Far north of the American continent, lies our largest, most majestic and unspoiled state: Alaska. Unpopulated, wild, and full of splendor, it crowns our country to the envy of the world. Whales, foxes, seals, moose and bears are just a few of nature's living things that call it home. Eagles are everywhere, as are salmon, crabs and fish of all kind.
The volcanic heritage of the landscape reminds the visitors of its turbulent past, like the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, in Katmai National Park. In this land of snow and ice, one is surprised to find beaches with sand at 140o F, due to volcanic hot springs.
Man's presence, outside the native dwellings, is limited to a handful of towns, and fishing processing settlements along the Gulf of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. The population density is about one person per square mile. At that rate, there would be only 22 people on the Island of Manhattan (Vs 1.7 Million.) Such adverse conditions demand neighborliness and sociability for, services and help of any kind are sparse and very late in coming. That goes for daily needs that most of us take for granted, as well. Such as education and healthcare.
The geographic demand of such a vast area dictates that the only viable option of providing healthcare and education is through Telehealth, Telemedicine, and Tele-education. Such is true for many places in the lower 48 as well. States like Wyoming, New Mexico, Alabama, and Mississippi that, by order of their economy, terrain, people, and politics, are at a disadvantage and can also benefit from such programs. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is the true resiliency of our people. For despite the many challenges, we are still moving forward and learning that we have the means to care for each other and educate ourselves with the help of the wonderful tools at our disposal. Let's use them to heal and educate our nation for the betterment of our children and their children.
"When you look at the sun, and its light - after traveling through space and time - comes to rest in the back of your eyes, and you feel its heat, and its essence, it becomes a part of you! And you a part of the sun." Grand-Lady used to say. "That is the oneness of all life, here (touching her heart), out there, in the universe, everywhere." Though she did not know the scientific doctrine or terminology of it, she fully understood the existential principle of nature and life.
It is interesting that Stephen Hawking, whose birthday was January 8, 1942, spent his life pursuing the Theory of Everything. He said, "My goal is a complete understanding of the universe; why it is as it is and why it exists at all." His lifetime of study of the universe and our place in it was to understand the ONENESS of all life. Something philosophers and thinkers have grappled with throughout history. And that may be understood as the existential principle of oneness of nature and life.
It is further interesting, how our western civilization assesses existence. For as philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir whose birthday was January 9, 1908, formulated the philosophy of existentialism which is the idea that human beings should define their own existence, without regard to culture, society or religion - and I might add; science.
The problem is, the farther one dwells on such thinking, the more one disconnects himself from the oneness that binds all life together. And that is when the separation of cultures, races, nationalities, and even genders develop. But none of that is natural. It is self-taught and assumed. For, as Beauvoir wrote in her book The Second Sex, "One is not born a woman, one becomes one." That the difference between the sexes was the result of culture, not nature. It was this thinking that founded the modern feminist movement. Such beliefs and others like Black Lives Matter, White Nationalism, Latino Power, etc. divide us even more. The existential principle of life is the unique oneness of all living things. Once we truly understand that we are all a part of one another, caring for all humanity and life becomes easier and natural.
This is what medicine in its core teaches us as well: CARING FOR ALL, BENEFITS ALL!
We woke up on the morning of the New Year
Full of good wishes for all
Spreading our hopes like the tail feathers of Sultan's peacock
With a thousand colorful eyes, displaying our desire
For a peaceful world, oblivious to the stormy weather outside.
It's been a long time since we've been face to face
Dancing cheek to cheek, being closer than six feet
Still we wash our hair in a fragrance from far distant lands
In the hope of it catching attention even from afar
But it's hard, flirting through masked lips.
God knows the world is full of tired faces
Still, we fill our bird feeders and watch the birds
Cheeringly circle it like worshipers around a saint's shrine
In the hope that others too are called to it
And some day soon, we may watch the birds together.
If history has taught us anything
Is that we've been here before and
Man's genius always finds a way out
But this time, there seems to be
More deniers of the truth.
Wishful we are though, that despite it all
This storm too will pass, skies clear, and
Our children will play together again
Lovers get to flirt and kiss again, and
We get to take our masks off and say hello.
Here is to the coming days of the New Year!
May they be happy ones.
