The cure for anything is salt water:
sweat, tears or the sea.
Not sure how many of you know about my love for football. I know, sounds incongruous to my nature. It is a passion of mine and passions are healthy. I won’t talk about the medical dangers; focusing on the Love not the Medicine. Right now I just need to vent.
I am a latecomer to the sport, my interest started in 1992. My dear friend in Israel, Vivian, casually said, “I think you would really like football. There’s this guy, Brett Favre…”
She met me a few weeks later in Tel Aviv at 3am, and we watched the Broncos beat the Packers in the Superbowl. She patiently explained what a first down is, before there were yellow lines to mark it. As I started watching, my memory was jogged and I recalled my mom screaming at the TV, following her beloved Packers and Wisconsin Badgers. It was totally unrelatable. My dad had no interest. Her last words, the day she died were “somebody turn on the game” and then she was gone.
So, basically I have become quite the football fanatic. I bet every week, with my Vivian, on 7 games against the spread. We are the only women in a large football pool and we are quite good. No judging! Our winnings one year paid for my son’s Bar Mitzvah.
Let’s talk about yesterday’s game when the Packers lost to the Arizona Cardinals in the divisional playoffs. We were 7 point underdogs and had lost badly to Arizona weeks ago. We played with heart. Rodgers’ Hail Mary with no time left was epic. The excitement in the frigid air was palpable. You couldn’t help but think: here we are in 1 degree, wind chills of -20 and they are in Arizona, couldn’t we at least have another game to look forward to as we face the winter??? But instead, two plays later in overtime, it was over. How do you leave Larry Fitzgerald open? Such short elation time! Such a tease.
We would have gone all the way if we had won that game. Now our season is over. And winter just got a few degrees colder.
I always wanted a screened in porch, a four season room. The outside of a house always interested me more than the inside. True zen, I believe, can only be found in nature.
In this poem, I parallel the changes in nature to the transformation going on between two lovers.
There Was A Space. Part I
There was a space shared. After the transition
from meetings in cafes, restaurants and such.
A place where strangers became lovers, the tide shifted to intimacy
It was the place where the journey continued, out of public eye.
An all season room, built lovingly over a period of years,
added on to a nondescript box of a house.
The one room that best captured the grounded spirit of its creator
Beams of solid wood and windows floor to ceiling
Wicker furniture, crystals, an ashtray
Floor unfinished, rough cement
A mini swinging door to accommodate the cats
The sunroom, for winter, crackling fires in the potbelly stove perched on cinder blocks
Sipping tea or red wine. Sharing stories, laughing or sitting silently, always touching. For hours.
Reaching into the basket for wood, replenishing the flames
At times making love, far too cozy to climb the steps to the bedroom.
The sunroom, for spring, watching the flowers burst through the earth
Every day looking for new pops of color
Listening to the river, water rhythmically rolling down the rocks, breaking up the ice.
Each stone in the water’s path placed thoughtfully to create the perfect sound
The sunroom, for summer, a cacophony of scents and color and sounds
Strolling in naked after showering, heat bearing down
Watching the birds as they delight in bathing in the cool, shallow river
Observing the cats, such hedonists, sprawled out in sunny spots
The sunroom, for fall, the swapping of color,
Screens replaced with glass as the wind shifts
Leaves changing and drying and shedding
The anticipation of winter, of turning inward
The sunroom, for lovers, a hidden oasis
A place unplugged, where feelings moved from simple attraction to soaring love
Where daily miracles outside in nature were fully paralleled inside
Two unlikely individuals, one earth and one water, merged to became one
Then the room was gone, like a hostile takeover
He, adept at handling the trauma of sudden loss, silently accepted his fate
She, incredulous, vowed to fight, to get it back.
His passivity was maddening
He insisted “it doesn’t matter where we are!”
The future of the lovers almost instantly became fuzzy and uncertain
Although they vowed not to attach to stones, they had lost their bearings
How much of it was space dependent
“A new start” he declared and she was threatened
Their fate yet undetermined.
As part of my work as a psychiatrist, I did a stint in Telepsychiatry. This is providing psychiatric care via Skype, to those in need, to individuals who do not have physicians that are easily accessible. Montana, called ‘Big Skype Country’ in jest, is one of those places. There is a major shortage of physicians there and I was recruited to see patients via computer in an outpatient facility in Montana.
