Tuesday, June 22, 2021

The Sweetness of the Present (and Mulberries)

They bring me so much joy.

Sweetness of life embodied in a carefully designed package.

Providing caloric bliss on long runs in the Bosque.

Machinations each spring on how to harvest them better than the year before.

 

Mulberries!

Each spring, I am excited for the simple pleasure of these mini-blackberry creations. There is something deep in our genetic code about picking something right from the source and popping it into your mouth. Even more so when it grows wild and doesn’t need careful cultivation from us humans.

My cerebral cortex, in an area just adjacent to one filled with medical algorithms, has a clear map of all of the mulberry sources, with sticky notes about the nuances of each tree/bush bearing this fruit.

Tree on Campbell Rd, midway between Rio Grande Blvd and Bosque, south side of road – solid source of mulberries, early bloom, candidate for step-ladder approach with tarp underneath, as lowest branches are too high to reach from the ground. Great spot to visit with my kids for harvesting while on bike rides.

Bush at UNM Health Sciences Center, lower level plaza, southwest end of library – early harvest, great for access. Recently saw raccoon atop the bush which did make me wonder if I should keep gorging on the fruit. Still a solid source to explore each spring.

Recently, as I finished eating with my kids from a mulberry tree close to campus that may have the best fruit of them all, hands and mouth purple-stained, shoes dyed with splashes of berry juice, I thought greedily about taking some home.

Now, the one thing about the mulberry part of my brain is that memory and cognition are not quite operating the way they do in the adjacent “medical algorithms” section. So, I ignored what I knew from previous years and started stuffing the extra fruit in a makeshift mulberry bin.

We got home, and excited for a second serving, I reached into the bag to find a mushy mess. Even by taste, there just wasn’t that “bang” I remembered from plucking them from the tree hours earlier. Gone was the thrill of picking the berries with my kids in a game of who can get messiest. A big letdown, just like every year in the past.

Mulberries remind us of the beauty of the present.

They teach us to embrace life without needing to possess it.

Embrace the sweetness of each moment today.

When you come upon the mulberry moments of your travels, take a few deep breaths to appreciate it all. Listen to life at that moment. Feel your heart beating in joy. Leave your phone in your pocket – as with mulberries, hoarding more than one can eat at the source usually disappoints.

 


Friday, June 11, 2021

Something Else

 It might have seemed to the newsroom staff an innocuous choice of words.

CNN, in the heat of the 2020 Presidential election season, put up a poll listing racial groups.

In the Native American community, the idea of being “something else” hit a chord. A group of people who have struggled for recognition ever since Europeans’ arrival, “something else” was far more than a grammatical error, a semantic mis-step. It was another blow to a people treated for 500+ years as less-than, not good enough. (Link to local article on the response to the incident)


Indigenous creative minds got to work. There was a call for the Washington Football Team to be named the “Washington Something Elses”. You heard things like, “It’s a good day to be something else.”

I am honored to share an artistic response to this moment. Art as protest. Art as resilience. Art speaking what words cannot.

Mallery Quetawki is a friend, a colleague and an incredible artist from Zuni Pueblo. She shared this piece and her reflections on what was behind the art. Take in the art and let it speak to you for two minutes. Breathe it in. Soak it in. Hear its message. Then, take a look at Mallery’s own words.

Mallery, my sister, like all of your art, this piece is indeed…something else!!! Wow!!!

 


I sit here and think what my feelings were when I created the "Something Else" painting.  I was more amused that folks can still get away with marginalizing our communities even when our presences is ever so loud nowadays.  I felt that there needs to be a reminder of who lived, loved and died on the soils of America before it was America.  Just the idea that our identities and our tight knit societies are so romanticized like it only happens in the movies or when they talk about our people they say things like "were" or "was" in a past tense like we aren't living that way at all anymore, is what sparked the idea of utilizing technology, ancient art practices and a small amount of protest.  We may be assimilated to western society in material manners, education and social systems but we are still very much tied/entwined to the ancient way, which is something embedded in all our circuits and throughout our cells and helixes.  More of a warning shot that we are rising up and being louder and being just as educated as our colonizers that these "something elses" have power to add to the circuits of the American Machine. We are no longer standing idle but taking on endeavors that take us to places such as the Department of the Interior and taking seats and saving the open ones around us one Pendleton (blanket) at a time.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Pandemic Positives

I had a crazy thought. 

