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Month: April, 2012

Transcendence

An interesting article in the nytimes:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/magazine/how-psychedelic-drugs-can-help-patients-face-death.html?pagewanted=1&ref=general&src=me

“On psychedelics,” Halpern says, “you have an experience in which you feel there is something you are a part of, something else is out there that’s bigger than you, that there is a dazzling unity you belong to, that love is possible and all these realizations are imbued with deep meaning. I’m telling you that you’re not going to forget that six months from now. The experience gives you, just when you’re on the edge of death, hope for something more”

Dr. John Halpern, head of the Laboratory for Integrative Psychiatry at McLean Hospital in Belmont Mass., a psychiatric training hospital for Harvard Medical School

Not that, I, personally am at the edge of death. However, illness makes you think about mortality. And in our society, mortality is spoken in whispers. We are brainwashed to believe we can have it all- lots of money, great food, great sex, never-ending happiness, the white picket fence, the fast car, the clothes- and get it now! Death? That is something distant, something that happens to other people. I’m not purporting the use of drugs as the only way to answer existential questions; there are numerous other avenues including meditation, yoga, etc. However, not having a practice that allows a person to thoroughly explore end-of-life issues is a big problem in our society. The consequences include painfully prolonged end-of-life interventions that, oftentimes, do not increase the quality of life for patients. I’m not saying everyone should be DNR when they enter a hospital. I’m just saying the sooner we face the inevitability of our own death and speak freely about it without the risk of sounding “depressing”, the better for us all.

This is a very complicated subject with various aspects, but I suppose opening up the discussion is an important beginning.

 

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Sneaking into OR #7

I began thinking that if I saw enough open-heart surgeries before my own, it would be less intimidating. So in between assisting with knee and hip replacements on my orthopedic surgery rotation, I find myself sneaking into the cardiothoracic OR. I’m especially fascinated with the closing of the surgery. They thread malleable wires through your sternum, twist them together at the center, and tuck them into the middle. Quite medieval looking, actually.

And, contrary to my previous hypothesis, it’s an uncomfortable process to watch, no matter how many times you see it.

Introduction

My name is Natalia and I’m a newly-minted 26 year old physician. I’m starting my intern year in Family Medicine at a teaching hospital in New York City.

I’m also having open-heart surgery in less than a month. That’s because I have four holes in my heart; three atrial septal defects and one patent foramen ovale. Recovery is stated to be approximately 6-8 weeks. However, I plan to start my orientation and intern year on time, and this process begins 5.5 weeks post-op.

I’d like to share my journey because I’m about to enter the world of residency- I’m not sure what to expect but I believe that it will be a transformative process in and of itself.  Thus far, I’ve managed to keep my idealism and empathy intact, throughout the oftentimes exhausting medical training process. I hope that doesn’t change, and perhaps writing about this experience will help keep me in check. Writing, it seems, is a sort of catharsis.

I’m a strong proponent of integrative therapies- osteopathic manipulative medicine, nutrition, meditation, yoga, hypnosis and acupuncture- to help with any recovery process. I plan to do a little case-study on myself using the first three mentioned.

I also want to share my experiences in order to help those who may be going through similar situations. The moment you find out that you’re going to have open-heart surgery is a breathtaking one, especially if you’re young. It brings up anxiety, perhaps depression, and a new sense of perspective. The latter is nothing less than a gift. Only through hardship can you truly contemplate your life. You’re given the push to re-evaluate your mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual state and make the necessary adjustments. It’s a potent reminder that life is short and health is precious. As young physicians, we understand this fact intellecutally, but oftentimes it is difficult to contemplate it on a deeply personal level.  Until it happens to you, that is.

I try to live life with an open heart and with courage. Perhaps courage is just simply the ability to move forward with a smile, even when faced with difficult circumstances.