When Open-Minded Doctor is not an Oxymoron (Part I)


Last week I told Dr. Nasri Ghaly that I was writing a book.  Teasingly, he asked, “Is about me?”

            “Not just about you,” I said, “but partly.  The part about you is called ‘To Interns in Search of a Role Model.’”

            He kept his eyes on the sites where he was sticking acupuncture needles into me, was silent a while and smiled a little, then he said complacently, “Is good.”

            I asked him if he’d had any students recently.

            Some time ago, Dr. Ghaly was appointed to an adjunct position on the staff of the State University of New York Upstate Medical University (honestly, that is it’s full name—SUNYUMU—pronounced Soony-yoomoo, also known as Upstate).  The country doctor is some kind of associate professor for alternative medicine.  Ever the realist, he thinks he was asked to join because the medical school was applying for a research grant and they needed his curriculum vitae (the high falutin’ medical version of the common man’s resume) to bolster their grant proposal.

            Students come tripping down the street to his office from the hospital five blocks away and he sticks them in the treatment room with me.  Whether he is trying to teach them something or to give me my just revenge is open to speculation.  Dr. Ghaly said that no, he hadn’t had any students recently because—and here we brokered the answer in our usual exchange of shrugs, partial phrases and sighs—they only come to him during a few short weeks at the end of the semester when they can take an elective.

            Dr. Ghaly went on to repeat part of a conversation he’d had recently that ended with his hope that the next generation of physicians would be more open-minded.

            What I have in common with my doctors—my father, Milton Woodlen, Ed.D.; Nasri Ghaly, M.D.; Steve Wechsler, D.O., and Paul Cohen, Ph.D.—is a belief in lifelong education.

            Paul reads voraciously, devouring books while on the treadmill in the morning.  He subscribes to multiple Internet services that provide articles on the newest developments in a variety of areas.  He is a sort of literary triage agent, taking in all the significant news and passing it on to his clients for their consideration.  Does this fit?  Is this relevant?  Can you learn anything here?  Follow up on it.  It is knowledge—pass it on.

            He went to summer hypnotherapy camp, came home and hypnotized everything in sight—his kids, the office manager, the dog, the houseplants.  If it stood still long enough, he’d try to put it in a trance.  A couple years later, it was Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

            Paul takes these things and fully integrates them, not only into his practice but also into his evolving understanding of—as he so often likes to quote Douglas Adams—“Life, the Universe and Everything.”  It is simply this:  Paul is interested in life, the universe and everything.  How does it work?  Where do things fit together?  Why is this happening?  Why, when you roll your eyes upward, sigh deeply, and lower your eyes, do you stop crying?

            Dr. Ghaly is also a voracious consumer of knowledge.  He goes to workshops all over the country all the time (preferring those in cities with major gambling casinos).  He will tell you it is because this is how he takes vacations as tax write-offs, but he comes back from these “vacations,” races into the treatment room and excitedly tells me what he’s learned.

He comes in carrying a syllabus and prescription pad:  “DHEA,” he says.  “It is hormone—I went to conference this weekend—DHEA goes to about eighty, then begins dropping.  They think you die when it hits zero.  We will check.”

“The study of sleep disorders,” he announces another time; “it started in psychiatry.”  And suddenly he is all hot to open his own sleep lab and reclaim the territory.  His patients are moody and depressed?  He will fix their sleep problems and they will feel better.

            He returns from a week’s absence to display a framed certificate and announce that it’s all about electrified magnets attached to the brain, and you can fix anything—insomnia, asthma, God knows what.  It sounds like a cockamamie concept to me but the framed certificate is from Harvard.  (To be continued)

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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