Friday, March 6, 2015

Physician, heal thyself

This post is about the first chapter in "The Brain's Way of Healing" by Norman Doidge, MD.  Yesterday's post was also about that book. In chapter 1, a pain specialist had an experience of the connection between pain signals and the body's ability to sense danger.  Not all dangers are sensed by the body itself.  

I had a firsthand experience that the brain, all on its own, can eliminate pain, just as I, a conventional pain specialist, had tried to do for patients by using drugs, injections, and electrical stimulation. As long as I didn't move, the pain was zero within about a minute. "When the ambulance came, they gave me six milligrams of IV morphine. I said, 'Give me another eight.' They said, 'We can't,' and I said, 'I'm a pain doctor,' so they did, but when they moved me it was ten out of ten." The brain can shut pain off because the actual function of acute pain is not to torment us but to alert us to danger.

True, the word pain comes from the ancient Greek poine, which means "penalty," via the Latin poena, which means "punishment," but biologically, pain is not punishment for punishment's sake. The pain system is the hurt body's implacable advocate, a reward and penalty signaling system. It penalizes us when we are about to do something that might further damage our already injured body, and it rewards us with relief when we stop.

As long as Moskowitz didn't move, he was in no danger, so far as his brain could tell. He also knew that the "pain" was never really in the leg itself. "All my leg did was send signals to my brain. We know from general anesthesia, which puts the higher parts of the brain to sleep, that if the brain doesn't process these signals, there is no pain ." But general anesthesia has to render us unconscious to eliminate pain; here he was, lying in agony on the ground, and in one moment, his completely conscious brain turned all his pain off. If only he could learn how to flip that switch for his patients!

But it wasn't just movement that posed a danger for Moskowitz. While waiting for the ambulance, he nearly died, because he bled about half of his entire blood volume into his leg, so it ballooned to twice the normal size: "my leg was the size of my waist."

Doidge, Norman (2015-01-27). The Brain's Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity (Kindle Locations 257-271). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

(The chapter goes on to discuss the more complex problem of chronic and learned pain.)

I personally had similar experiences with infected diverticula of the gut.  The alerting function of pain was temporarily eliminated if I deeply, deeply and continuously focused my full attention on it.  It felt like the system knew I didn't need to be alerted if I was paying total attention to the pain, not running from it, not deviating from it.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Book and medical ideas of worth

We are nearing the end of the book "The Brain's Way of Healing" by Norman Doidge, MD.  This is the 2nd book by Doidge we have read aloud together.  His "The Brain that Changes Itself" was good and informative but I think "Brain's Way" is better.  In the 2nd chapter (which is long), Doidge discusses the case of a South African who seemed to keep his Parkinson's disease from progressing by doing quite a bit of walking.  The man joined a program of running/walking aimed at getting people to exercise for the sake of their health.  This man took the idea to heart and walked steadily.

He has been sufficiently successful that whether he ever actually had Parkinson's is questioned by some.  While the brain is being understood more and conceptions of how the brain works are emerging, not all that much is really known, about the brain or about Parkinson's.  This is the disease that the actor Michael J. Fox, of "Back to the Future" fame and other films and tv shows, is fighting.  It tends to be an older person's disease but as in anything biological and involving many people, there are statistical outliers.

The area of brain studies is undergoing a change.  Besides the Doidge books, I read "Soft-Wired" by Prof. Michael Merzenich.  I learned that he was able to show that doing things intentionally causes the brain to change to become more efficient at doing, whether or not the thing done is healthy or helps a person's life.  I learned there was doubt that intention was "real" enough to matter but Merzenich was able to show that it really does matter.  Merzenich and many others have shown convincingly that the brain is malleable and that whatever is done repeatedly tends to be facilitated.

There are 8 chapters in "The Brain's Way of Healing" and I intend to write a little about each for the next few days.  I recommend the book not only for the very interesting and unusual stories covered but because the whole area of the brain is a very tricky one.  I read guidelines for local discussions by a well-known organization months ago that warned to avoid areas of "neuro"-this and "neuro"-that since it is too easy to get into areas of charlatans, false claims and ideas and procedures that don't work.  It may be wise to keep in mind, though, that what may work for one person might not for another for multiple reasons. Any new idea, especially one that contradicts long-standing positions such as that older brains cannot really change, will face opposition.  As some of my thinking friends like to point out, there is still a flat-earth society.  So, as we say in the north during an ice storm, "proceed with caution."

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Don't spoil my grumpy mood

Sometimes, I am reluctant to be happy.  You ever get like that?  

I get in a solidly bad mood and I am enjoying it, grousing and grumbling and growling with abandon, just like an old guy is supposed to, when suddenly some damned sunbeam breaks into things.  Smiles!  Delight! Joy!  Who needs it?  

