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September 2020

October 2020

Talkin' to Disease

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Bob was a bit anxious about going to a shrink but promised Sandy he'd try a session in hopes it would help him cope with his diagnosis. His mind swirled and stomach churned as he waited for Dr. Bono.

A nurse opened the door to the lobby. “Mr. Devine?"

“Yes, I’m Bob.”

"Dr. Bono asked that I take you to the exam room."

Exam? I thought this was going to be a conversation. "Great, thanks."

"Can I get you something to drink while you wait?"

"How about a scotch?"

The nurse smiled and left the room. Bob sat and looked around trying to decipher how Dr. Bono might operate his practice. Lots of art. Lots of books. A telescope but no windows. A tambourine hung on the wall.

A tall man in a white coat entered the room. "Mr. Devine? I hope you weren't waiting long."

"No," Bob replied.

"I'm Dr. Bono." The men shook hands and then sat in comfortable armchairs across from each other. "What brings you to see me?"

"My wife suggested it. I was recently diagnosed with lung cancer and I'm struggling with it. I don't know how to think about the future. I worry if there is a future. I don't know how much to share with people and I don't want people's pity. It's overwhelming."

"I'm sorry you have to deal with this," the doctor said. "May I ask what your oncologist has told you is your prognosis?"

"They're not sure. I've more tests and maybe surgery. So far, the indications aren't good."

"Okay." The doctor paused and was quiet. "Hmmm...I feel the vibe of the cancer in the room. Did you know that disease has a vibe?"

"No." Bob looked around as if vibes were visible.

"They do. Cancer, heart problems, diabetes. Each disease emits an aura and a smell." The doctor stood and pulled from the air and smelled his invisible catch. "I'm getting a good sense of it. Are you in pain?"

Bob felt strange about the doctor smelling his cancer.  "A little. I've been told the pain will increase as things progress."

The doctor stood still for several moments with his eyes closed. He took big loud breaths in and out. "I can smell your cancer and feel its presence. You want to know how to cope with this, right?"

Bob eked out a slight nod. "The next several months are going to be tough."

"Based on the smell, I'd say the cancer is laughing at you."

"Laughing?"

"Disease has a personality. Would you like me to talk to your cancer and ask it to behave?'

Bob leaned to the side and put his elbow on the armrest. He cocked his head to the left. "Talk to it?"

"In the right language, of course." Dr. Bono turned his hands in a circular motion and looked at the ceiling.

"Language?" Bob placed the side of his head in his hand.

The doctor walked around the room in a circle, flapping his arms. "Yaaa, yaaa, baa, na, ony, nana."

"Doctor...uh...I think there might be a mistake."

"Mani, na, ba, yaaa. Havi ah wani ka"

Bob stood up. "Doctor...I don't think this is what I need."

The doctor stopped, walked toward Bob and glared. "Mistake? Need? Are you questioning my expertise? You came to me remember? You asked for my help, remember? This is a very complicated situation that requires a high level of focus and concentration. If you don't respect it or me, I won't be able to convince your cancer to behave. So what will it be?"

Bob's mouth hung open. "I don't know what to say."

"That's why I am talking to the cancer, not you. So sit down, be quiet, and let me do my job."

Bob sat and waited while the doctor flapped and chanted for over thirty minutes. He wondered how he'd describe his therapy session to Sandy and caught himself smiling; something he'd not done in weeks.

Lisa's note: This little ditty came to me after I contemplated whether to seek therapy to make sense of my cancer diagnosis. I'm not making fun of therapists or the diagnosed but am highlighting the importance of smiles, from wherever you can get them.


Invite a Narrative Dare #amwriting

I was watching a video where the owner of Murder By the Book in Houston interviewed authors Jasper Fforde and Matt Haig about their new books. Watch the video here. Something that Jasper said struck a chord with me and I've thought about it several times since seeing the video. He said he "sets a narrative dare" when drafting book plots. In other words, he challenges himself with a specific but not narrow concept. "Rabbits live amongst us. How?" was the example he shared that helped him get going on his newest book, "The Constant Rabbit."

