The Sproggins

It burns me no end that my former GP headed off North to set up practice in a remote community--not because he shouldn't do that; I'm all in favour, although I miss him. But he handed his practice over to a couple of young male physicians straight out of university and very wet behind the ears. They're nice young sproggins, but they couple inexperience with the deep assurance of people who don't yet know what they've gotten into.

I am not their favourite patient. Like many young males, they really don't feel comfy with psychological or emotional issues, and my primary health concern is post-traumatic stress disorder, for which I need medication. This is the Big Thing that I've got to manage in the short and long term, with proper support and advice. I've learned enough about the disorder to manage it fairly well, and I've got expert support. I just need a doctor to write the prescriptions. I'm long past caring that the label on my collar says "mental illness"--hell, some of the nicest people I know have DSM IV diagnoses!--but the sproggins find me nervous-making. They'd rather I saw someone who knew something about this mental health stuff. That's one of my problems with them.

The other problem is more subtle. The sproggins have a particular view of physical health that they expect patients to adhere to: "making healthy lifestyle choices", for example. I should lose fifty pounds, get more aerobic exercise, eat cruciferous veggies--and if I don't take steps to guarantee my long-term health outcomes, then I am not a Good and Responsible Patient. Their job, they believe, is to guide and support me into courses that will prolong my life as long as possible, with as little pain or disability as possible.

But my view of things is rather different. For starters, I believe very firmly indeed in the Life to Come, so death isn't a particularly frightening affair for me, although, like everyone, I'd prefer a soft landing to a hard one. I know that PTSD is a permanent affair; I do get remissions, but I don't look for a cure in this life. The damage has been done, long since. And therefore making "healthy lifestyle choices" just isn't on my list of priorities--sorry, but that's just the way it is. I'd like to try to get this across to the sproggins, but I think they're just too young and too set in their ways, as the young so often are.

One of the many advantages of having been aged and well-tenderized by life is that you learn to accept people where they are, instead of where you want them to be. You don't try to mould them to fit what you think is the desirable shape; you let them and God decide where they should be and how they should grow. We all have to learn to give up trying to control others, either to get what we want from them or to turn them into what we want them to be. It's what all parents ultimately have to do with their kids (which is why raising teens is such hell)--to let go, even if they have to make their own mistakes, because ultimately they have to learn to make decisions for themselves.

It's one of the toughest calls in professional formation, and one of the greatest dangers to those who are in charge of that process: it becomes all too easy to start treating your students (or clients or whatever) like baby bonsai trees, to be expertly shaped and manipulated, instead of seeing them as human beings to be supported and loved--to try to control the process instead of giving them real support as they grow. I watched this happen last semester, in my husband's clinical pastoral education program: one of the supervisors "knew" what her students were supposed to turn into, and pressured them by commands, manipulation and sheer force of personality into trying to fit her mould. But it was like trying to stuff a size 8C foot into a 6AA glass slipper; it just doesn't work. All you end up with is shattered glass, blood, and gobbets of flesh all over the landscape.

Obviously this doesn't mean accepting it when someone really does go off the rails: we have the right to set boundaries, to define what we will and will not accept from others. That goes without saying. But just because we like chrysanthemums, we can't demand of peonies that they chrysanthesize for our benefit. (I know, I know: to quote Calvin and Hobbes, "Verbing weirds language.") Some write songs and some write symphonies, and some people can do both, and some can't do either. But you can't force a symphony out of a songwriter just by saying "I see you as a symphonist." That growth has to come from within the songwriter, and it has to come in God's good time, not yours, and it will depend largely on what the songwriter can manage--and that may depend on factors beyond anyone's control. It may be that you can support the songwriter through the symphonic process. But it may be that the good Lord wants that person to write songs, not symphonies, and who are we to argue with a God-given vocation?

It's far better to ask what others need instead of trying to give them what we think they should have, like the unhelpful lady in the Dorothy Parker quatrain "who gave them bread/ when all they asked were stones." What I'd like from my doctor is some real understanding of where I am, far more than any prescription for where I ought to be, however helpful the doctor is trying to be.

I know that my life, as it was and is, limits on what I can do and be: that's simple realism. The illusion that it's within my power to fulfil my dreams is one I lost a long time ago. It's God's will, not mine, that's going to be accomplished, and I have no problem with that. I am never going to be one of those fit, happy, well-to-do silver-haired seniors you see in the ads, and that's just fine with me too, because I see past those ads to something hugely richer and more joyous. I wish I could explain this to the medical sproggins, but I sense behind their shining eyes a stubborn med-school naiveté that I don't think I can budge, at least without expending more energy than I've got at the moment.

I've got an appointment in a few days with a middle-aged woman doctor in the city. Going back and forth will be a nuisance, I suppose, but it's worth it if she turns out to be someone I can work with, please God.

Copyright © 2001 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 29 Dec 2001
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