My father and I are very different sorts of healers. He is an old-school internist, graduate of New York University Medical School, a devoted scholar and follower of the allopathic method. I am a product of a very different school. Instead of going for my M.D. as he so dearly wished, I became a psychotherapist with a specialization in trauma treatment, anxiety disorders, NLP, and hypnosis. "Why don't you do some real medicine for a change? If you're going to listen to people all day long, why not become a psychiatrist?"
At the time it seemed clear to me that he not only couldn't but wouldn't even try to fathom my vision of the human being as a spiritual and emotional entity, which naturally fueled my rebellion. So I took it further. Up to that point our work had happily overlapped at certain points. We at least both understood drug therapies and could talk about the new SSRI's. We went to pharmaceutical conferences together. We could have dinner and tell the tale of the latest injustice in the growing takeover of medicine by the insurance companies. But when I veered off to study classical homeopathy, our professional paths diverged irrevocably. At least for a while.
I questioned (and often argued passionately against) his methods, but that is not to say that I ever questioned his dedication to the purpose or art of medicine. Some of my oldest memories of him are when he had to leave on a house call in the middle of the night. The phone would ring and I would hear my mother's muffled voice say, "It's your service." Next would be the opening and closing of closet doors, the sound of his leather bag clicking shut and finally his car starting...a sound as lonesome in a new suburban neighborhood as the howl of a lone coyote in the desert.
I knew he loved the science of medicine, too. But where he talked about the systemic action of a drug, I now talked about the energetic action of a remedy. He bemoaned the loss of my intellect to the field of "real medicine" and I grieved his rigidity even in the face of some astonishing clinical evidence and the recovery of my patients. He reveled in the majesty of the body and I exalted the spirit revealed therein. As far as I was concerned we weren't on different pages, we were reading different books.
So, for a long timenearly twenty yearswe had to agree to disagree. I would occasionally bring a case to him, half to seek camaraderie and half to prove to him that Samuel Hahnemann's
method worked, but we would wind up in the same old Ferris wheel with one of us strapped in waiting at the top and the other strapped in on the bottom until the wheel moved again.
Recently, we had a conversation that threw new light onto this philosophical and personal dichotomy. My eldest dog, Angie, is dying slowly. She is 15 years old, has bilateral cardiomyopathy and metastasized carcinoma, not to mention spinal arthritis and dysplasia. She has incredibly good days for a dog with such a morbid diagnosis, which made the decision we felt bearing down upon us unbearably painful. When were we supposed to put her down? Was there some way for us to know when? Everyone told us "we'd know," that somehow Angie herself would let us know it was time. There wasn't a night my husband and I didn't agonize about it. Was this the night? Was this what they meant by "you'll know."
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The truth was we didn't know. For all my training and intuitive sensibilities, for all the years of practicum in clinical observation, when it came to my own I couldn't see what I needed to see. Literally blinded by my love for her and my need to protect her, I was frustrated and sad
beyond words. And with all the night-watching, neither of us was sleeping.
Finally, I called my father and asked him outright (something I hadn't done since I was quite little) what to do. It was a habit that began in my own beginnings. Being the daughter of a doctor meant that you had the source of all vital information right in the house. If something was wrong, a sniffle, a bruise, a wobbling stomach we just had to "ask daddy."
So I did.
"She has trouble breathing. There are tumors in her lungs. Her heart is so big it's pressing up against her trachea and she has trouble walking. The other day she fell into her own feces."
"That's the way it goes with metastases."
His observation was terse but not without compassion. I knew he'd seen it more times than he cared to recall. His own father had died of stomach cancer, his sister of ovarian cancer, his aunt of lung cancer. He'd just nursed my mother through the loss of my older brother the year before. He had spent his whole life working to heal people but there were just as many times he had been called upon to witness that which he was not only unable to change, but could never understand. Unlike my work, which mostly takes place in the neat and comfy confines of an outpatient office, his took place in the mess of acute care. He faced the Beast every day. In contrast, I've only had to hold the hand of a dying patient once. It was an experience of such powerlessness and pain that all attempts to describe it seem vainly self-serving and insufficient. Yet, there I was. It wasn't a patient. It wasn't even a human. It was our dog. And my heart was breaking.
"I don't know what to do, because some days she trots like a happy puppy and she wants belly rubs and she eats like there's no tomorrow."
"She still wants to eat?"
"She still wants to walk? Even if she falls?"
"Yeah. It's just so sad when she can't."
"She's still breathing even if it's a little labored. It's not like she's in anything near arrest, is she?"
"No. She's able to sleep calmly. I gave her Arsenicum 10M and she seems to be rallying, she's not breathing so hard anymore and she's not pacing all over the place."
"You gave her arsenic???" He seemed shocked and worried.
"The Arsenicum? No, dad, don't worry. It's not molecular arsenic. (It was not the first time I'd had to remind him that there was not a single molecule of the substance in the potentized remedy itself. It was a concept he couldn't wrap his mind around no matter how many times I explained it.) It's a remedy. It's a high potency and they say if you give it to a patient that's very close to death it facilitates the transition but it doesn't force it like euthanasia. If they're not close to death and the vital force is strong enough, they rally and can be comforted. It seems to be helping."
For the first time he didn't argue or raise any philosophical gavels. "That's good. Then, I guess, it's not your hands anymore."
I asked him what he meant because all I wanted to know was whether we should help her die or not. I moaned about the "signs" and which would tell me it was time. For the first time I didn't want to hear about spirit, emotional vitality, or quantum essences. I wanted something concrete. I wanted to know what, how, when.
But there were no concretes to give. And finally I began to understand that regardless of the philosophy of a physician or the political position of a healer, we all wound up standing on the lip of the same magnificent and mystifying canyons.
He told me it's not up to the physician to help anyone die, that it wasn't our job. Our job was to minister to the sick. Period. I felt myself choke up. He had included me in "our" job. It was the first time he had done that or acknowledged my work as healing.
And in a voice that made me wonder who I'd been talking to for the 50 years prior to that moment, he said: "Leave the big things to God. We don't help where we're not needed and we don't mess with the Mysteries. We receive life, care for it and we release it when it's called back."
It dawned on me after 40 years of arguments, debates, and disagreements that perhaps we agreed on the most important things after all. And that perhaps all healerswhether they call themselves physicians, homeopaths, or holistic psychotherapists
in Albuquerque have to remember the place to which every path leads and that, no matter how "modern," "alternative," or "empirical" we strive to be there are no philosophies, no politics, and no principles big enough to change or explain that.
So, for today, Angie is resting comfortably on the floor near my feet as I write this. I treasure each moment for I know with every passing one I have fewer before me with her. Andat least for today (for who knows how a change in her status will make me feel)I can rest more comfortably in the knowledge once again that I can't see the whole picture and that Something Bigger can.
In the meantime, we receive it, care for it, and release it.