With the release of the new Batman movie tomorrow, I thought I just must tell about what happened two weeks ago when my son, Luke, visited my Mother with an odd
request-- and how that trip can teach you one of the most valuable lessons I know about health.
He had bought material (you can buy anything at Walmart) that
he thought would make a nice cape. He then asked my Mother to help him design the cape. When I took this photograph of the two of them after they completed the project, I did not consider what he could teach me about health.
We drove home with him wearing the cape. For the next few days, he wore that cape to bed, while reading, and pretty much around the clock. He even gave me a very detailed lecture about the versatility of the cape and how he intended to bring it back as a modern-day fashion article of clothing. I still missed the lesson he was teaching me about health.
A few days later, while leaving my office, I called home to ask my oldest son, Trey, to load up all three brothers and any friends around the house into his car and meet me at IHOP for supper.
I arrived before my sons. I took a booth and said hello to the waiter. Thinking about my day with a glass of water for company, I looked up to see the brothers and two friends walk into IHOP wearing capes. All of them (except the oldest who could not find a cape to fit). I didn't know we had that many capes at my house. It seems my youngest son had at least convinced his immediate circle that the cape needed to be reintroduced into the main stream.
Luke told me that as he walked into the restaurant he heard a child mention something about Batman, but that he thought batman was "lame." I asked why he was so inspired to wear a cape (with enough enthusiasm to infect brothers and friends) and he said that he got the idea while watching Beowulf and the recent movie about the Spartans holding off the Persians (click here to see a cape scene only if you are not disturbed by violence and if you want to see a cool cape).
Children know there is evil in the world. Children know there are battles to be fought and won. When I would read to my children when they were younger, I would read the original Grimm's Fairy Tales. In the original version, the evil is more evil (for example one of Cinderella's sisters cuts off her toes to make her food fit into the smaller shoe and the prince discovers he's been fooled when he see's the blood soak through the shoe). I think children want adults to acknowledge evil in the world. The scriptures are full of violence with heads being chopped off and people killed and tortured in most of it's books. What children and adults need is acknowledgement of evil (physical, disease, and emotional) and pain but to know that good can prevail and to be inspired to put on a cape, become a hero, and fight for a worthy cause--even when the battle is sure to be lost--because there is a larger plan that will make it right in the end.
While in my early teens, I watched the movie Spartacus (with Kirk Douglas) and then after reading about the Spartans and how they slept on the ground, I took a sleeping bag down stairs. I slept every night for the next year on a sleeping bag on the concrete basement floor with no mat beneath it.
So what can all of this teach us about health?
I've found that most of my really healthy patients wake up in the morning and put on a cape. It's usually not a physical cape, but still they put on a cape. Just like Sir Lancelot was a knight looking for a king worthy of his sword. All of us are looking for a cause worthy of our attention. When we find it, we then put on our cape, become heroic, and set out to do something.
I met with a patient recently from another town who is worth 9 figures (as in a billion). He has the trophy wife, the beautiful house, but he still works to do his chosen profession because he has a vision of how the world will be better because of what he is doing both in his profession and with the money he makes.
In short, he puts on his cape every morning. He also, NOT coincidentally, is one of the hardest training people I know when he goes to the gym. Why? Because he really is a super hero to many people and he knows that the longer he stays alive and the healthier he is, the more people will benefit.
He is very busy, works long hours, with many responsibilities and frequently makes the national news with what he accomplishes--but he is one of the most consistent people I know with his health practices (exercise and diet and supplements) because he realizes that he cannot do his job as well (when he puts on his cape) if he is not healthy and alive (as in not in the grave).
He has connected health with doing his work while wearing his cape.
Contrast this with most of the people who come to me for the first time having lost their health. If they are busy and accomplished and are trying to wear their cape but are telling themselves that time spent improving health takes away time from their work in the cape, then they will ignore their exercise, eat in unhealthy ways, and maybe even succumb to substance abuse. In this case, one of the first things I must do as a physician, is to help them see that they will be less effective in the cape if they do not take time to exercise and eat properly.
If they are trying to become healthy but are not putting on a cape every morning, then it's like they are like Sir Lancelot. They are trying to become fit and energized, but lacking a King (or cause) worthy of their sword, they just hang out by the bridge and sort of waste energy, wallow in melancholy, and challenge people to an occasional fight, and lose their motivation for health. They are lacking a cape.
When I worked in the emergency room, I made time to exercise because I thought the extra stamina helped me keep a clear and calm head when it was 2 a.m. and someone was bleeding and gasping to hold onto life in the bed before me. In the same way that Bobby Fisher would lift weights to give himself a mental edge in Chess, somehow, staying very fit seemed to give me a calming mental edge when in the heat of the emotional and intellectual battle of quickly diagnosing and treating someone during long days on my feet.
I do not, however, think that you must be in the national news or saving lives to put on the cape. To know more about how to find your cape in the morning, read the following book review that I wrote for Amazon:
About 29 years ago, as a teenager, while roaming the Birmingham Public Library, I picked up a worn copy of Victor Frankl's book about man's search for meaning. I vividly remember where I was standing, think I could almost go to the spot on the shelf where I found the book; I think the memory lives clearly because as I scanned through the book, I became haunted with the images that came from its pages and moved by the strength of which it testified. I sat down, read more, took the book home, and never forgot the lesson.
