Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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I’ve grieved the decay of my Christian faith, brought on by my growing skepticism toward the Bible as God’s authoritative word. This devolution of belief began when I started thinking about the discrepancies in the Gospels. It’s a process that’s taken my marriage and sense of identity down a thorny path.
William Giraldi and Sarah Braunstein’s “Night of the Moose” [February 2016], in which they describe the same event in separate essays, left me in tears and reminded me that discrepancies in accounts don’t necessarily negate the truth of a story.
I went back and forth between believing that everything in Lawrence Sargent Hall’s story “The Ledge” [February 2016] would work out, and believing it was a tragedy in the making. I understand the effect it had on Sy Safransky as a father, and can attest that, even for a nonparent, it’s a haunting work of fiction.
Thank you for continuing to print fine writing, both contemporary and classic. One would expect that, as a former literature major, I would have come across Lawrence Sargent Hall’s work before. I read “The Ledge” four days ago. My chest still hurts.
Genevieve Thurtle’s essay “Twenty-Three Weeks” [February 2016] had me weeping. I don’t know if I could move on from losing a child the way she did. Miscarriages and stillbirths are often discussed only in hushed whispers, if they’re talked about at all. I commend her for speaking out about her experience.
Raymond Barfield’s take on medicine, religion, death, and service [“The Miracle in Front of You,” January 2016] was the most inspiring interview I have encountered in The Sun. Barfield’s empathy and attentive listening would be a blessing to any patient. That he teaches medical students gives me hope for the future of medicine.
I’m a nurse, and Janice Lynch Schuster’s interview with Raymond Barfield reminded me of when I was written up for being “weak” because I held an ICU patient’s hand at his bedside. We both knew he was going to die soon, and we shed tears in silence. The head nurse saw us from the door and reported me. From that day on I knew I could no longer work in that environment.
Now, as a holistic nurse in private practice, I can hold someone’s hand and help her choose alternative methods of living and dying with dignity. There are times when we need the skills of a physician, but we don’t need a pill for every depressing thought. Healthcare has been taken over by the drug companies and by the lawyers who look to sue for any infraction.
I wish I had met doctors like Barfield earlier in my career. I might have stayed to change the system from within.
As a psychotherapist, I’ve witnessed the same dynamics in my field that Raymond Barfield observes in medicine. Priority is placed on speed. Cost, documentation, and productivity pressures translate into fifteen minutes with the psychiatrist, followed by a prescription. Emotional issues are deemed the province of biology and cognitive programming, and the heart is sidestepped. Philosophy, theology, and literature are considered inessential. People often fail to realize that their distress may be rooted in the loss of meaning in their lives. We know how to label, but labeling is not healing.
I spent my Christmas break preparing gifts that my grown children will not fully appreciate until I’m incapacitated or dead: an advance healthcare directive, a financial power of attorney, and a will. I had hesitated to create these because I couldn’t afford to pay a lawyer, but the thought of the mess I might leave for my children nagged at me, so I purchased a do-it-yourself kit and followed the instructions. Now the documents are signed, notarized, and ready.
The legal community has convinced us we need lawyers for everything, in the same way that the medical community wants us to believe we must die in a hospital, with doctors doing all they can to keep us alive.
When my time comes, I hope I will have a doctor like Raymond Barfield — someone who sees me as a person rather than as a collection of symptoms and lab reports. Then I will be able to die with dignity, in my home if possible, surrounded by family.
With a heavy heart, I have watched my son apply to twelve medical schools this month. His interest in medicine comes from his love and aptitude for science, but he is also a philosopher, a poet, and a voracious reader.
I’ve wondered if he can train as a doctor, practice in our dehumanizing healthcare system, and still maintain his natural empathy. I’ve wondered if he will be forced to deny his artistic and literary side, and if he can marry his awe at the mystery of life with the scientific perspective of medicine. I’ve wondered if his goal of service to humanity might be better fulfilled in another profession.
I’m grateful for the Raymond Barfield interview. It’s allowed me to imagine that my son might stay true to himself while becoming a doctor.
I hope Raymond Barfield’s view of the physician as a guest in the patient’s story will become the norm in medical education. As a certified nurse-midwife, I was trained to support rather than direct women’s experiences as they give birth. If more doctors saw themselves as midwives helping patients through an illness, their interactions with the human beings in front of them would change for the better.
I also empathize with physician JoDean Nicolette [“Losing John”] for feeling protective of her time off. The healthcare system is demanding more from her in fewer hours. It’s commendable that she strives to stay emotionally connected to her patients, students, and colleagues in spite of that. Many physicians find it easier to detach emotionally from the suffering they face; most of us who work in this world vacillate between the two.
Bravo to Greg Ames for “Don’t Call It Vino” [January 2016]. In my twenty years of reading The Sun, it’s one of the few stories to actually make me laugh out loud.
Dr. Walter M. Robinson’s account of being on the operating table [“This Will Sting and Burn,” January 2016] should be required reading for everyone involved in the medical profession. No matter how well educated and trained we may be, when it’s our own skin in the game, we’re all human.
As an anthropologist, I was dismayed to find two factual errors about my field within ten minutes of perusing the December issue. Tony Hoagland’s poem “The University of Men” refers to a woman “engaged to an archeologist, / who took her to excavate dinosaur bones in Tibet.” That would be a paleontologist; archeologists study the remains of human societies. Dinosaurs are outside of their wheelhouse by about 60 million years.
In his essay “My Iceland” Sparrow refers to Icelandic, with its 320,000 speakers, as “one of the world’s least-spoken languages.” In fact, more than half the world’s six to seven thousand languages have fewer than ten thousand speakers each.
Childless and almost seventy, I am horrified by the revelations about modern parenting in Mark Leviton’s interview with Jennifer Senior [“Great Expectations,” November 2015]. I’m grateful I had a childhood more like the one described in Natalia Ginzburg’s essay “The Little Virtues,” in the same issue. My parents allowed me to have the “space, space and silence, the free silence of space” that Ginzburg recommends.
Not only does too much parental involvement seem invasive and stultifying, it must make adulthood look unappealing to children. What child would want to grow up to be a stressed-out, overworked mom obsessed with her children’s lives? No, what made adulthood attractive to me was that it was a world beyond childhood, mysterious and full of passion. My parents were not perfect, but they had their own lives and intimated that I should have the same. Rather than wish they spent more time with me, I delighted in my privacy. It’s sad that hardly anyone grows up as I did.