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Three Words

Normally, since it’s February, I would write an article about romance and your sex life. Extolling women to understand the basic urges and needs of men and extolling men to focus more on what might make their wives happy … a personal note … some simple chore to show your appreciation. I have written about the wonders of great lubricants … even if you don’t need them the right lubricant can really spice things up. I have written about drugs like Viagra and the Coolidge effect. Yes, named after the 30th President. This is all covered territory so let me focus on something different. I want to write about myself … if you know me better perhaps you will take my writing more seriously. I have asked patients recently if they could describe themselves in three words. It’s kind of corny and artificial but it gets people thinking and thinking about yourself and your health is where it’s at for me. That’s when change happens. Reluctantly, due to recent events, and I am not talking about the election, I must tell you I now know two of MY three words. Optimistic and Cowardly … and the stories below will illustrate both. Obviously I am not proud of the cowardly part but it is what it is. Don’t run from the truth … learn from it and hopefully that’s what I have done.

First the Optimistic part … I was heading into a Yoga class last week and another car pulled up and a young middle aged woman got out so we walked in together. I made some polite conversation with some line like … ”how are you tonight?” Her response was “pretty good.” Since I am an Optimist and believe your attitude is completely under your control I responded with something like “Really? You are going to yoga and all you bring to your practice tonight is “pretty good?” Is that all you got?“ She had a good response … ”Ask me again when we get to the stairs.” We walked in silence until I opened the door and asked again … ”How are you tonight?“ This time she responded. ”Great.” I thought this was really something … she has changed her mood or at least her perception in just 50 feet. Look how powerful the mind is. Look at the effect comments can have on people and their outlook. As an Optimist perhaps I should have stopped there but of course I could not stop myself and had to again say to her … ”Great?! Is that all you got?” Wasn’t I satisfied with her transitioning from pretty good to great? Where do you go from great? Yet again she had a response which was “Ask me again at the end of class.” Well I had to leave the class early to go to an Optimist meeting so I didn’t get to challenge her again. I like this story because it shows that even with a little effort you can change people’s perception and I like the idea that wherever you are on the spectrum of pretty good / great / fantastic you can always be working to improve yourself and your outlook. I think this holds true both for your physical health and your mental health. A little daily attention can make a big short term and long term difference.

Now onto the part about being a coward. I live in a house with kids, and a lot of pets. Occasionally, to my wife’s chagrin and horror, we have evidence of mice. No problem, I get the traps, I trap / kill the mice and that’s that. Except it didn’t turn out that way. The first mouse was dispatched without trouble. The trap was reset … it was one of those spring loaded traps that snaps the neck of the mouse going after the food in the center of the trap. One recent morning I checked the trap before work and saw that a mouse tripped the trap and I made plans to take care of the trap when I got home after work that night. When I returned to the trap that night I saw that the trap had moved a few inches. Well, I thought, the poor thing must have had some death throes, sorry about that, little fellow … As I reached for the trap I was more than a little surprised when the mouse moved! At closer inspection it seemed that the trap sprung not on its neck where it would have killed it instantly but sprung on the mouse’s snout and the mouse was not dead but was struggling in the trap. Now what!!!? Well, as you read this you each have a suggestion. Hit it with a hammer was suggested. Use the no-kill traps next time was mentioned. Flush it down the toilet was suggested. Bring it outside in the cold and that will finish him off. Somehow free the mouse from the trap and let the poor thing go free … (not going to happen even though I felt terrible because I didn’t want the mouse to crawl off and die in the walls and that makes a real smell for weeks.) Well, I stood there with the cabinet door open feeling very sorry for the mouse and pondering my options … I didn’t think then about bringing the creature outside or flushing it and I know I couldn’t bring myself to smash the mouse like a real man would. I should have taken some definitive action to end the mouse’s suffering … but I didn’t … the coward that I am, I just closed the cabinet door and said to myself come back in 12 hours and this should all be over. That was a simple answer but I still feel it was the cowardly answer. Here I am doing Jujitsu weekly and happily trying to triangle choke and arm bar people but I couldn’t bring myself to dispatch a mouse. I still don’t know what this incident says about me but I felt very bad for the mouse and was saddened at my inability to step up and finish off the mouse. When I went back the next day the mouse had finally died. Maybe I am more squeamish than cowardly but either way it’s not the best side of me. Well, it gives me something to work on besides my waistline. Maybe it helps the readers of this column understand that everything is not just cut and dried in medicine or in real life. That we all have some vulnerability or some sensitivity and perhaps that’s not always a bad thing. I’m just happy I wasn’t fur trapping or facing down some raccoon.

So Optimistic but cowardly … those are two of my three words … I haven’t decided on the third word yet and I am not in a rush. I asked a patient to give me his three words and he was struggling so his wife chimed in that she could describe her husband in 4 words. Ok I said … let’s hear them. Now this is a thoughtful, educated woman so I expected some deeply meaningful verbiage. However, I was a little surprised by her 4 words: ”PAIN IN THE ASS!” I have not, by the way, asked MY wife to suggest the third word but it might make some interesting dinner conversation. What are YOUR three words. Do you mean them? Do you live them?

Enough of the philosophical. Next month we will return to some more mundane medical issue. Until then … Get well … Stay well.

Dr. Barry