Tucked away in the crevices of the Mountains of Northern NM, under the canopy of the Milky Way Galaxy, a delightful lake fed by a small creek and surrounded by high cliffs awaits the lucky visitor. At night, the sound of the running brook is broken only by an occasional coo of an owl, the jump of a trout, or the rustling of a marmot. Even the wind seldom visits the deep canyon, in fear of disturbing its tranquility. Its name I will not reveal, as it may spoil it's magic by an influx of people. Such places, however, abound in this blessed world of ours.
I've been to many, walking a thousand beaches, canyons, lakes and mountains. The beauty of a fjord, for example, whether in Norway, Canada or Chile, is breathtaking and inspirational. It shows the creator's design of all good things around us. A migrating eagle, crane, starling, or butterfly flying over them, won't - even for an instant - think of claiming them or declaring ownership over them. Rather, they just appreciate the blessing of the nature beneath them. It is only man who feels compelled to take ownership of all he sees. Has it not been for this desire to possess, mankind too would be freer.
Still it is a wonderful world, even in this turbulent era of changes. Lets hope and pray that it's magic is not lost and that our children will be able to dream of a future full of opportunities awaiting them. Possibilities of becoming a scientist, artist, explorer or a craftsman. Imagine all the Beethovens, Pasteurs, Galileos, Michael Angelos and the like who are waiting to start and get discovered, and how they would add to the richness of us all. As we say goodbye to a chaotic year, lets work to make the new one, a happy, thriving and healthy time for all humanity.
Not long ago, riding an old train through the jungles of Borneo, a family member was reminded of reading the arduous journey of earlier adventurers through those very woods. The dangers involved, and the success rate of finishing the trip unscathed. Yet today, even the relative comfort of watching the world pass by, through the windows of a railway car, seem demanding. We have come a long way in the past two hundred years of human history, and moving ever faster into the future.
I was glued to the round black and white TV screen in the 1960s when Allen Shepard - in a space suit - blasted off into his 5-minutes trip to space on a Redstone rocket. That trip took years of training and preparation by Shepard, and millions of dollars of the national budget. Last week Shepard's daughter; Laura Shepard Churchley made the same trip with five others with literally no training and minimal preparation - in the airline type cabin of the Blue Origin.
In medicine, too, our advances have been phenomenal. When Dr. Salk developed the polio vaccine, it took him more than ten years of research and development. In contrast, the first vaccine for Covid-19 was ready to use in about a year. Such advances and progress are confusing to many and is used to create political havoc among the people. Unfortunately, the same method of sharing information on the Internet is employed to spread misinformation. The beginnings of most changes are confusing and challenging to mankind, but it will clarify itself in time and what comes of it, is usually lasting. We are at the edge of magnificent changes and revolutions. The next century will propel mankind into a future unimaginable by many. Whether it will be toward a true utopia of possibilities or the chaos of dystopian nightmares is up to us. Guiding civilization in the right path is a task, all mankind needs to undertake now. We can start by basing our own education on scientific facts and protect the resources of our world as we move forward.
A few years ago, on a cold January morning, a man walked unto the L’Enfant Plaza subway platform in Washington, DC, carrying a violin case. He placed the case on the ground, took out a violin and started playing. Hundreds of people passed by. Some glanced over at him, some listened while waiting for their train. A few dropped coins and money into the open case. He played for about forty-five minutes and then left. He had collected about 30 dollars in coins.
Three nights previous to that morning, the same man had played the same piece of music on the same exact violin to a sold-out audience at Boston’s Stately Symphony Hall. Admission tickets were at an average of $150.00.
The man was Joshua Bell; one of the world’s renowned violinists of our time, and the violin, a three and half million-dollar Stradivarius, handmade in 1713. His performance at the subway station in DC was part of a study arranged by The Washington Post. After The Post published the study, the DC people demanded his return and so months later, he returned to DC to play in the main hall of Union Station for a large and engaged audience.
Bell says: “When hundreds of people are paying hundreds of dollars to hear him play music that is hundreds of years old. It warrants perfection.” That is what we should feel about performing medicine. The person trusting us with his medical issue needs to see the hundred years of accumulated knowledge of medicine passed on to us by our educators to play magic in treating him or her. That happens by showing a little concern about his or her problem.