I received my license to practice medicine in Montana after a few months. my laptop was programmed to see patients and made HIPPA compliant (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, for protecting sensitive patient data). I removed all of my Brett Favre and Green Bay Packer photos from the wall and replaced them with my medical diplomas to serve as a more appropriate Skype backdrop as I sat at my desk at home.
I was skeptical. Would I be able to “connect” with my patients, to recognize all the subtle nuances that are so crucial to diagnose and treat patients? As psychiatrists, we have no blood tests, procedures or sophisticated means to make a diagnosis. We rely on self report, on our own perceptions and clinical judgment.
The experience there was fascinating and I feel like I really made a difference. Instead of driving for 3-4 hours or waiting months for an appointment, they came to me. I wrote this poem to convey my thoughts about my work there.
1217 Miles Between Us
Strangers facing each other
On a screen.
A leap of faith
taken by both sides
Many have never seen
their reflection on a computer screen,
They are reassured.
She is there,
You just cannot touch her.
Asked about what they eat,
how they shit and
how they sleep.
alcohol and drugs.
They talk and
the barriers of miles fall.
Grizzlies, black bears, floods and spiders.
And ‘green cards’,
their psychiatric diagnosis
a license for medical marijuana.
Extolling the merits
of Mary Jane,
to calm shattered nerves.
In the end of the day
it is love and work.
Love and work.
Not enough of either, or too much work
Love and work
as the central theme.
40 minutes later
They marvel at the technology,
in their own ability
to open up.
To a total stranger.
Written by Anne Koplin, MD
Ever since I was diagnosed nearly 10 years ago, my life has gained a sense of surrealism. I am not exactly sure how to be. There are few guidelines for those of us who are faced with our own death in such a concrete way. Even before my diagnosis, as the daughter of a holocaust survivor and a mother who died within four months of her lung cancer diagnosis, I already understood the urgency of enjoying life to the fullest.
I worked hard and played harder. As a doctor, I never felt the need to measure my worth by my income. I refused to work like crazy, to be seduced by the money I could make by squeezing more and more patients into my schedule. I passionately traveled the world, absorbed different cultures and tried to bring a sense of connection to whatever room I entered.
Now, when I head out the door, I know that friends and acquaintances will scrutinize me, looking for signs that things are changing. Does she look tired? Has she lost weight? How are you doing? Then they can report to others that they saw me and give their analysis.
I am 58 and surrounded by people complaining about this and that; peri-menopausal woes in particular, insomnia, weight gain, back pain, wrinkles. Admittedly I have little tolerance for those benign concerns these days. As time since my diagnosis grows longer, I may also join them in worrying about these things, thinking at times “hey, I’ve lived this long, maybe I should try botox?” Stress about aging is a lovely, welcome luxury. Nothing compares to a spot on a chest x-ray, a lump in the breast, a suspicious mole.
Lung cancer is a tough one. It isn’t breast cancer with a massive support system, pink ribbons, tons of research money. Is it because it’s a boob thing? When it comes to lung cancer patients, survivors are few. Early detection and treatment options are not even close to those available for breast cancer patients. Almost everyone knows someone who died the painful, horrifying death that is associated with lung cancer. In Dr. Christine Northup’s best selling book on women’s health, lung cancer does not even appear in the index, while it is the number-one cancer killer among women – more than all of the reproductive cancers combined. The number is rising, particularly among non-smokers. I wrote a letter to Dr. Northup, noting this serious omission, but predictably never received a response.
Our society is built on planning; we are penalized with high fares if we decide last minute to hop on a plane. We work and work to save for the future. We live with the delusion that we have the luxury of putting things off. When I retire, when the children leave, when I can get a bigger pension, whatever it is. ‘Save the Date’ notices appear more than 6 months before an event. All I can say is that I don’t buy green bananas.
Since my diagnosis, I understand that the future is now. I wake up every morning and first try to shake off the post-traumatic thoughts of my illness and months of treatment. I know each day is a challenge, trying to be ‘normal’ when nothing is normal anymore. I am grateful to wake up, to delight in the achievements of my children, to continue to explore the world as long as I can. I feel empowered to call others out on actions I find hurtful. I have a stronger voice.
I can begin my lifelong dream to write, and although I never imagined I’d be writing about this, I may never write about it again. This marks the start of that dream.