DEATH BY EMOTION (PART 1)
Tim Johnson had been one of my patients since I’d started practice in Bryson City. He had been a soldier, and since leaving military service he’d been unable to let go of a massive, seething pot of anger about the Vietnam War that churned deep in his soul.
At several past appointments I had gently confronted Tim about his anger. He recognized that he had trouble losing his temper, but he wasn’t willing to invest the time to seek counseling for anger management, or even to do a bit of journaling.
One day he came to the office with an injured hand. I looked at the X-rays with Helen.
“Boxer’s fracture?” she asked.
“Yep,” I replied as I looked at the strangely angulated fracture of the end of the fifth metacarpal—the bone in the hand just proximal to the little finger.
“Usually caused by punching something, isn’t it?”
Helen looked askance at me. “You’re Mr. Chatty today, aren’t you?”
I looked at Helen and smiled. “Yep.”
She smiled back. “Let’s go to work, Dr. Chatty Kathy.”
We walked into the procedure room. “Well, Tim, it’s broken.
What did you hit?”
Tim blushed and held his head down. “A wall.”
“How’s the wall doing?”
Tim looked up and smiled.
I went to work, first numbing the fracture site with an injection of lidocaine and then setting the fracture and placing the hand in a plaster cast. After Helen took the follow-up X-rays and we saw the fracture was adequately reduced, I had a brief talk with Tim. I gave him cast care instructions and then asked if he had any questions.
“I do,” he replied. Quiet for a moment, he gathered his thoughts, then continued. “I guess I’m ready to take up your advice and begin dealing with my anger.”
“I think that would be a good idea. Loneliness and anger are two emotions that are more likely to ruin your health than almost any other. So I’m pleased you want to do something about it. It’ll be good for you—and your walls.”
“I’ll have Helen call Ed Dawson. He’s a terrific psychologist. His office is over on Deep Creek, and I think he’ll be a real help to you. But I still want you to do some of the journaling we talked about before.”
“Doc, I don’t know if I’m real comfortable writing about my war experiences.”
“Tim, I wouldn’t expect it to be comfortable—or easy. But I can almost guarantee you it’ll help in your healing.”
“I’m willing to try anything if it will help.”
I was looking forward to seeing if he would really follow my advice. If he would, healing would be possible. If not, the prospects were frightening for one simple reason: anger kills. And so does loneliness.
While Tim struggled with the emotional disease of anger, Anne Smith was plagued by other more silent killers—lonesomeness, isolation, and seclusion.
One evening Anne came to ER and was seen by Louise, who diagnosed her sore throat as strep throat. What was unusual this particular time was that Anne actually had something physically wrong with her.
Usually, in the case of a sore throat, especially if the patient was a local, Louise would call the on-call doctor, get an order for penicillin, and administer the injection. Maybe it was because I was so new to practice, or maybe it was the way I was trained, but I was not comfortable not seeing each patient myself—which Louise took as an affront to her professional competence. Nevertheless, after Louise called, I walked over to ER to see Anne, much to Louise’s consternation.
I came to know Anne, a dull and dreary fifty-nine-year-old woman, through her frequent ER visits. She seemed to take a liking to the younger doctors in town, and after a while she would only come to ER when Rick, Ray, or I was on call—since we were the only docs who would actually come into ER to see her. I learned that Anne and her husband moved around a great deal during his long Army career, raised five children, and reveled in their close-knit family life. But the kids grew up and left home to start their own families. Then Anne’s husband died unexpectedly at the age of fifty-one. And Anne, instead of finding purpose and enjoyment in her new life, retreated into loneliness. Instead of finding new friends and rewarding vistas, she segregated herself from any of their former friends.
Anne had a strong religious faith but adamantly refused to go to church or to be involved in any other relationships. Instead of making new friends or volunteering her many skills and personal charms in service to church or community, she choose day after sad day to spend most of her time alone—pining for her past losses.
Anne usually came to ER complaining about not feeling well, and she would often complain that she was not long for this world. Her medical checkups almost always indicated a normal degree of physical health for her age. Louise thought it best that the doctors not come visit her in ER, as she felt that only encouraged Anne.
But I both felt sorry for her and enjoyed seeing her. She easily could have had another thirty or forty years of vibrant life ahead of her—if only she would have chosen that option! But instead of choosing to live, she was, although I didn’t recognize it at the time, choosing to die—a slow, lonely, and emotionally painful death.
Her children, as was appropriate and healthy, had moved on with their own spouses and loved ones. Anne, unfortunately, was stuck in the past—and stuck there alone. It was slowly killing her—but neither she nor I saw it coming.
TO BE CONTINUED
PAST STORIES FROM BRYSON CITY TALES
- The Murder (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- The Arrival (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Hemlock Inn (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Grand Tour (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Interview (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- Settling In (Part 1); (Part 2)
- First-Day Jitters (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Emergency (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Delivery (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The “Expert” (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Trial (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Shiitake Sam (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Wet Behind the Ears (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- Lessons in Daily Practice (Part 1) — Anal Angina; (Part 2); (Part 3); (Part 4)
- White Lies
- The Epiphany (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Becoming Part of the Team (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Monuments (Part 1); (Part 2)
- My First Home Victory (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Fisher of Men (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Fly-Fishing (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Something Fishy (Part 1); (Part 2)
- A Good Day at the Office
- An Evening to Remember
- Another New Doc Comes to Town
- ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (Part 1); (Part 2)
- A Surprising Gift
- The New Year (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Home Birth (Part1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- The Showdown (Part1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- The Initiation (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- Home at Last (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
© Copyright WLL, INC. 2017. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.