Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Mixed Messages

Okay, make sure you read the entire post on this one . . . 

Being gone from the office for a week creates a craziness coefficient of nightmare proportions that patiently awaits your return.  This week hasn't disappointed. Yesterday brought ridiculous numbers of ridiculous patients in the face of being short-staffed during Easter school break.  I was running behind and Tara grabbed me with a VERY serious look on her face.  One of my patients just got off the phone with the receptionist.  He was on a rampage and insisted that I call him back and nobody else. He told Sara that he was ready to call the Board of Medicine and report me because of 'inappropriate touching'. Now I've been taking care of this guy for about 10 years. He sees me for high blood pressure and Klinefelter's syndrome (characterized by low testosterone and psychosocial problems). He's always been a hot-head and high maintenance, but he's never pulled anything like this before. 

So I got on the phone and ask him what's up. He's very frustrated.  His insurance won't let him have his brand-name blood pressure medication (which works well) and he's been a week without it. He already called the office several times when I was out of town. My staff was supposed to call his insurance, explain that his medication can't be substituted and arrange for a formulary exception.  His pharmacy says we didn't do it. 

I had Tara pull the chart only to find the letter approving the medication already there--it's the pharmacy that has been dragging their feet.  I told him that we got the approval already and the problem was with the pharmacy. He apologized for getting so angry, and thanked me.  

But the whole 'inappropriate touching' thing was a very big stick in my craw. I've put up with his nonsense for years and was outraged that he'd make some crazy allegation like this. So I confronted him about the 'inappropriate touching' allegation he made to Sara. He said: "WHAT!!! I never said that. I said I thought it was inappropriate that the doctor didn't get in touch with me." There was a long pause and I said: "So we're good?"  He replied: "Yeah, we're good."

Everyone but Sara had very good laugh afterwards. She was mortified, and took some good-natured ribbing for the rest of the day (I just couldn't keep myself from finding a way to work the word inappropriate into my conversations with her). Happily she found the way to put this behind her and learn to laugh at herself.  Lesson learned the hard way! 

I guess if there was a take-home pearl for me it is this: the message we hear isn't always the same as the one we are givenVirtually everyone gets the details wrong from time to time, especially when we are busy or distracted. Finally, we probably have no idea how often we mix our messages and thereafter make decisions and choices based on incorrect information.  Garbage in . . . garbage out. 

Each day we wade through a cacophony of noise as we do our work and live our lives. In the midst of this the Holy Spirit struggles to catch our attention; frequently He is forced to leave a message. I wonder how often I mix up these messages. One of the great challenges in life is to hear and understand these messages clearly (here for David M. McConkie's great talk on this). Brigham Young called it a privilege and a duty, so we'd better get after it.
"If you want the mind and will of God ... , get it,it is just as much your privilege as of any other member of the Church and Kingdom of God. It is your privilege and duty to live so that you know when the word of the Lord is spoken to you and when the mind of the Lord is revealed to you. I say it is your duty to live so as to know and understand all these things" (President Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, 163).

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Balm of Gilead

In the OT, balm of Gilead had a great reputation for it's medicinal properties.  Balm of Gilead is an ointment made from resin extracted from plants that were plentiful in Gilead, the area east of the Jordan river. It was used to heal wounds, and treat other medical ailments.

Ironically, the writings of Jeremiah demonstrate the impotence of the famed balm of Gilead to heal those that seemed in the most need (Jeremiah 8:22; Jeremiah 46:11).  Why?  Even the best medicines do not cure us of sin, and cannot offer the kind of healing that ultimately makes us live.  That healing can only come from Christ's atonement. Perhaps nothing teaches this point better than the following old Negro Spiritual.

 There Is A Balm In Gilead
There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul.
Some times I feel discouraged,
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again.

There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul.

If you cannot sing like angels,
If you can’t preach like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus,
And say He died for all.

There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Just Going Outside

Captain Lawrence (Titus) Oates
17 March 1880 – 16 March 1912
Photographic Archive, Alexander Turnbull Library

On January 18, 1912, Titus Oates* and his 4 companions reached the South Pole only to find a short note in an abandoned tent with a bamboo pole flying the Norwegian flag.  Roald Amundsen's team had beat them to the pole by 35 days. 