Today, the pandemic is making many to question our science, our knowledge, and our profession. The result is taxing our healthcare system, and many of our colleagues are burned out and quitting, adding further to the burden of those staying behind. Our perception of our patients is that they should trust us, and we expect them to follow our treatment regiment. But when they show up sick, while denying that which we have been impressing on them, well, one can see how it could vex all sides. These are challenging times, as many sides seem to have lost faith in each other. For us to gain back the trust of our patients, our professionalism must shine brightly.
If this pandemic taught us anything, it is the degree to which mankind is willing to act or react to what he does not agree with, regardless of the consequences.
A group of servicemen were working on the power lines in our area last week, and they needed to work on our property. I asked them if they were vaccinated, and they said, no, that they didn't believe in it. They seemed irritated by my question, so I changed the subject and talked about other things, till we established a quasi sort of relationship. Then I asked them to educate me on why they didn't believe in the vaccine or the virus. They began a long and often interrupted - by each other - rambling of their reasons. Finally, the common single agreed upon motive seemed to be that they didn't like the government mandating vaccination. I found their reasoning preposterous, if not paradoxical.
In the last century, after numerous wars and conflicts, the UN Charter was established to build conformity of ideas. Yet the last few years have seen the demise of these principles. It seems that the leaders of our world are intent on dismantling the whole unity of our world, rather than strengthening its accord. The real confusing fact is that these are the very countries that worked so hard to unite us in the first place.
If we are to build a productive future, we have to learn from our history. That however does not seem to be the case. This quagmire of ideas and the conflicts it creates, sickens many and the confusing messages further bewilder the people. The resulting effect fills our hospitals, ICUs, clinics and health centers to a point that taxes the very foundation of our profession. Still, we are asked to be mindful not to add to the disorder and care for our patients, even when their ill is self-inflicted. But that is what makes us professionals. Keep up the good work dear colleagues; the history of this era will talk kindly of us.
Oh young doctor, you're needed worldwide
In cities, jungles and islands, so don't hide
Though they tell you otherwise, but they be wrong
So call your own shots, stand tall and be strong
Soon you'll be older and of your youth, you need to be proud
So follow your own dream and never mind the crowd
You wanted to be a doctor since your childhood
So why be a cashier for the local hood
All the gold and money won't bring you delight
When you are made tired and driven too hard
Joy is waiting in igloos, huts, woods, and mound
Don't wait till you're old to right all the wrong
It's Veterans Day; I am taking the day off
I rose by the sun, and raised the flag and watch it takeoff.
Decades ago, it was when I served
Yet it has given me more than I expected.
I am an immigrant who served his new country
Where I found purpose, and what gave me harmony.
In the asphalt jungles of NY City
I was a faceless stranger, for whom, no one had pity.
Then I found camaraderie among other GIs
When I found friends like Joe, Harry, Ken, and other guys.
Soon after, I felt belonged, recognized and welcomed
For where I was going, not where I was from.
And when I was discharged, honorably and proud
I was an American, with feet on the ground and head in the clouds.
I salute all my fellow veterans on this day. We served our country when it needed us. Today, our country is hurt by political division, and needs us again. Let's help it heal by uniting together, solid and unified, hand in hand, and show the doubters that we are one country, united and strong. We will not allow it to be attacked from within or out. We are American, no matter our race, color or origin!
Among the many comments and remarks I've been getting on my book was this special one from Dr. Maggie Gunter (Thank You):
I have thought of you a great deal lately, since I have been enjoying reading a few chapters from your superb book every night before I fall asleep! I just finished it!
As a medical sociologist, I appreciate so much your interest in addressing our current problems with health disparities and inadequate health equity among our diverse populations.
You certainly have made an outstanding contribution to medical students, providers, and to all of us—right in the middle of this stressful pandemic we are all living through. There are so many touching and funny and insightful chapters—and I love your ongoing reminders of the importance of integrating useful modern technology to improve healthcare while never forgetting the central importance of compassion and connecting personally with patients—practicing from the heart, as you so elegantly put it. It is just amazing that you have practiced in so many diverse settings with people of so many languages and cultures. Those experiences clearly taught you so much about providing compassionate and excellent healthcare!
I am so impressed by your writing of this fascinating book. Bravo!
Maggie Gunter, PhD
Sr. Advisor for Population Health and Outcomes Research
November 2, 2021