When I worked as a janitor in high school at a local gym, I tried to find meaning by framing my work as helping provide a wholesome environment for children. When I worked as a cook at Hardee's, I was helping keep families together by providing a convenient and affordable place to escape and relax. When I worked alone as a chemist on army contracts, I was helping preserve freedom. When I worked as an ER physician, the value of saving lives was plain but then the challenge was to find meaning in the suffering around me.
These examples (from my work life) show what I strove for; but the practical, every-day accomplishment of finding meaning in the pain, drudgery, and short-term injustice that swirls around me and everyone I know has not always been a task at which I've been successful. Sometimes, I left the gym nasty and tired and just angry at how inconsiderate people can be. Sometimes I left the ER angry and confused that innocent people came to me in pain and disease at no fault of their own: how do you hold responsible a child molested, a young mother killed by a drunk driver, the crying child with sickle cell disease, the gasping child with cystic fibrosis?
You don't hold them responsible. And as you wade through the pain of the ER working with nurses and technicians with their own problems, sometimes it feels as if the world is thick with pain and thin with meaning.
In looking for meaning in suffering, I've found some help in Boethius' book "Consolation of Philosophy," in William James' "Pragmatism," in Oswald Chambers' "The Christian Disciplines," in the scriptures of the Holy Bible and the Bagavad Gita as well as in Frankl's writings. This book by Dr. Pattakos belongs on the shelf with those books as a classic about how to find meaning instead of power or pleasure and then uncover joy in meaning.
I write this reverently with the awareness that I'm immature in these matters--I've looked into the face of a quadraplegic man, bed bound for over 20 years, and heard him talk eloquently about how his accident was good fortune because it brought him closer to GOD; I don't know if I could do that. I've had to tell the mother that her child didn't live and watched her accept the news with strength and peace. I've seen this and more and so know that some do find meaning in situations heavy with pain. This is the skill that this book teaches: the skill of finding peace and meaning and the resultant deep joy.
The model used by Dr. Pattakos is the working life: how to find meaning at work. Like swinging two bats before walking to the plate to swing one, Dr. Pattakos draws from Dr. Frankl's writings about severe pain and unbelievable injustice to develop a pattern for finding meaning in the often painful pathways at work. The exercises make practical the every-day application of finding meaning and so uncovering joy and effectiveness. Simple exercises that take only a few minutes help plant each chapter in the fiber of thought and peel back the dirty details to the core meaning of work. Practical, easy exercises to help develop a valuable skill of mind and soul.
My son, Luke, sitting between his friend and older brother, William--all wearing capes.
So, do I always feel like I have a cape on? No. Sometimes, I feel sort of beat up and like I'm hiding in my bat-cave. But, then that's not so bad. Even Christ would walk away from thousands of people pleading for his help, and drive away in a boat or go to a mountain to pray. But, with this attitude, rest is something you do after battle to get ready for the next round. Recreation is not meaningless--it is re-creation.
Once, a few years ago, when my children were younger, and I was trying to get dinner ready, and keep clothes washed, and house clean, and still be single-father and physician, I asked my Mother how she kept herself going when my sisters and I were young. She said, "When I felt tired, I would just stop and think of how much I loved the three of you."
Seems like a simple way to put on your cape.
Emerson said, "Give all to Love."
So, to be healthy:
1. Find your cape and remind yourself you cannot do your mission with your cape if you do not take time to do what you need to stay healthy.
2. To find what you will do when you wear your cape, ask yourself, "Who do I love and what must I do to take care of them."
For my mother, her apron was her cape and I was the mission of love.
For my billionaire friend, his business suit is his cape and thousands of people who need his services are his mission of love.
For me, the jacket I like to wear when I write is my cape or my physician's coat; and, the people who read my letters or books or who come into my officer or who will come into the offices of the physicians I will train are my mission of love.
A recent New England Journal Article motivated me recently to focus more on a particular problem. I'll be starting another class by phone and in my office for the help of people with type 2 diabetes. The guarantee will be to get you off your medications (with normal blood sugars) in 6 months or I will not keep your money. You can live in another state but you must be willing to travel to my office for a first visit before I can begin treatment (we would work together with your primary care physician close to your home).
I have become more convinced than ever that I need to put on my cape in this area after a recent New England Journal Article showed that our best treatment of diabetes with medications causes and increase in death and increased weight and no decrease in heart disease. The editorial in the New England Journal stressed the idea that physicians should be focusing more on life style changes.
Please DO NOT STOP your medications after reading the above articles. The problem with diabetes medication and trying to do a life-style change is that it can be very complicated and even dangerous without expert help. If you stop your medication without decreasing your food, then you get dangerously high blood sugar and can die. If you lower your food without lowering your medication, then you can get dangerously low blood sugar and die. So, you must lower food and medication simultaneously. If you combine this with increased exercise and manipulating other hormones that change the way insulin works (like testosterone and thyroid), many can come off all medications and have normal blood sugars within one to six months. I have proven this in my office over and over again for the past 8 years. The problem with doing this is that it is very labor intensive for me and for the patient (we usually talk on the phone every day for the first one to two weeks and then weekly after that). Also, it takes combining several proven therapies in a unique way that frankly i have never seen done as effectively as what happens in my office.
I plan on formalizing this program, proving with good data collection that it works and then teaching other physicians. If you know anyone who has type two diabetes (adult onset) that might benefit you should forward this email to them or ask them to send their name and email address to me at DrRunels@Runels.com.
I do a health lesson that comes out a few times a week (sometimes daily when schedule allows). If you are interested in reading the almost Daily Health Strategies then click here to find out how and why.