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Saturday, December 18, 2004

Dear Mr. Know it all

My four year old daughter doesn't like the dark too much. It's the monsters of course. As a father, I naturally protect her from the evil beasties in my repose. It must be my snoring I think. It's usually at midnight that I feel jostling in my bed, and two little feet planted firmly in my ribs. I make space, but the the feet follow. Soon, I am scrunched into a space 2 feet by 5 feet square, with my arms wrapped tighter about me than King Tut. This I do not recommend, unless of course you are preparing yourself to be interred for a few thousand years or so.

One morning, following a strenuous night of monster protection, I unraveled my appendages for a new day. Strange thing though, one of them didn't quite work. My arm from my elbow to my little pinkie was asleep, and it didn't want to wake up! Hoisting, stretching, immobilizing, or just ignoring it didn't work. Day after day, nothing changed. Part of me was disconnected, and if you count my wife's notion that my brain has a few wires loose, this did not bode well for a fellow whose body was out of warranty. So I decided to see an expert, good old Dr. Rory, our family physician. I thought to myself, what would he know? This was a job for an orthopedist, a neurologist, or shudder, a psychiatrist.

So when the diminutive doctor, bright eyed and impish like a leprechaun entered the observation room, my complaint was received with a conk on my head. No neurological problem there, he smiled, as I voiced no complaint. A flurry of other questions followed as he examined and pinched my arm. Ruling out brain tumors, heart disease, and wishful thinking of the psychosomatic sort, he diagnosed a pinched nerve, prescribed an elbow brace to purchase at the local drug store, and was told to come back in month if it got worse.

In a month I was cured, thank goodness. That's the great thing about general practitioners, they know just enough about the related disciplines of medicine, from neurology to epidemiology to know what makes us tick, and that waiting generally makes it all right, at least most of the time.

As I turn my attention from the physiological to the psychological, a little known secret, known mainly to psychological epidemiologists who investigate such things, is that the blues, worries, problems, and assorted mental funk that we experience pass in time, or at least ninety nine percent of the time, yet we can still be assuaged in our misery by the gentle counsel of a loved one, or else the school of hard knocks. In the meantime we have psychologists, who proverbially knock you on the head, and like the good doctor Rory, ask lots of questions, and unlike Dr. Rory, ask you to come back many times, while you wait for things to get better.

But unlike Dr. Rory, a psychologist does not need to know about epidemiology, or physiology, or even how brains really work. Since its all in our head, or metaphorically in our head, psychologists respond in kind with metaphors, and make dangling self esteem sound as real as a dangling arm. The point is, there are only so many ways you can describe an arm in peril, but for the mind, the lexicon is infinite. So psychologists invent a Babel of names, classifications, and terms, and take credit (or more accurately, credit cards) for their linguistic wisdom as they wait those few weeks that in due course, will make us right again. But I am not sure if Dr. Rory would approve.

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