Desolation cries for company

Desolation cries for company

There was a new bounce in his step. Mr. Stefani stood a little straighter, and his face expressed an almost smile. Intriguing.

I had treated elderly Mr. Stefani, suffering progressive heart failure, for approximately a year. It was an exercise like table tennis. I told him how important it was to take medications on a regular basis – he kept forgetting. I told him it was important to avoid salt in his diet – he said he was a poor cook and it was easier to heat up instant meals. I told him it was important to get out and be part of social activities – he said he didn’t have a family, and didn’t really care.

“Why care?” he said.

He was sick, and, as he put it,

“What was there to look forward to in the beginning of each day anyway.”

This is a common story. When people develop heart failure, proper food and self-management of the condition is as important as taking correct medications. This may make a difference between being able to manage the disease at home or several hospitalizations in a year, ending up in the nursing home. Elderly patients, especially men, who do not have family support, are faced with a “triple whammy.” There is no-one who cooks proper food for them. Wham! No one reminds them to take their medications. Wham! And no one motivates them to want to live better and longer. Wham! Wham! Wham!

So what had happened to Mr Stefani?

After we went through these preliminaries –

“Have you been more short of breath?”

“No.”

“How much can you walk?”

“About a block.”

“Are you taking your medications?”

“Yes.”

“Are you keeping away from the salt?”

…we finally arrived.

“Yes, much better now,” he announced, “I have a new friend who cooks for me”.

Well, in all fairness he had said, “I have a new girlfriend.” I just interpreted it as a “new friend”. He went on to explain that there was now a young woman in her late 20s living with him, and she had taken over his kitchen and was helping him out in general. Hmmm. I wasn’t sure if I should ask anything further, something along the line of “Where did you find her?” However, Mr Stefani was more than happy to explain.

“I was driving along the road one day, and there she was, standing on the edge of the road. I stopped and asked if she needed a ride. She said she had nowhere to go. I asked if she wanted to come home with me, and she said yes. That’s how it happened.”

My patient seemed happy. His grooming was better. His feet were no longer swollen. I suggested that he bring his new friend to his next appointment.

The next appointment came in 6 weeks. Mr Stefani walked in with a young woman who beamed at me. I started asking questions about his health. Yes, he was feeling a lot better. She proudly presented his medication list. He told me how she was after him to walk every day. She told me how she had changed her Chinese-style cooking to be salt-free. He told me how he helped her look for a job.

There were questions I didn’t ask. Was she really his girlfriend? Was she an illegal immigrant? Was she hiding from someone? What did she get out of this arrangement? Was he paying her?

Looking at the two people in front of me, these questions all of a sudden did not seem so relevant. People at their heart need connections, and those two had found one.

Endless Rhythm by Robert Delaunay

Endless Rhythm, by Robert Delaunay

 

Self-care Tip: Be open to human connections wherever they occur. It may just save a life – yours or someone else’s.

Question: Have you made a connection with a person that was unexpected? Was it challenging? Fruitful? Embarrassing? Eye-opening? Tell us your story.

 

Don’t Forget Your Friends Chose You Too

 

 

Ok folks.  Not much time to write tonight.  My girly girlfriend is moving out-of-state and we’re off soon on something of a Ta-Ta! date.  Why in the world do I feel rejected?!  If I were French I might think it was the language of the heart.  But I’m not French so I can’t say what they’d say.

Friendship requires ongoing navigation through life.  You can’t ever just sit back and expect safe waters.  The close pals go far away and although they’ll always be friends, here we find ourselves, beached and sifting sand.  Finding gold is thought to be infrequent I think when sifting sand.

Today my daughter told me her classmate’s father lost his job.  Big ouch.  She told me, “Mommy, I wish money covered the streets everywhere so no one would ever not have enough.”  She hasn’t entirely learned what gives value to the dollar.  Friendship is like that.  Valuable and uncommon.

My friend told me once that I chose her and she chose me.  It’s awesome to be chosen!

So I’m off to rub my coins together and be with my friend.  She is a treasure.

Self-Care Tip #90 – Don’t forget that your friends chose you too.  Be a friend to yourself.

Questions:  Have you noticed that you’ve been chosen too?  Please tell me your story.

Why Are You Walking The Road Alone?

Part of humility is not isolating.  You have to be able to receive to be a friend.  Dan Allender Ph.D. calls it suffer the kindness.

From looking at him, I didn’t guess at first that Fink was lonely, but he was.  Under-appreciated, whenever Fink thought about making new friends, he remembered that he wasn’t young any more.  All his “real” friendships were made when he hung-out for hours, had spares in the trunk so to speak.  If one relationship didn’t develop well, he still had time and possibilities that the future offers.  In this sense, Fink had been rich.  He had after all that, maybe 3 friends he considered “real.”  But over the last several years, with real jobs and families of their own, his real friends weren’t returning his calls.  Now, he thought, he may as well as not have given them his special self.  Now he was older and not so rich.  Fink kept picking at that scab, even though he knew it wasn’t so masculine to be upset about your neglected special self.

At times we are lonely, but have trouble valuing the relationships being offered.  We see ourselves as something set apart.  This might be part of our drive to self-preserve.  Bits of neurons fighting over signals in our brain telling us that we need to dominate to propagate our genes.  Maybe.  But there is that intersection when choice crosses.

We remember from Sebastian Seung‘s work that our memories are not stored in our genes.  That gives us something tangible to work with.

I remember walking on the beach with a girlfriend when we were still in medical school.  I told her, “I’m tired of feeling bad about things I never had a choice in!”  It still seems wasteful to moralize things like temperament and our nature.  In fact, we’ve argued the opposite at length in previous blog posts.  Embrace that part of you and run with it! we said.

So what do we do with Fink?  For starters, tell him that his drives are what they are.  The real question is, what’s he going to do with his genetic drives?  Do good things with that energy?  (If we can call genetic drive an energy.)  Or will he do things that aren’t so good for him.  There comes the choice.  Fink.  Suffer the kindness.  (Thanks Dan Allender!)  In the end you will be happier and healthier for it.  Even if you are half as hot as your genes tell you you are, who cares if you are walking the road alone.

Self-Care Tip #86 – Suffer the kindess.  Be a friend to yourself.

Question:  What has been a barrier in your life from connecting with others?  Please tell me your story.