Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

LESSONS FROM OUR OWN HISTORY

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

by Barry Jagoda

Reunions to celebrate the “good old days” are privileges of growing older. Three such emotional, memorable events have been experienced in April, 2017.

Joining 200 high school friends and acquaintances brought back warm memories of growing up in the suburbs of Houston 50 years ago.

Then, after 40 years, getting back with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter—in Atlanta and in Plains—reminded one of the power of the ideas, the moderation and the passion that enabled the election of the 39th President of the United States in 1976.

And a 50th reunion of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University marked a passage back to 1966-1967 underscoring what had helped turn a young Texan into a reporter—a professional journalist–with commitments to keeping an eye on government.

___________

As the poet John Dunne wrote, “Make new friends, but keep the old—for these are silver and those are gold.” Friendships and bonds of attachment characterize these reunion meetings. As one participant, viewing a photograph from our adolescence, wrote, “We could not possibly have been that young but now it is impossible that we are that old.”

As one survives into an eighth decade a wise friend from earlier times now writes, “Health is Everything,” appreciated less if one currently suffers from no debilitating illness.   And, the half-joking admonition from another half-century long pal, “If you do get sick make sure it is something they can fix,” becomes more real as one ages into the 70s and beyond.

The luckiest among us may be those who still have meaningful family connections—children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. A very few still have a living parent. At some time in the growing up process we leave childhood homes, with their rules and their unconditional love. We develop our own set of values and new aspirations. And now, looking back over the decades, pictures of “what formed us” become clearer.

Neuroscientists and others puzzle over the competing claims of nurture and nature—our genetic inheritance and our lived life experiences. But in the lingering last years of life one sees overlap, the near impossibility of sorting out just what came along with our embryos versus what we have learned over the ages. Curiously, though, as a wise friend jokes, “At age 30 I thought I knew all the answers but now, at 70, I realize how very little I know.” This charming comment is not necessarily true: A wonderful discovery of older age is to find new old mistakes to correct, new life-lessons that can still be gained.

A goal of life, as expressed by psychologist Abraham H. Maslow, is to become “self-actualized,” to be dependent on one’s inner life for meaning, perhaps the opposite of David Riesman’s “other-directed” personality. But none can deny the deep benefits of the power of “significant others,” who have come into our lives and—with luck—are still there, in real life or influencing us from the grave.

It is perhaps at night as one tumbles off to sleep that there is best the realization of how fortunate one might be to have another with whom one might share the slings and arrows—as well as the ice cream—of being human. But life lessons are still there to be had: An art gallery curator’s recent comment helps put this into perspective with a summing up of culture that transcends, yet also populates: Asked the meaning of art, the gallery expert explains, “Art fills the soul.” And, “Where is the soul?,” asks the skeptical journalist. “The soul is where love and joy reside,” says the wise professional.

Another approach to the soul is often associated with teachings from the various religions. Listen to the Ten Commandments or understand the urgency of the teachings of the Islamic Prophet. Knowing that such creation stories are all about us, hard to miss, one can fall back, perhaps, on the Golden Rule, dealing with others as one would hope to be treated.

For a secular individual—having no belief in a deity—there is the additional challenge of sorting through ideas inherited from the centuries to find one’s own values, ethics, moral principles. And herein is a great virtue of being a mere human being. It is said that we each have primitive brains, derived intellectually from the Darwinian tradition. Our rational faculties are even taken over by these earlier constructs which try to focus us. As this understanding may be true, the human challenge is shown to be even more difficult.

Finding decency is a quest not to be undervalued. But for an older human the chance for a second look—a glance back—makes a reunion another chance to mull over what has come before. One might revel in the good fortunes but not forget what may have gone wrong. Perhaps too late for much change but at least having history’s lessons for intellectual satisfaction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Compelling San Diego Musical Theatre’s “Next to Normal” Illuminates Mental Illness

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

By Barry Jagoda

Frequent patrons of San Diego Musical Theater are in for a shocking change from the company’s fare of light Broadway-style musicals when they have the intense experience of the current production, “Next to Normal,” which opened last night (September 27) and runs through October 12 at the North Park Theatre.

This is an extremely well-written and well-produced play, recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in 2010 and, in 2009, a collection of “Tony’s” for its Broadway run that year.  Although it must be said that the story has its depressing moments there are also many uplifting scenes and educational lessons.