Each time I walked into a room to see a patient, I would ask them a question that would be more in line with this blog than with the usual “Where does it hurt?” and “What’s wrong with you?” taught in medical school.

Remember that the room” I was walking into was often a virtual room (seeing a patient via Zoom) or an audio room for a telephone visit. Occasionally a live human-to-human masked encounter.

Now, all crazy thoughts are best implemented with a co-conspirator. In this case, I enlisted a wonderful medical student Rachel Rose. For her, it was kind of a “wrong place at the wrong time” type of moment. For me, it was all I needed to turn the crazy thought into action.

The question: “What is a positive that has come for you and/or your family from the pandemic?”

Before any talk about labs, blood sugars or disease, Rachel and I asked our patients this simple question.

Here is what they told us, un-edited. A reminder for all of us, especially as the depths of the pandemic fade away, not to lose the precious lessons this last year has offered us.


The responses: 

I floss my teeth now. I actually have the time to floss.

Keeping in mind that 'this too shall pass'. This has been a test and a trial but I am a person of faith so I believe whatever is unhappy or uncomfortable, it is all going to be okay. We have been through something really big together. This can be an unifying event if we take it that way and look at that way.

I have more time to spent my nephews and great nephew. One of my nephews lives with me and he keeps me company. I have a lot of company.

Spending more time with my wife and helping her around the house. It was just me and her around the house. We have been married for years but I got to know her better and learn more about her. I learned more about what she needs and what she wants and she learned about me too. You could be married for 30 years but don't know much about one another until spending 24/7 together.

I get to spend much more time with my daughter than I did prior to the pandemic. 

I have been able to invest time into something I love, building a garage gym. I have also had the time to show my grandparents I truly love and care about them. Delivering groceries is a lot different than simply saying hello over the phone.

I have realized that I don't have to be rushing around. We can relax as a family and things will still get done. This has been a really good change for me and for our family.

The pandemic has given me the opportunity to put more time into my home and garden. 

I have not let the pandemic slow me down. I still give to others. I pick up food boxes from the food bank and give them out to my neighbors. I know some neighbors now that I didn’t know before the pandemic.

 

 

Monday, May 24, 2021

Life Lessons From Behind the Plate

 

I did not ask for the job.

In fact, I had successfully avoided it for years.

But here I was on a hot Thursday evening trying to fiddle and fuddle with the umpire’s gear.

I was about to call balls and strikes for my son’s little league game.

Yikes!

Nervously, like someone who doesn’t quite belong, I crept behind the catcher and assumed my position at home plate. I thought about what “umpire voice” I might create. I might have even smiled at the idea that behind the COVID and umpire face masks and fashionable shin guards, I could become whoever I wanted for the next two hours.

I could be a bully umpire with a booming voice. I could be the friendly umpire who gave free advice to all within shouting distance. “Kid, make the tag this way at home plate. And by the way, when you invest, it is important to diversify your assets.”

I might torment these elementary school pitchers with a strike zone so small it would lead to temper tantrums on the mound. Or the opposite – calling a strike zone so lenient the hitters would snarl at me as I called strikes on pitches in the dirt or over their heads.

But as reality snuck in, I actually tried to do what good umpires do – stay out of the way and approach invisibility.



Around the 3rd inning, still struggling to position my COVID and umpire facemasks, I noticed something interesting.

A perfect pitch came toward the plate. Down the middle, waist-high.

“Strike” I shouted in my best umpire voice.

I heard grumbles from batter and parents alike. These were noises of disgust, communicating something like, “Really, you called that a strike?”

I began to listen closer.

Every pitch, whether I called “ball” or “strike” and regardless of how clear the correct call was, there were those grumbles.

I quickly learned to silence this background noise, realizing there was no pitch where everyone was going to be happy with how I called it.

In a way, I wish life and work blatantly grumbled at everything I do as it did that day on the baseball diamond. It is quite liberating to know that you no longer live to please everyone around you. Behind home plate, it was clear that pleasing everyone was not possible.

