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Curing and Healing

Driving to the restaurant where my college was hosting a luncheon to honor retirees (me!), I tuned in to the tail end of a show on National Public Radio about a new hospital that recently went into business. All the rooms are singles so the patient has more control over creating a healing environment for him or herself. And, as I understood it, meals are cooked fresh every day at the hospital kitchen. Imagine–a hospital that honors nutrition as a key component of healing! ¬†Apparently, the director is getting flack because it will cost more to maintain. Yes, he said, in the short run, but in the long run costs go down. He seemed to be saying that it’s worth investing in healing, not just curing.

At the retirement party, I mentioned to a colleague my new adventure increasing public awareness about PTSD and infant surgery without anesthesia or proper pain control. He told me that a dear friend of his had had cancer and that the many specialists who still follow her case discuss her physical condition in a professional and effective way but never once discussed with her the psychological, spiritual, or emotional aspects of having and coping with the disease. When I told him the saying, a cure is not a healing, he held my gaze for a long time. His eyes told me everything. His friend was not healed. In fact, he thought she had some PTSD from the cancer treatment.

Another colleague I spoke to is a learning disabilities specialist. I told her I suspected that many learning disabilities result from PTSD that a student may unsuspectingly have from early trauma. She corroborated this view. Many students can’t sit still or focus or stay with a task over time; many of our students have difficulty reading, for example. I know that learning disabilities are complex and varied and no two students are the same, but after almost twenty years of teaching English in a community college serving largely inner city, at-risk youth who experience the deaths of friends, lovers, and family members in drive-by shootings and who have witnessed the deterioration of parents and family members, themselves included, from drug and alcohol addiction, I know that trauma has affected their ability to learn.

Another colleague said that he thought my work would be successful because the message I want to impart is best communicated by someone like myself who has experienced PTSD and early trauma rather than a psychologist or a therapist presenting a talk about this subject. He thought I could have a greater impact, for a¬†professional might not want to share a story of his or her own personal struggle. In any case, I’m getting out there. Wish me love and luck!

0 Responses to Curing and Healing

  1. I do wish you luck and love. And I also want to know more. Where do people who may have PTSD (from different events, experiences, reasons) go for help, when they have no insurance and no money? This is a likely scenario for those in need. You are uncovering an often hidden aspect of life. Thank you for your courage to share and to write. “A cure is not a healing.” We need that etched in our minds.

    • Thank you so much for your good wishes. The answer to your question is not an easy one. The issue of PTSD due to invasive medical procedures is generally not understood by the medical profession or the public yet. I know that sometimes, talking to a religious mentor could be helpful if he or she is particularly psychologically astute. At my community college district, we have a Wellness Clinic where psychologists are available for free; students are referred there by faculty. I think therapists generally understand PTSD these days and could be helpful. Wow, free help–hmmm…….. I guess that’s why I write my blog and discuss things we can do to heal ourselves, for who has the money and sometimes the time to get the needed help? There are though many things we can do to help ourselves. But professional help is often needed, too. If a child in a hospital, sometimes the hospital has what’s called Child Life specialists. As I understand it, they help people with the psychological and social issues accompanying illness. In public school, sometimes there’s a school psychologist. But if he or she is not aware of PTSD and its link to early trauma, this person may not be helpful. The internet is a great place to seek support, I find. It’s sort of free. I mean, one can go to the library and seek out helpful websites, youtubes, etc. These days, there’s a lot of support on the web. Maybe I’ll do a post soon purely about web sources for those of us who would like help with these issues. The SIS blog listed on my blogroll, for example, administered by Fred Vanderbom, is an excellent source. I will put some web sources together for one of my posts. Thanks, Irene!

  2. First off, love and luck.

    Second, a comment on learning disabilities you mentioned. I agree that a wide range of learning disabilities can be attributed to PTSD. In my case I don’t think I had any formal LDs, but my hyper vigilance and preoccupations made many simple tasks difficult for me. For example I was at least 20 years old before I could tell you my left from my right without taking a second to intentionally think about it.

  3. Thank you, Mark. Yes, hyper vigilance so interferes with learning! For me, my obsession with being perfect made learning unpleasant and anxiety-producing. Since I was so imperfect with my pyloric stenosis shortly after birth and caused so much distress for my family, I was hellbent on being perfect so my family would feel that I was worth saving. Well, there was so much at stake with learning anything in school! I completely missed out on the fun of learning and only reclaimed this aspect of life in my mid-twenties. For example, for one solid hour in my therapy session, I got to ask any and all questions I never got to ask (asking questions showed I was imperfect since I didn’t know the answer!) and marvel over some of the answers that, of course, immediately came to mind.

  4. Studying alternative medicine myself, it’s astonishing to me how many people have turned their backs on the allopathic system after being traumatized by the lack of humanity within western medicine. We so desperately need your insights in the world Wendy. They are as profound as they are timely, a perfect combination for success!

    • Thanks for your confidence, Liz. I remember a workshop at The Examined Life Conference at the Carver Medical School, University of Iowa where a doctor expressed his worry to the facilitator that their profession was losing so many to alternative healing. He basically told the group that we have to start doing our jobs better because the public is losing confidence in us. He wanted to serve people but, as you say, so many have “turned their backs on the allopathic system.” As you know, I hope to bring the ideas of alternative medicine into the allopathic system. When I doubt myself, I will remember your words.

  5. Wendy, it is with so much confidence and joy that I want to add my love and best wishes for luck and success as you embark on a new, exciting and much needed stage of your life.
    What you have already done, read, written, attended and networked about gives me great confidence that your new work will grow and meet a real if as yet largely hidden hunger and need.
    I heard somebody say recently on a TV program about hospital chaplaincy that doctors increasingly look after the “curing” (and hey, a better description might be “technical and chemical fixing”) – and leave all the other aspects of caring for the whole patient to the “allied professions”. While I can understand something of this attitude because of the pressure under which we all work and live, it is so short-sighted and self-defeating. It must be challenged, and people like you are indeed in the best position to led the charge!
    On the one hand we hear complaints and criticism from the Western medical world about the growing popularity of “alternative medicine”. Yet as I hear about it, it is the narrow training and thinking of our medical world that is largely responsible for so many people looking for something better. We want and need to be healed, not just “fixed up”!
    Science and technology can be wonderful servants (after all, we owe our lives to it), but they are horrible masters – or dare I say it, “gods”.

  6. What a thoughtful and generous comment. I love your description of the practice of those who “cure” as “technical and chemical fix[ers].” As one of my colleagues in this new endeavor, I count on your smart insights and advice. I am so proud and assured to be in such good company. As we walk together, our stories and our experiences will shore us up as they have for all these years. It’s so important that this tendency of doctors to focus on curing rather than practicing holistically change. Without healing, it’s impossible for a person to go forward. Often a cure comes at a cost whereas healing is priceless. A cure can be cheap whereas healing is something that has never ending value.

  7. Hi Wendy, you make a great point about PTSD in relation to learning abilities of students from the innercity. I am a student from the innercity and Im not sure what traumatic experience I may have suffered as a child but I have witnessed violence in its most rawest forms on the streets of Oakland Ca. I cannot make a connection to the violence I witnessed and my learning abilities just yet but I’m very interested in knowing how seeing homocides, crack addicts, and prostitution as a child has affected me as an adult.

    • Do a freewrite about it and reflect. You probably have a sense of how these things have affected you both as a child and as an adult. Freewriting allows one to get past the censor and access inner knowing. Each of us knows so much more than we give ourselves credit for.

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