. Second time was while running. I was running down hill after what seemed like endless climbing and I kind of lost control. I mean, I just started bicycling my legs faster and faster and essentially let go and I was flying. I was suddenly 7 years old again. The dogs were in my dust, It was a blast, and I just burst into laughter.

Grief. It is a funny thing. It engulfs you and you feel trapped inside of it, unable to breathe. Then it releases you and you fly up into the light and gulp the post-rain pine scented air only to fall back down, wracked with the ruinous violence of sadness. Like breathing, there is not a choice.

Parenting is to know that suffering is worthwhile. You cannot have the smell of your child's sweet head without the hurt of loss. You cannot control how the world, the genetics, the impulsive decisions of young people and the immaturity that believes suffering is only something other people should do informs the path your beloved child takes. 

When grief lets you go for a bit, you fly up into the light. You revel in Beethoven and run with abandon down a path in a redwood forest. You release some of your lightness and send it with a kiss to where the wild things are.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


This morning I was going through my usual routine of a cup of coffee with quick email, Twitter and Facebook check before work. This is after showering, dressing and smooching my family and dogs. There might be cereal or, better yet, waffles with peanut butter involved (a breakfast I learned from a surgery intern when I was a medical student: damn good fuel for a day that might not allow you to pee, much less to stop and eat something).

Anyway, I was looking at social media and came across a headline: "Shooting on Oregon Campus". Irrationally, or maybe actually rationally, I stabbed at my iPhone screen to open the article because I immediately needed to know WHICH Oregon college campus and please God let it not be the one where my child is right now.

It was not. But does that make it OK? Several people had children, family, friends who were murdered on a college campus today. Why is that OK?

The evening before I was at the hospital admitting someone who would have rather not been admitted but such is the way of healthcare in our advanced society. The first thing this person said to me when I walked through the door and introduced myself was "They sent me here unarmed!" In my head I was saying "Yeah, that was intentional"because I know the history of expertise in concealed weapons in this particular individual. To my credit I did not check every square inch of the bed and bedclothes.

Maybe I would be safer if I armed myself? Then every threat I receive in my line of work would be countered with my calm bedside manner accompanied by a steady finger on the trigger. Does that sound crazy? Hell yes, it does, because IT IS.

Thoughts and prayers are nice, but inadequate.  There is a thing going around on social media now about letting people who love guns have them, because America is about freedom. But I have to ask myself how free I feel when I can seriously contemplate, over my morning coffee, that a mass shooting on a campus might involve a child of mine. Other countries do not have this problem, because they control gun access. Period.

I run in beautiful places whenever I get the chance. It allows me to clear my mind, to feel blessed by beauty, to let go of anger, stress and fear, to feel the strength of my own body and to tap into endorphins which are almost as powerful as waffles with peanut butter. I have, occasionally, been threatened by unsavory men. Once I was almost intentionally run over by a guy in a pickup truck. But ultimately, I feel safe because I do not feel hate toward others. I actually like people and I will and have and will again not attend some family function because some stranger needs me due to their health crisis.

I believe in compassion. I am in favor of freedom. I fight for health in individuals and my community for a living.

Today, we were robbed. Someone walked into our home and stole from us. I actually suspect it was some kid who has been here before, and although I feel invaded and frankly pissed off, I also recognize that humans are flawed and there is no way to avoid unpleasantness in life. Suffering is part of the human condition, and those who perpetrate hate and burglary and murder are certainly suffering the most. Otherwise, why would they do this?

I have also been recently robbed of a ring my father gave my mother not long before she and he died, and my one pair of real pearl earrings, received as a gift from a dear friend over 25 years ago. That hurt. But mainly because I want to believe in the goodness of people, of children, of my neighborhood, of my community.

But no amount of hurt, anger or vulnerability could prompt me to arm myself against another human being.

Can guns be OK? Yes. Should they be very, very, very difficult to buy, carry around your community and point at another human being? Fuck yes.

Enough is enough.