Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Unnecessary Driving Restrictions After Surgery

A recent WSJ article reviewed new protocols to speed #post-operative-recovery. Patients bounce back faster from surgery with hospitals’ new recovery protocols. (http://on.wsj.com/1CE3M6x via @WSJ) The instruction to not drive for two weeks following surgery is a left-over from the days when lack of power steering,power brakes and automatic transmissions required physical work to drive a car. Unless patients are sedated with anti-anxiety or pain meds, in most cases, there should be no contraindication to driving a car. In many cases, the driver was more debilitated from the illness before surgery than afterward. It is time to reevaluate this unnecessary instruction. The morbidity from lack of independence can actually hinder post-operative recovery and lead to depression. Time to rethink #driving-restrictions.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Curing Hatred Without Granting Forgiveness

Does Hatred Have a Simple Cure?

“Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the man who hated, and this was an immutable law.”   ― James Baldwin,  The Fire Next Time

     I have counselled many families through times of marital discord.  When a breakup occurred because of infidelity or betrayal of common goals, the person who felt wronged described feelings of disbelief, sadness, anger, and hurt.  These patients often appeared ill. They slept poorly; they looked anxious and depressed; and they had multiple somatic complaints. When anger morphed into toxic hatred of a partner, their clinical condition deteriorated further. The advice I offered them was traditional and pragmatic: “Hating someone harms you more than it hurts them. It serves no useful purpose and anchors you to the past. It interferes with your ability to make sound decisions and it keeps you from enjoying pleasures that might replace those that were lost. It is in your best interest to put these hostile feelings aside so you can focus on improving the future.”  I was very aware that the preferred solution would be to suggest forgiving the perceived wrong, but I rarely made this recommendation.  I had already observed that individuals who are consumed by hate for any reason are irrational and think this advice reflects naiveté; some even become hostile at its mention.  Even worse, if forgiveness is believed to be an unattainable goal ("I will never forgive him for this despicable behavior"), it might convince them that their only choice is to keep on hating. My intent was to facilitate functionality. Philosophical discussions about forgiveness would have to wait.
     To address this issue properly, we must first distinguish between hatred that is a transient emotion and hatred that is consuming and pervasive.  Perhaps we should refer to the latter as a “hatred disorder” when it becomes so severe that it interferes with a person’s ability to function normally.  The hater experiences visceral pain that can be so intense it becomes immobilizing and it can be accompanied by a dangerous mistaken belief that only retribution will bring relief.  In our personal lives, this animosity might be directed toward a person who is blamed for our suffering. In a more abstract setting, it can target any group whose values present an existential threat to our own. In both cases, just being alive seems reason enough to hate these individuals.
     The process of hating generates instant reward by using spiritual magic to punish the villain - the equivalent of piercing a voodoo doll.  On the other hand, the delayed gratification that might occur from granting forgiveness requires mental agility because the culprit remains conceptually unpunished.  In addition, when we are told that we must learn how to forgive [1]it implies that this is an acquired rather than innate skill.  So, except for those few individuals whose generosity of spirit allows them to forgive because it is the ™right™ thing to do, forgiving is not forgiveness at all. It is a pragmatic choice to suppress hatred to achieve a longer-term goal.
     I was frustrated by my inability to help these patients and it seemed clear that a different strategy was needed: “Forgive, Forget (Ignore), and Move On” did not seem to be the best answer. A viable solution became apparent once I realized that similar to the act of loving, the act of hating is also a very strong emotional attractant. Both extremes on the spectrum of human interactions constantly draw us toward the other person as reassurance that the intensity of emotion has not changed. In this case, we are attracted to the object of loathing in order to be certain that we still hate it.  And when hatred is used as a psychic weapon, the attraction becomes even stronger: The more we obsess over the person, the more we hate him. And the more we hate him, the more punishment we are inflicting. 
     Trial and error confirmed that if we substitute for hatred equally intense but different emotions that repel rather than attract, we can create an alternate plan that does not require forgiveness. Disgust and repulsion are excellent choices. Voila!  When we think of the hated person as disgusting and repulsive, it pushes their image away and out of our consciousness. As a bonus, the more the individual was hated, the more repulsive and distant he becomes. What difference does it make what this disgusting person did - or is doing - or will do in the future? Why would anyone care why he did it? Repulsive individuals do despicable things; no other explanation is necessary. The desire for retribution suddenly evaporates because exposing this person’s vile nature is satisfaction enough. Aversion has created distance from toxic thoughts and made room for recovery that hopefully will return us to our pre-injured state. And yes – we now have the ability to move on.
     This entire process seemed counter-intuitive. I had to put aside my personal and professional hesitation to prescribe the use of negative thoughts directed toward others. But my reservations were balanced against the effectiveness of this strategy and the knowledge that the patient’s decision is not irrevocable. Circumstances and perceptions can change with healing and time. And if they do, forgiveness remains an open option that can be considered in the future.

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[1] "If we really want to love we must learn how to forgive."
     –Mother Teresa

Less Is More When Discussing Death with Children

When a child asks, "What happens when someone dies?" there is no need for parents to stumble over answers. Many feel insecure because (1) Few of us really know what happens; we accept our concept based on faith not fact. (2) They don't want to frighten their child. (3) They aren't certain if they should be truthful - or if they should use a "feel good" explanation, whether they believe it or not..  A common error is to over-explain the concept of death and dying - which makes it less likely your child will understand  or be reassured by it.

This should not be complicated. All of these concerns are met by saying,  “No one knows for sure what happens when someone dies, but the people in our family or religion or cultural group believe that …” and then say what you really believe. This answer is honest and protects against confusion if another trusted person says something different,  Your child can make her own decisions when she gets older.

Dying is as natural as being born and both can occur at unexpected or inconvenient times.. Discussions should be concise, age appropriate, and accommodate your child's personality. When discussing the loss of a loved one, expressing sadness but not fear is appropriate. It may also be important to stress that you and your child are safe.When a death was unexpected or occurred under tragic circumstances, discuss the concept of death and this occurrence separately.

Honesty is important.  Most of us accept a variant of three basic themes: Biological: “Wherever I was before I was born is where I will be after I die.” Reward and punishment afterlife: “Good people go to heaven; bad people go to hell” And a forgiving afterlife: “God takes us all to a pleasant place where we will be at peace forever.”  Any of these will be understood my all but the youngest children.

Explaining the process of dying is a bit trickier. Guard against equating death with age or illness. You don't want your child to conclude that everyone who is old or sick is about to die. “Life” is an abstract concept that is difficult to put into words. Yes, your brain and heart stop working and you might look like you are in a deep sleep. But life represents a form of energy (physical or spiritual),which provides an opportunity to use an example your child can easily understand: “Many of your toys have batteries that make them run. When the battery wears out, the toy stops working. The same thing happens to people except that the battery can’t be replaced. Luckily most of us have batteries that last for a very very long time.”

Should your child attend a funeral? The answer depends on age, maturity, and custom. A good rule of thumb is that if you would allow your child to attend a happy event that requires similar demeanor (like a wedding), the child can attend a funeral unless there is strong family objection. In many cases. young children can provide a welcome distraction for those who are grieving. Children are more likely to be curious than frightened and it sets a valuable precedent that your family shares both happy and sad occasions together. Not everything in life is fun. And a healthy exposure to happy and sad creates realistic expectations for the future. I was very resentful when I was away at summer camp and my parents did not tell me that my grandfather died because they didn't want to" spoil my summer.” I held a grudge for many years because I thought it was disrespectful to me and to my grandfather. Don’t make a similar mistake.