And thus, even though I was there to “ump” while the little leaguers "played", now I was the one with the biggest smile of all. I might have even been the one having the most fun.

Now, if only I could get these two darn facemasks to stay on.

 

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Good Things Lie Ahead

I am guessing you have felt it.

Maybe you have participated or contributed to it.

Exuberant hope

Unmasked optimism

After a year of living in fear and isolation, bound and gagged, there is a loosening of the bonds. We struggle and wriggle to get free.

Relaxed restrictions, a return of sports and indoor dining. Whispers of live music and public swimming pools about to return. Travel without guilt.

All of it like a fresh breeze on a summer evening, a break from the day’s heat endured.

Enjoy it, brothers and sisters.

I think of a patient I saw yesterday in the clinic, where I am still only seeing about 30% of my patients in-person. In this case we got to some deeper things that were going on with the person’s health and in their life. These are the things that are never listed on the “reason for visit” in medicine. As I got up to leave the room, I paused and shared, “I don’t know that we would have dug this deep if this had been a phone visit.” They nodded in agreement.

Take this opportunity to connect with people. That same intentionality that has led us to protect each other over the last year now a chance to connect with one another. There is a lot there under the surface. 14 months-worth of stuff, to be exact.

I also know that this next stage will be hard for many of us. It will be guided by social science and a year of conditioning to be wary and fearful as much it will be guided by the science of COVID prevalence and vaccine rates.

There was a moment in our Running Medicine group a week ago where we dealt with very different feelings about getting the group of masked runners and walkers into a bigger circle. There was clearly not a consensus to form a larger group, and so we kept the circles separate and small. It was not a moment to cite stats on transmissibility of COVID. It was a chance to listen to each other and do what was most comfortable for everyone present. A week later, the bigger circle formed.

Just as we have done since last March, let’s respect each other’s space in these months ahead. Space to digest a new CDC or state update in very different ways. One might exclaim “We aren’t ready to do that yet” while their neighbor exclaims, “It’s about time.” Neither end of the spectrum right or wrong.

Enjoy this stage of the journey.

Connect with others.

Give space and grace for those around you.

Good things lie ahead.



 

 

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Petrichor Resplendence

Petrichor: a pleasant smell that accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather.The word is constructed from Greek petra, "rock", or petros, "stone", and īchōr, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology.

 

The rain fell on our dry, weary, sandy expanse

Filling rivers and roots with life’s flow

 

Once again, ichor of the gods gushing forth

Pouring hope into the acequias of our land and our minds

Deluge of renewal

Wellspring withering doubt and despair

 

How sweet is the smell!

Amazing has indeed graced us

We are found!

 

I asked a group their emotions when the rain fell after 3 month drought

Relief, the most common answer

One week earlier, same word used to describe our feeling from Floyd verdict

Both reminding us to push on

            push through (mud and muck and madness)

            pray do (our hands when rain they meet)



But first

Bathe in olfactory opulence

Squish hands and toes into the mud

We are found!

 


Wednesday, April 21, 2021

We can breathe again


We can breathe again,

brother of George gasps into the microphone

11 months after

9 horrific minutes left

1 body with breath no more

 

I shudder to think of where we would be today if “not quilty” bell had rung as usual.

How dangerously close we came to digging another grave, tombstone reading “Justice”.

 

Rejoice? No.

Relief? Yes.

 

Brown and black people

    lives

    bodies 

              still pinned to the ground

              oppression’s knee on their necks

              suffocating via more insidious violence (poverty, discrimination, disease)

              white supremacy in uniform

              offering us all lies (“it was addiction and poor health that killed him”) to distract

              from the crime being committed in front of our eyes, in the middle of the street.


Justice? No

A path toward healing? Maybe 




As part of  this week's piece, a song from one of my creative inspirations and someone I have been honored to mentor during his training as a physician. You I Am (aka Dr. Umar Malik) composed "Breathless" last summer, and I have wanted to find a way to share this as part of this blog for the last nine months. Now is the time. May it offer meaning and healing where you need them both.