I spend all that time developing a scintillating scowl, drooping the corners of my mouth nearly to my knees and I am supposed to put all that aside for something upbeat???  What kind of world is this when a tax-paying citizen, a solid upright sort, has to turn around and chuckle with delight?  Delight?  Delight?  I'll delight you!  

I have my favorite sources of bad news, good reliable negative interpretations of all the latest headlines and developments.  I shop online for the latest pathetic trivia, rotten deals and life-souring activities.  Just reading about them gives me a shot in the pessimum.  I play a dirge and then whistle a mournful tune.  I keep careful track of my inventory of pains, complaints and disappointments. I hoard them all with approving, gloating, miserly love.

I don't like being bullied by pep, undermined by optimism, interfered with by empathy.  Next time you see me scowling, stay out of my circle.  Try keeping your bright smile to yourself so I don't have to try to reconstruct my shattered grump from the broken shards.

You know, there is only so much pessimism to go around and if it gets wasted, then where will we be?  Just answer me that.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

US senior citizens today

My brother-in-law is an astute and energetic retired businessman.  He is currently interested in the situations of American senior citizens and sent me these notes.  There are probably many books and web pages related to the new peaks of longevity, better levels of education and awareness, and greater diversity of goals, desires and backgrounds among US senior citizens.  One book I have read that relates to what he has provided below is "Being Mortal" by Atul Gawande, an American physician and professor of surgery at the Harvard Medical School.


USA national survey, 3600 seniors

February 22, 2015

Interesting observations on the US Senior citizen mindset

65% of seniors say they are in their best home now, and do not want to lose independence and love of their community and friendships.

Many realize they will need extra care and need help in the future as needs expand

64% would move possible one more time (some reasons as follows)

24% anticipate to move closer to family

Gov't survey found 81% over 65 own home, 72% paid off and have a 4 Trillion dollars equity.

51% will move to smaller housing due to government taxes, mandates and upkeep.

30% will move to larger housing due to family inclusion and financial considerations.

19% will move to a smaller due to health and wellness issues

85% over 70 years old want extended care in own home is necessary

Only 10% say assistance living is for them

4% want to move in w/ family


Data by 'Age Wave" Ken Dychtwald

Turning empty nesters turning homes into a Nurturing nest

Want to remodel their homes, for when kids and friends visit.

61% feel free from yesterday's chores and obligations.

47% spend on renovations (knock out walls for more space, remodel kitchen, after kids

Most have offices in home now, buy fewer foods (221 items vs 250 in pantry) vs in '05

(Government research, says more pork and beans and canned beets play role in pantry)

Eating out more is now a past time (like mini vacation) 65% fast food 37% w/ waiters etc.,

Most order water w/ meals…eat out 3or 4 times week via Groupon, Happy Hour, bar food,

Spend $12.00 on take out for 3 more meals with leftovers

Senior says it is costly to live alone. (More into in roommates….Future growth in shared housing and villages are rapidly raising (keep watch on each other)

Most worry about making money lasting longer

80% are in TECH, cut home expenses, like app controls.

76% into internet etc., connect w/family and friends and social


Dallas Morning News, February 28, 2015

According to PEW research center….51 million Americans or 16.7% live in a house with at least two generations under one roof.   

Also, a 10.5% increase in multigenerational households from 2007-2009.

Reasons are jobs, divorce, debt, be-backers ages 21-35, college debt,

Television series pave the way of acceptance, Walton's, plus others bring thought to same.  But most do not have retirement plans of their own….that brings new problems for the future.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Monday, March 2, 2015

Passing stages by

We have all seen tense moments in movies where something upsetting happens and a heroine cries.  Usually, the hero says something like "Don't cry, Honey".  But I say pay attention from the moment of his utterance through the next five minutes.  What you will often see is that the heroine calms down, and apparently no worse for the wear and tear of the difficulty or sad event or whatever it was that she wept about, she goes on to do what heroines do, which these day is just about everything that heroes do.

We used to say that the short period of crying enabled the heroine to experience emotional release.  Some research indicates that too much release can increase the impact of severe emotional upset, that too much acting out can increase the pain.  One article says that generally tears come whenever we pass quickly from the grip of the sympathetic nervous system (flight or fight) into the influence of the parasympathetic system (deep calm and relaxation).

Reading "The Trauma of Everyday Life" by Dr. Mark Epstein, I found interesting ideas about facing and appreciating the role of strong emotions inside us and in our lives.  One such idea is that ordinary lives are likely to have strongly negative events in them, traumas that upset us and maybe give us tastes of life as bitter, yucky, unfair, and miserable.  Over the course of a lifetime, through our fault or someone else or chance or whatever, we will get hit by flying rotten vegetables of unpleasant and unwanted and undeserved occurrences.  If such an event is sufficiently bad, it reaches the level of trauma.  Trauma may come from battle, crime, and natural events like car crashes or tsunami.