Born to a wealthy family in London, Lawrence Edward Grace ("Titus") Oates enjoyed all the benefits of his family's nobility and influence.  He attended a preparatory school followed by Eton College and was commissioned as an officer in 1898.  He served in the 2nd Boer War where he had his femur shattered by a bullet. Twice when his besiegers called on him to surrender he defiantly shouted "we came to fight, not surrender." Though the wounded leg healed one inch shorter than the other, he recovered and went on to serve in Ireland, Egypt and India.  His military prowess earned him the nickname "Titus" after the infamous Roman General that sacked Jerusalem.

In 1910, Oates joined the ill-fated Terra Nova expedition of Robert Falcon Scott that was making an attempt to be the first to the South Pole. One can only imagine the disappointment of their 5-man team on seeing Amundsen's tent. Low on food and suffering the effects of injury, exposure and exhaustion, the men turned about for the homeward journey only to be engulfed in a terrible blizzard. Progresses was hampered by horrific conditions. Wind, snow and mid-day temperatures that rose to -40 degrees made traversing the glacier very hazardous. Refusing to leave any of his men behind, Scott's progress was slowed as they weakened. Edgar Evans died on Feb 17, 1912. Subsequently Titus Oates developed severe frostbite of his feet.

Robert Falcon Scott's journal records Oates' amazing selflessness:

—Friday, March 16 or Saturday 17–
Lost track of dates, but think the last correct. Tragedy all along the line. At lunch, the day before yesterday, poor Titus Oates said he couldn't go on; he proposed that we leave him in his sleeping-bag. That we could not do, and induced him to come on, on the afternoon march. In spite of its awful nature for him he struggled on and we made a few miles. At night he was worse and we knew the end had come. 

Should this be found I want these facts recorded. Oates' last thoughts were of his Mother, but immediately before he took pride in thinking that his regiment would be pleased with the bold way in which he met his death. We can testify to his bravery. He has borne intense suffering for weeks without complaint, and to the very last was able and willing to discuss outside subjects. He did not—would not—give up hope the very end. He was a brave soul. This was the end. He slept through the night before last, hoping not to wake; but he woke in the morning—yesterday. It was blowing a blizzard. He said ' I am just going outside and may be some time. ' He went out into the blizzard and we have not seen him since.

. . . We knew that poor Oates was walking to his death, but though we tried to dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman. We all hope to meet the end with a similar spirit, and assuredly the end is not far. 
A Very Gallant Gentleman
John Charles Dollman (1851-1934)
Titus Oates was one day short of his 32nd birthday when he sacrificed himself for his brothers. In spite of his sacrifice, Robert Scott, Henry Bowers and Edward Wilson perished two weeks later in an unremitting blizzard only 11 miles from food and fuel. One doesn't need to know many of the details of Titus Oates' life to recognize his greatness. It was his sort that the Lord spoke of when he said:
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13).

*I first read about Titus Oates a couple of years ago when I read Sir Ernest Shackleton's South, the story of another disastrous antarctic expedition in 1914-1917. Shackleton had been on one of Scott's earlier expeditions. The grit and endurance of these men is very inspiring and I'd strongly recommend the book (here Project Gutenberg download of South). You can also get the Journal of Robert Falcon Scott (here).

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Yiddioms for Yiddiots (or Yiddish for Mormons)

Vee geyts? The other night I attended a medical lecture given by an Israeli friend who now lives in LA. While we were chatting before the meeting, he asked me if I knew any Hebrew.  I said "No, but I do know a few Yiddish words, like k'vetch." His reply was "that's a very good word to know." It's proof positive that my post's are relevant . . . and valuable! I feel validated. 

It seems to be no small coincidence that my recent posts (here and here) got me so intrigued by Yiddish that it must seem like I'm moving my practice to the Borsht belt. In the process, I came across this glossary of Yiddish words by Alan Emrich and found it quite interesting. Who knew Yiddish words were so common in the English vernacular? I've supplemented Alan's list with selections from an even more exhaustive list of words and phrases (with pronunciations) at a fascinating website on Hebrew for Christians.