Though the producers like to refer to their production as a “rock musical,” in truth it is a searing look at mental health issues, particularly the painful and distressing bipolar disease, often referred to as manic-depression.  “Next to Normal” is very serious drama masquerading as rock theater.  The small live orchestra and the outstanding voices of the six cast members help to relieve the realities of the topic under examination—but agony also comes through in this fearless play.

 

The brilliant San Diego version is alternatingly painful and illuminating.  With a fine cast of six players and a live orchestra, also of six members, this is the story of one woman’s trauma and how deeply debilitating  bipolar disease is to her and for her family.  Perfectly played by Bets Malone as the mentally ill Mom, she goes though all the stages of medications and psychotherapy and electro-shock treatment.  The idea is to purge whatever bad memories triggered the illness while opening the patient to a mind that can be rebuilt with positive thoughts.

The audience was clearly moved by all this but not to be overlooked in the story is what could be called “collateral damage,” the enormous stress and unfathomable pain suffered by her loyal husband (very well portrayed by Robert J. Townsend) who promises to stay with her no matter what.  Also subject to agony is the couple’s teen-age daughter who has the normal adolescent adjustment problems vastly multiplied by being her mother’s daughter.

The story makes clear that the trauma began with the death of the couple’s eight-month boy, 16 years earlier.  But this demon persists, as the now imaginary son lingers on throughout the play, never far from Mom’s memory.  We are told by one of the psychiatrists that there is often a genetic disposition for bi-polar but the disease is often triggered by a traumatic event.  In “Next to Normal,” that turns out to be the dead infant who never leaves his mother’s psyche.

 

 

 

 

In our complex society of very rich, very poor and much in-between we do not often have a chance to get inside the skin of a corner homeless person or someone clearly acting “crazy.”  It is one of the many virtues of “Next to Normal,” that theater goers are forced to look deeply into the psyche of mental illness.  This production is wonderful drama and very public-spirited theater.

As a measure of commitment the producers have arranged for a charity sharing procedure and, in this case, the recipient is the International Bipolar Association.  For more information and to contribute to this highly deserving research organization access www.ibpf.org

 

HEALTH IS FOCUS IN LA JOLLA AS ATLANTIC MEETS PACIFIC

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

by Barry Jagoda

What a splendid initiative, the just concluded third annual  “Atlantic Meets the Pacific conference again co-produced by the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and the Atlantic Magazine set in the beautiful oceanside environment of La Jolla, California.  As in previous years the event this year, Oct 2-4, brought a very eager and attentive audience of about 300 to a series of interviews by Atlantic journalists who are tasked with coaxing useful ideas from leading scholars and researchers.

This process of bringing experts to present before a well-educated large number of paying guests ($495 for the event) worked very well in the past but was not quite as effective this year because the conference program focused in a much more detailed way on developments and potential in health and medical research where earlier such events zeroed in on more general topics more easily comprehended by non-specialists.

Still the line-up of highly regarded authors, discoverers, medical researchers and health care reformers produced gee-whiz moments.  Much of the useful information came in discussion on topics such as “Big Data, Big Disease:  Mining for Medical Breakthroughs,” which featured a heavy emphasis on use of new understandings from the genome leading toward potential thwarting of unsolved medical mysteries.  A significant portion of the conference was devoted to developments in cancer research, but on this and other topics the experts might well have talking to themselves as the conversation often seemed to require more background for any sort of useful audience take-away.

Many of the major academic and industry players could be seen around the conference venue.  Hard to miss, for example, was Ian Shakil of AUGMEDIX because he jumped right out of the crowd demonstrating the most intriguing “Google Glasses.”  Given an opportunity to test-run this amazing device, one quickly learned ease of operation and within less than a minute of wearing, as seen below, this writer was able to “shoot, record and playback” a video with the entire operation taking place us the glasses.  Google strikes again!

“Atlantic Meets the Pacific” came upon the splendid idea of dividing conference participants into small groups for tours of five of the many biotechnology labs that are ubiquitous in the area of San Diego’s La Jolla neighborhood.  Most of these world-class facilities were set-up in the area because of the strong programs in science at UCSD.  Though in the realm of ideas “location” is far less important than the potential for collaborations, Inter-institutional work is a hallmark of the region and the conference planners have been very wise to set-up this annual meeting at La Jolla’s Pacific Ocean.

There was clearly a consensus of appreciation expressed by Conference attendees for a superbly organized program and flawless management of logistics including transportation and good food.  And, even for a generalist journalist, there was much food for thought.