The idea, Jasper said, is to set the narrative dare and then write our way out of it. 

I love the idea of challenging ourselves such that we live a more creative life. And if you're a writer, the narrative dare might be something worth trying. Dares that offer some specificity but allow wide-ranging creative freedom work best. 

The narrative dare for my current project could go something like this: Iguanas invade Galveston Island. How? The narrative dare for my first novel could've been: an octopus is charged with murder. How? And while I'd not heard of the narrative dare when I wrote "Toxic Octopus," that central idea fueled my interest in and commitment to fleshing out the story.

Here are a few narrative dares I just brainstormed:

  • The end of lying. What happened?
  • The planet is going to explode in one year. Explain.
  • A pill melts fat away in one week. How?
  • Placebos become the real thing. Why?
  • Cell and Internet service is shut down by aliens. 
  • Existentialism sweeps the nation. How?
  • Poisonous plants from all over the world meet and organize. Explain.

Might a narrative dare, or some other type of dare, help you create?


The Human Body is a System

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I had few health challenges until I was 35. Then the chaos-theory-reverberation-making-proverbial-shit-hit-the-fan. But this is not a woe is me post. It's a reflection on the circuitous path we have to walk/run/dance/jump when trying to investigate what ails us.

Wait, Lisa. Isn't that what doctors are for?

If I could hire a private investigator with a medical degree, sure. But our healthcare delivery system is fragmented and focused. And my primary care physician - theoretically the overseer of my care - is so overburdened that she is forced to farm out anything requiring more than ten minutes to resolve to specialists. 

I have a lot of "ologists" on my medical team. They're super smart about a few things. They've studied a small number of health problems in depth so they can get really good at treating them.

The problem with this is everything is connected. Human bodies are chaotic systems. Interesting fact: It was in the context of the body that Ludwig Von Bertalanffy, the Father of Systems Thinking, fathered systems thinking

"As long as we single out individual phenomena, we do not discover any fundamental difference between the living and the non-living." Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Problems of Life: An evolution of modern biological thought

"In order to understand an organized whole, we must know both the parts and the relations between them." Ludwig von Bertalanffy, The History and Status of General Systems Theory

Having specialists looking at their assigned piece of me is helpful but insufficient. My oncologist doesn't know about diet or metabolism. My endocrinologist doesn't know about cancer or the heart. My cardiologist doesn't know about the digestive tract. My neurologist doesn't know about arthritis or strength. My personal trainer (not an ologist, but on the team) doesn't know about medications and blood test results. But my cancer affects my digestion. And the oral chemo I take affects my heart. And my metabolism affects my thinking and movement. And my diet affects everything. 

My job is to discover how things are connected, make meaning, and fill in gaps. To do this, I listen to my ologists and do a lot of research using reliable sources. Maybe I go back to my ologists with my findings. Sometimes I'm on my own.

It's a lot of work and my most important job. And when I figure something out, it's sweet like cherry pie.


Silly in Serious Times

2020 has ushered in some heavy shit. We had a lot going on before - global warming, healthcare, inequities, high chocolate prices - and now we've lomped on a global pandemic, high unemployment, and a divisive election. And murder hornets. And a record number of wildfires, floods, and hurricanes. None of these problems have been resolved. They keep going on and on and on. 

It's a dilemma for me, because I prefer to be silly and write about silly things. Baby goats jumping around in pajamas, home haircuts gone way wrong, and humorous books, movies, and anything.

Seems a tad insensitive to focus on cat hair sculptures when the world is falling apart.

Cat hair

Image Source: Ryo Yamazaki

Or this...(wow).

But then again, I'm not an epidemiologist or climate scientist or on the select team of biologists searching for murder hornets in Washington State. My super power is being silly. And while my unique capability doesn't come with a cape, and can't prevent someone from getting covid-19, it's all mine. 

Perhaps I'm not giving my small but mighty legion of readers enough credit. Surely they know that while I write goofy stuff, I'm also aching inside for those affected by whatever crap 2020 is handing them. And maybe, a moment of levity is just what some people need to help make Mondays less mondayish. Although a good scream can often help as well.