It takes a lot of chutzpah for a kolboynik goy like me to throw this stuff up on his blog and act like some kind of maven on Yiddish. In reality I know bupkis! But I've been a life-long fan of the Stooges and their shtik is loaded with yiddioms. That's got to be worth something.


A shaynem dank: “thank you very much”
Borsht belt: A term used by entertainers to describe hotels in the Catskill Mountains of New York State, with an almost entirely Jewish clientele, who are fond of borsht.
Bortchen: to grumble, growl, bellyache; to k'vetch
Boych: belly, especially a protuberant one
Boychik: A young boy (term of endearment).
Brech: vomit, barf
Bris: Circumcision.
Broygis: Being sullen, morose, quiet. Not on speaking terms; estranged.
Bubbe: Grandmother.
Bubbee: A friendly term for anybody you like.
Bubeleh: “Little grandmother”. Endearing term for anyone you like regardless of age.
Bupkis: Nothing. Something totally worthless. (Literally "Beans")
Chanukah: Also known as the "Festival of Lights," commemorates the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. Chanukah is celebrated for eight days during which one additional candle is added to the menorah on each night of the holiday.
Chutzpah: Brazenness, gall.
Cockamamie: Crazy; ludicrous
Drek: Human dung, feces, manure or excrement; inferior merchandise or work; insincere talk or excessive flattery
Farshlugginer: Refers to a mixed-up or shaken item. Generally indicates something of little or dubious value.
Feh!: Fooey, It stinks, It's no good.
Gelt: Money
Gevalt!: Heaven Forbid!  (Exclamatory in the extreme.)
Glick: Luck, piece of luck
Glitch: A minor malfunction:
Goy: Any person who is not Jewish
Goyeh: Gentile woman
Goyim: Group of non-Jewish persons
Ipish: Bad odor, stink
Kapporah: atonement; forgiveness; Scapegoat. Also: a catastrophe; a disaster.
(To) Kibbitz: To offer unsolicited advice as a spectator
Kibbitzer: Meddlesome spectator
Klutz: Ungraceful, awkward, clumsy person; bungler
K'nishes: Baked dumplings filled with potato, meat, liver or barley
Kolboynik: Rascally know-it-all
Kosher: Jewish dietary laws based on "cleanliness". Also referring to the legitimacy of a situation. "This plan doesn't seem kosher".
Kvell: to gush with pride; to rejoice
K'vetch: Whine, complain; whiner, a complainer
L'chei-im, le'chayim!: To life! (the traditional Jewish toast); To your health
Maven: expert; authority. often used sarcastically.
Mazel Tov: Good Luck (lit) Generally used to convey "congratulations".
Mentsh: A special man or person. One who can be respected.
Meshugeh: Crazy
Meshugeneh: Mad, crazy, insane female.
Meshugener: Mad, crazy, insane man
Mish mash: Combination, mess, hodgepodge:
Mitzvah: Good deed; a gift to help one in get started in their career or future
Moyel: Person (usually a rabbi) who performs circumcisions.
Nebbish: A nobody, simpleton, weakling, awkward person
Nosh: Eat, snack
Nudnik: Pesty nagger, nuisance, a bore, obnoxious person
Nudje: Annoying person, badgerer (Americanism)
Oy!!: Yiddish exclamation to denote disgust, pain, astonishment or rapture
Oy, gevald: Cry of anguish, suffering, frustration or for help
Oy, Vey!: Dear me! Expression of dismay or hurt
Phooey! fooey, pfui: Designates disbelief, distaste, contempt
Putz: Perjorative term for a nasty, petty, small-minded man; describing someone someone as being "a jerk."
Rabbi: Teacher
Rav: Rabbi, religious leader of the community
Reb: Mr., Rabbi; title given to a learned and respected man
Shikseh: Non-Jewish girl
Shiva: Mourning period of seven days observed by family and friends of deceased
Shlemiel: Clumsy bungler, an inept person, butter-fingered; dopey person
Shlep: Drag, carry or haul, particularly unnecessary things, parcels or baggage; to go somewhere unwillingly or where you may be unwanted
Shlimazel: Luckless person. Unlucky person; one with perpetual bad luck (it is said that the shlemiel spills the soup on the shlimazel!)
Shlub: A jerk; a foolish, stupid or unknowing person, second rate, inferior.
Shlump: Careless dresser, untidy person; as a verb, to idle or lounge around
Shmaltz: Grease or fat; (slang) flattery; to sweet talk, overly praise, dramatic
Shmaltzy: Sentimental, corny
Shmeer: The business; the whole works; to bribe, to coat like butter
Shmendrik: nincompoop; an inept or indifferent person; same as shlemiel
Shmoe: Naive person, easy to deceive; a goof (Americanism)
Shmooz: Chat, talk, flatter; to network
Shmuck:  Self-made fool; derisive term for a man
Shmuts: Dirt, slime
Shnook: A patsy, a sucker, a sap, easy-going, person easy to impose upon, gullible
Shnorrer: A beggar who makes pretensions to respectability; sponger, a parasite
Shnoz: nose
Shpiel: Play
Shtik: Piece, routine: a special bit of acting
(A) Shtunk: A guy who doesn't smell too good; a stink (bad odor) a lousy human
Shtup: Push, shove; vulgarism for fornication
Talmud: The complete treasury of Jewish law interpreting the Torah into livable law
Tchotchkes: Little playthings, gadgets, ornaments, bric-a-brac, toys; the kind of cheap trinkets you'd pick up for free as a promotion item at a booth in a Trade Show
Vat: what
Vee geyts?: How goes it? How are things? How's tricks?
Verklempt: Extremely emotional.  On the verge of tears. (See "Farklempt")
Vos iz?: What's the matter?
Yarmelkeh: Traditional Jewish skull cap, usually worn during prayers; worn at all times by observant Orthodox Jews.
Yenta: Gabby, talkative woman; female blabbermouth
Yom Kippur: Day of Atonement (the most holy of holy days of the Jewish calendar)
Zayde: grandfather

