Friday, April 16, 2010


Abraham Maslow always sneaks into my head at times like these.

He inevitably enters when I am sitting among a dozen or so people who are gathered in a circle. We are in a high-ceilinged room, perched atop blonde wooden floors, drenched in natural light. Just outside the huge windows is a field that sports a single stunning oak tree. It’s CEU time and we are learning about the Mind-Body connection, how we, our patients, the human race, can control the body by harnessing the power of the mind.

We are all white, employed, our employers are paying for this, and we are just about to eat a big healthy lunch. This is where I get stuck. This is when Abe comes knocking on my grey matter and whispers: “Hey smarty pants, ask this guy from California how your patients are going to get the biofeedback thing when their O2 SAT is 84, when the rent is due, when they are worried about their grandchildren who can’t go outside for fear of getting shot? Ask him that, go ahead.”

“Excuse me, I have a question about all of this.”

It turns out the presenter actually had done his doctoral thesis on Maslow, and has a pretty good explanation. He does not deny the hierarchy of needs, but he does leave room for people’s ability to leap from lower rungs to higher rungs, skipping the intermediate ones. His exact explanation is a bit mysterious. But he is from California. It reminds me of my Physiology professor’s explanation of renal function to a roomful of blank-faced freshman nursing students. She finally said in an exasperating puff, “Well, let’s just say, if you were half as smart as one of your kidneys, you girls would probably pass this course.”

On the third day, the California Buddhist/Scientist (who nonchalantly threw around words like hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis as if he were explaining how to make tuna salad) lands on the subject of dealing with depression.

“Sometimes, you just have to be with it,” he says, his face placid and understanding.

This time Abe bursts through the double doors into my head as if were trying to stop me from killing myself. An old black woman, whose hands look like the gnarled winter vestiges of a climbing vine, quietly follows him. She shuffles in holding her walker, her head wrapped in a purple scarf. I recognize her immediately. It’s Myrtle Tucker.

I visited Myrtle a few years ago to fill her medication boxes with a myriad of colorful tablets and capsules. I’ll never forget those hands. Every joint that articulated in Myrtle’s body hurt. She was at least ninety years old, if I remember correctly, but she cackled and laughed as if an invisible prankster were tickling her incessantly.

“Does the medicine work for the pain?” I asked dutifully.

“It works a little bit, hardly worth talkin’ about,” she said.

“How do live with it?”

“Oh child, you got to make friends with Mr. Arthur Itis,” she said seriously.

As our mind/body, amygdale explaining, California presenter continued, he clarified what he meant by his words “be with it.” As he did, Myrtle shuffled up to Mr. Maslow, whose veins were pulsing in his temples, and whispered into his ear.

“Oh baby, you got to calm down, ‘cause all that worrying is going to kill you,” she said.

Then she laughed.