For internal and external reasons, a sufficiently negative event often gets locked away in the back of the mind.  Back there, it can sit until it can be dealt with.  Another interesting view from Epstein is that whether resolution of the trauma comes while being held in the arms and attention of our mother when we are babies, or in the safe confines of a therapist's office, or in our own ability to sit calmly and "metabolize" (burn up the "calories" of) the experience, we restore and "remember" who we were before the trauma and who we can be now aside and beyond it.  The work of James Pennebaker (Expressive Writing: Words that Heal)  and Timothy Wilson (Redirect) , both professors of psychology and both with good books on Kindle, shows results from waiting until some bad experience shows up as a trauma (give a mind some time, maybe a couple of weeks, to digest the nasty experience, to see if it can).  Then, if a good resolution is not achieved, write about the experience for 20 minutes each night for about a week.  That procedure has helped more than some of the official programs for police and fire department members who have had traumatic experiences.

Meditation can also lead to mental calm and can be done consistently for about 10 minutes a day.  There are many forms of meditation but a good basic one is to sit in a comfortable position with a timer for 5 or 10 minutes and focus on a single point or on your breath.  All minds are active little devils and in a short while, maybe 20 seconds, your mind will leave the focus to light on some other thing or idea.  As you as you realize you are thinking about something, gently but firmly bring your mind back to the focus.  When the timer rings, you are done.

There are several ways to pass through and beyond stages of upset.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Word architecture

"We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us."  Churchill said this in a speech in 1943.  Experts can tell us just what our buildings do and architects can design buildings to do things differently, maybe not just differently, but better.

Information architecture is a new and growing field where various sorts of people look at information systems, software, web pages and their design to see if better layouts and better connections can assist in better thinking and better communication.  But all of us build mental structures and rebuild them all the time, maybe even in our sleep.  We might call this activity "word architecture" but a more common name is "self talk".  We could call ourselves "thought architects."

There have been times when a computer program was not behaving the way I wanted but I could not figure out why.  Talking to myself in clear sentences that could each be check for accuracy and intent was a process that helped find the reasons the program wasn't working.  It often helped.  With even more obstinately uncooperative programs, it was necessary to explain step by step what the program was doing to an intelligent listener, such as my wife.

Quite a while ago, I found the book "What to Say when You Talk to Your Self" by Dr. Shad Helmstetter.  I have the book on my Kindle but I haven't gotten to it yet.  (Knowing me, I may never get to it.  It can help to just remember the book and its title and to think about self talk without actually reading the book.  I have limited years left, you know.)  More recently, reading and thinking have made clear that what I say to myself, what I think all amounts to practice and drill.  So, if I find that the house, garden and layout of my inner space is cramping my life or misleading me, I may have to call on my inner word/thought architect to redesign messages sent to myself.

Checking my email too often is a physical act that I can spot and criticize and redesign if I want.  Thinking I am a couch potato slug because I didn't exercise yesterday is a much faster, more subtle act but it too trains me in both lethargy (what a great word!) and self dislike. It is the sort of act that can slip past my awareness but still train me more and more deeply into being what I don't want.

It can be tiring work to stay alert to the way I have my mind designed and consider redesigning it.  Sometimes, a joke, a story, a poem, a quotation or even a tune can be more helpful in guiding me into being a bit different than a straightforward admonition such as "Be prepared."  But hard work or easy, it can be fun to explore what it is my head and consider re-design possibilities.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Old men dancing

There are old men in various parts of the country dancing.  They are jubilant.  They have reached an age that doesn't come to everyone.  Some of their buddies died throughout the years from wars, car accidents, heart attacks and whatnot.  This group of men all attended the same all-male high school back in the 50's.  They held a reunion of their class a few years back.

I am one of them and since I hadn't seen the old place in years, I thought it was time to go back for a visit.  I didn't expect to feel much in the way of closeness or camaraderie but I did.  It was surprising how close I felt to those guys.

A couple of nights ago, I got a phone call from one of my classmates in our old homeroom, back more than 50 years ago.  He said he was one of the few who thought another reunion would be fun.  That man is a gentle, strong, balanced person and his personality flowed out of the phone.  It is easy to want to encourage a man like that and I did.  He said,"Give us some encouragement."  I wrote an email to quite of few of the group and urged them to rev up their very considerable talents and again hold a reunion.  I debated being forthright and stating that I had no plans to attend, as I had stated to the caller.  I decided it was silly to urge an event be held while stating I would not attend so I withheld that statement of intent.

Since then, such good spirits, such friendliness has emerged in the written replies that I want to attend any event that is held.  As we all look at the roll of the class and see the many names of those now deceased, our good fortune strikes us.  We are still alive and happy to be so. Some comments have been made about the surprise of reaching our current age, the good luck and talents displayed by the group, our gratitude.

If in your neighborhood, you see an elderly man dancing alone, he too may be taken with the fun of being alive, with his own cleverness at having breathed in and out so many successful breaths.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

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