Thursday, March 7, 2013

To Kvetch or Kvell?

kvetch - /k(ə)veCH/ 
(from Yiddish)
A person who complains a great deal


Oy vey! My last post has me on a serious tangent thinking about the persona and stereotypical portrayal of the chronic kvetch. It's a cool word given that it's both a verb and a noun. Some have argued that it is also an art form (here for a funny video; here for the whole symposium). At the very least, it is learned behavior.  The determinants that create a kvetch are complex and include societal, cultural and family dynamics.

Given my penchant for scriptural analogies to the mundane, I’ve been looking for the kvetch in the scriptures. From the biblical perspective, chronic complaining may be likened to murmuring.  Both Hebrew (luwn - Strong's H3885; to grumble, complain or murmur) and Greek (goggyzō - Strong's G1111; to murmur, mutter or grumble or those who chronically complain) words translated as murmur in the Bible describe the kvetch. Though there are probably many examples of the kvetch in scripture, we really don’t need to look further than the second chapter of The Book of Mormon for a great case study.

Nephi’s family is the best-described family in The Book of Mormon, and it has more than it's share of complainers. Admittedly, they are cast in the light of murmurers rather than complainers, but the difference is merely semantic.  Laman & Lemuel,* Sariah** and even Lehi*** all had their moments of murmuring. Add to these the constant complaining of Nephi's in-laws**** and it is safe to assume that oy vey was a familiar refrain in the Lehite home.

It is also safe to say that the hardships and trials that Nephi went through were at least as difficult as those of Laman and Lemuel.  The Psalm of Nephi (2 Nephi 4:16-35) is one of the most beautiful passages in scripture, and gives great insights into some of Nephi's struggles. 

