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Medicine often finds itself in a quandary as a profession.  Like any profession, it offers an important service.  In a sense, patients are customers and consumers.  Physicians do compete to some extent with naturopaths, homeopaths, nutritionists, acupuncturists and all who hawk their latest miracle cure or millennia old natural remedy on late night television infomercials.  We try to separate ourselves out from these with science, evidence base, and therefore increased credibility.  While this credibility is very important to patients, the truth is they just want to feel better.   The conflict is this, as a scientists, doctors are trained to be skeptical of all medical claims so they can be rigorously evaluated.  Yet, as healers, it is critically important to believe that what you are doing is, in fact, best for the patient, as the patient needs to believe in the treatment for it to have any effect as well.  In a very important sense, we have to sell what our recommendation is to the patient.  

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” Be ye Therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect.”

Matthew 5:48

    We love and adore that which is perfect in our society.  Hollywood is built on the premise that the beautiful people can sell movies, models are airbrushed to perfection to sell magazines.  The Olympic games is going on currently with its motto, “Bigger, stronger, faster.”

    As the records fall, it seems these athletes do live up to the motto.  Just look at Michael Phelps, the epitome of the bigger, stronger, faster ideal.

 

Michael Phelps, olympic swimmer has a very real chance at an unprecedented eight gold medals this Olympics.

 

    Sadly, as recent scandals in Baseball and Bicycling have revealed, the push to be bigger, faster, and stronger can lead to the use of steroids, amphetamines, or other substances with very real consequences for an athletes long term health and well being.  When does the drive to perform cross the line into madness.  In my day, Michael Jordan was celebrated worldwide as the greatest ever, even carrying his team to victory over my beloved Utah Jazz in one game in the finals with Forty some odd point and the flu.  Today, it is Tiger Woods held in much the same esteem, having just won the US open with a severe knee injury in a playoff he counts as his greatest victory ever.  My question is, at what point does this single minded devotion turn into madness.  

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   Medicine for the brain is incredibly complex.  Yet, the joke goes around medical circles that Neurologists are admirers of disease, not treater’s of it.  This is far less true now than forty years ago, and is rapidly becoming less and less true everyday, but that small kernel of truth does say something about we who are drawn to the field.  I really do find the disease processes that affect brain function seriously fascinating. 

 

 We learn almost everything we know about the brain from what happens when things go wrong.  Genetic diseases become our laboratory, nature the experimenter, allowing us to learn things we would be monsters for trying to recreate in the lab with people.  In fact, Nazi physicians are generally hailed as monsters for doing precisely this, reducing the person to lab rat.

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  As noted and documented in a previous link, the summer Blockbuster Batman: The Dark Knight presents a terrifying picture of a the Joker as psychopathic villain holding an entire city hostage to terror in a manner that feels more like a documentary than a movie making it truly chilling.  His view of people is twisted in that he feels sure he can manipulate them into monsters through a series of very twisted, cynical ploys.  (Warning: spoilers ahead) 

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    I thought that for this time in particular, in a era where war against western society has been declared by another group of psychopaths who fly passenger planes into skyscrapers, the movie very timely and relevant.  Read the rest of this entry »

     When I was in medical school, I was treated by my wife to a fascinating and gripping performance by Tom Hanks in the movie, castaway.  While I can’t say the movie was profound or life changing, I found its depiction of isolation and loneliness was quite powerful.  In the movie, Tom Hanks works for FedEx, where the plane he is riding crashes into the ocean.  He is the sole survivor marooned on an Island. 
     It is a very basic man vs. Nature plot, as he creates fire, steps on bad things, hurts his hand, bleeds, has a basic cavity volcano into a horrific abcess in the absence of a dentist, etc. al etc.  In the midst of all this, washing up on the shore of the Island with him are a few FedEx packages, one of which containing Wilson volleyball.  It happens to be nearby when he mauls his hand in a firemaking attempt and he smears blood on it.  A little later he fashions the stain into a face, cleverly calling it by the moniker splayed across the ball itself, Wilson. 
     The amazing part of the movie is that as Hanks feels more and more isolated, he anthropomorphizes the ball more and more.  He converses with it throughout the movie as a friend and confidant.  After some years, he escapes the Island on a makeshift raft, Wilson in tow.  As he sleeps, the ball falls off the raft and floats away.  Hanks is besides himself, grief stricken, and forlorn, and wails pitifully for the return of Wilson.  The audience themselves (well me, anyway)  experience this surprising sense of loss as well.  We grieve as He grieves.  Thus, the intrinsic human need for other human contact is put on bright display.  It is a need so powerful that in its absence we will create it out of contact with the inhuman, even the inanimate.  It turns out humans have a basic need for each other. 

Castaway, the story of a plane wreck survivor and the volleyball he loved. (now that's lonely)

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One of the features of humankind that has long been thought to be unique to us is the theory of mind.  This is our ability to deduce what another might be thinking, a critical base for such behaviors as for empathy, socialization, even battle and strategy.  It is so prevalent and so innate that we often do it without realizing it, anthropomorphizing machines, televisions, the computer, animals, even the clouds and the waves.  Imagine a world where no one did this.  Imagine for a minute not even realizing that the people you interact with daily have their own minds inner workings and dealings.  This is the world of Asperger Syndrome. 

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  43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

Matt: 5:43-44

  What would the world be like if Christianity as a whole really took this seriously? 

     While these words certainly sound nice, and few disagree in Sunday School, it seems to me that very few actually live these words.  Our nation was touched and somewhat perplexed at the compassion of the Amish a couple of years ago after a gunman killed 5 small Amish girls before killing himself.  The entire community forgave him, turned up in droves to his funeral, offered his widow condolences and the Nation generally approved.   I wonder if there was any controversy within the Amish community themselves.  Five years earlier, a cowardly civilian attack performed by hijacking airplanes and flying them into skyscrapers launched a cry of retribution leading to two wars with millions of casualties, the relaxing of civil rights and Geneva convention protocols, and lifting the torture ban regarding prisoners. 

   When other countries asked not to jump into war, to slow down, we derided them.  When Singers spoke out against the idea of war they quickly became Pariahs and were decried as unpatriotic, complete with burning of albums and death threats.  In short, most of America acted the way the natural man does, we returned violence and intolerance for violence and intolerance, loving our neighbor and hating our enemy.  At my own peril, I am going to take a journey down into politics and war, a subject fraught with contentious traps, and explore the possibilities of nonviolence and loving our enemies.

 

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Welcome, welcome to another edition of the very best stuff to come to my attention online this week. There is something for everyone here, whether you want to laugh, cry, learn, or ponder life’s mysteries, have a seat and dig in. Read the rest of this entry »

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