Sunday, May 22, 2005

Review: Healing from the Heart

Healing from the Heart: A Leading Surgeon Combines Eastern and Western Traditions to Create the Medicine of the FutureThis book is by a leading heart surgeon at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. It discusses his life in embracing alternative medicine while coming from a hardnosed scientist background. Along the way he has developed some interesting and beneficial treatment modalities, brought in healers from many alternate healing paths, and judging from this book he has a wonderful and life filling story to tell.

He starts us with The Biology of an MI, that is, the MI is Myocardial Infarction, otherwise known as a Heart Attack. This event happens to a lot of us, and it is something which runs in my family. My father has had heart problems for a long time, including at least one heart attack. His father died from a heart attack, and all of his brothers had heart problems, including at least one who died from heart attacks. So let me say that I read this book with more than a little direct interest.

What got this hard-nosed scientist to work with alternative therapies? In part it was his patients, for there was a period where he had an unusual amount of interaction with them. See, many of his patients receive what's known as the Left Ventricular Assist Device or LVAD.

The LVAD takes over the blood pumping job from the left ventricle of the heart. The LVAD is inserted through open heart surgery, and involves stopping the heart, installing this bypass unit, and turning it on, and hoping the patients heart restarts. The LVAD is a mechanical way to extend life until a suitable heart for transplantation is available. Once a heart transplant is available, the patient comes back into surgery, undergoes another open heart surgery, this time to cut out their old heart and replace it with a new one. In-between those two surgeries, the LVAD patients are hooked to this machine which keeps them alive.

For a long time LVAD patients remained in the hospital in a special wing where they await their turn for a heart transplant. The wait is several months long, and so over time the patients get to know one another in great detail. Hence, the doctors and staff also have long term exposure to their patients and families. One thing this community showed him is the value of human connection in bringing about healing.

You can bring all the technology to bear, and still not heal. That is what Dr. Oz seems to have learned, and expresses through the many heart-filled stories in his book. The healing for Dr. Oz seems to be true connection with his patients, in a way that's very different from the typical modern doctor who's madly rushing to see as many patients as s/he can to maximize billable hours. In the book is also story after story showing how the patients received a lot more than just the technical assist with surgery and gadgets like the LVAD.

For example, unbeknownst to him, one of his patients was a well known Jazz (?Blues?) player, who was under his care but dying of his heart condition. During the treatment of this musician, he went home and while driving heard on the radio a marathon of so-and-so's (his patient) music, with the DJ explaining to the audience so-and-so's condition and treatment. Dr. Oz had been stumped about how to help his patient, he knew that often patients need some help to find their will to live. In a flash of insight he knew, this patient needed to be hearing his own music. So, during the surgery, he brought in a walkman tape player, strapped headphones to the fellows ears, and proceeded with the surgery. That did the trick and turned a borderline patient who was likely to die, into a success, who within 6 months was back in the clubs playing his music.

The stories go on and on, and not just of beautiful healing. For example, consider the plight of a hard-driving business man, suddenly finding himself in the hospital with a heart condition, and his wife won't even come to visit him. He had given his life to his business dealings, and had forsaken all human connection for those business dealings, and in the end had no will to live because everybody, including his wife, had abandoned him.

A highly recommended book if you wish to understand some of the wholesomeness of true healing.

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