O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins . . . why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions? And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? 2 Nephi 4:17-19; 26-27

A common response to this kind of adversity would be to vigorously murmur and complain. It's certainly how Nephi's brothers generally responded. Yet Nephi does not kvetch, but rather he kvellsKvell is another Yiddish verb meaning 'to be extraordinarily pleased; to be bursting with pride.' Consider his Psalm again: 

I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep. He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh . . . Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation. 2 Nephi 4:19-21, 30

Where Laman and Lemuel are defined by the kvetch, Nephi is defined by the kvell. His life is that of one who kvells over the things the Lord has done for him. The perfect brightness of hope he taught was not just some idea, but the experience that defined who he was--in spite of all of his adversity. While many of those around him despaired and complained at every turn, Nephi miraculously finds the way to "raise kvell".  What a guy.
* Laman & Lemuel's murmuring: 1 Nephi 2:11-12; 3:5; 3:31; 4;4; 16:20; 17:17; 17:22; 17:49; 2 Nephi 1:26; 5:3-4
** Sariah's murmuring: 1 Nephi 5:2-3
*** Lehi's murmuring: 1 Nephi 16:20; 16:25
**** Murmuring of the in-laws: 1 Nephi 16:20, 16:35

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Oy Vey

Oy Vey!
I recently read a great article by Guy Winch, PhD  on how to deal with chronic complainers (here). It is a worthy read, given the prevalence of this challenging personality type in the work-a-day world. Though we all have days when we are pessimists, Dr. Winch reminds us that there's a big difference between a pessimist and a chronic complainer: 
Optimists see: A glass half full. Pessimists see: A glass half empty. Chronic complainers see: A glass that is slightly chipped holding water that isn't cold enough, probably because its tap water when I asked for bottled water and wait, there's a smudge on the rim too, which means the glass wasn't cleaned properly and now I'll probably end up with some kind of virus—why do these things always happen to me?!  
Dr. Winch could have easily added oy vey to the end of the last sentence. 

I have a sizable population of post-menopausal Jewish females in the practice and therefore know some medical Yiddish.  Oy vey is definitely a keeper phrase for anyone that has to regularly ask the fateful question: How are you feeling? Oy vey means "woe is me, ouch, or Oh No!" The old Hee-Haw sketch Gloom, Despair and Agony on Me (here) captures the essence of oy vey nicely for those completely unfamiliar with Yiddish idioms.

Oy comes from the Hebrew word 'owy (Strong's H188, oh! woe! or an expression of grief or despair) and vey from the Hebrew word 'abowy (Strong's H17, oh! woe! or an expression of pain).  There are many examples of woe in the scriptures, usually in the context of men suffering the consequences of sin. The word oy (translated as woe) is particularly common in the writings of Isaiah and Jeremiah (both prophets are famous for their GD&AOM motifs). 
Woe ['owy] is me for my hurt  my wound is grievous: but I said, Truly this is a grief, and I must bear it. (Jeremiah 10:19)
In his fatherly advice to his son, Solomon* needed both words to describe the consequences of overindulgence in wine, women and food:
Who hath woe ['owy]? who hath sorrow['abowy]? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? (Proverbs 23:29) 
But what about those that seem to find gloom, despair and personal agony at every turn? Oy vey! Dr. Winch continues:
Despite how difficult their constant complaints are for those around them, chronic complainers do not usually see themselves as negative people. Rather they perceive themselves as forever being on the losing end of things, as drawing the short straw on a daily basis. Therefore they see the world as being negative and themselves as merely responding appropriately to the annoying, aggravating or unfortunate circumstances of their lives
His article makes it clear that what complainer really wants is empathy and validation. They need someone to listen without dismissing them or trying to talk them out of their angst. This need will push even the most long-suffering saint to the limits of their patience.  But, if we truly aspire to Christian living, then it's something we should be willing to do.  

I believe that not only must we attempt to do it, but we can successfully do it. I've found a veritable balm of Gilead for those with a bad case of GD&AOM and oy vey oozing from every pore: "I'm sorry that happened to you. It must have been very difficult". It is amazing how quickly words to this effect can stop the complaining--especially if you are sincere (if not you must at least feign sincerity in a convincing manner).  If you don't believe it works, then try it.

In reality, our chronic complaining friends are heavy laden and come looking for empathy, validation and relief.  Though we may be helpful, a better source of solace and peace comes form Christ.
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. Alma 7:12
Ultimately, the extent to which the Savior is reflected in us will determine whether the complainer recognizes Christ as the source of the understanding and love they crave.

* some feel that Proverbs 22:17 - 23:34 may be some of the few verses in the Proverbs that were not authored by Solomon but rather by "the Wise Men".