Posted in living with chronic illness, Living with Illness, Spirituality and Health, Storytelling

Hildegard of Bingen in God’s Hotel

Prior to moving to Colorado I lived in the Bay Area for fourteen years.  I’ve been involved with health and healing since I started graduate school and that’s where my heart still resides.  I moved to the Bay Area from the east coast in 1986 at what would become the AIDS crisis at a time when medications weren’t very effective and people were dying all the time.

I’d met a woman who was a doctor at Laguna Honda Hospital.  It was a very old building and was considered an almshouse, a place for those who were poor and very sick.  For many, it became San Francisco’s AIDS hospital/hospice with its looming old structure tucked away, almost like a haunted mansion.  I always wondered about Laguna Honda, but never delved into its mysteries.

Then I ran across Victoria Sweet’s book, God’s Hotel.  She’s a doctor at Laguna Honda Hospital and has been for more than twenty years.  I could go on and on about the hospital, but it’s Dr. Sweet’s attraction to Hildegard of Bingen that caught my attention.

Hildegard of Bingen was a nun, mystic, medical provider who lived in the 12th century.  Dr. Sweet, after years of medical school and training went and received her PhD in history and social medicine focusing on the work of Hildegard of Bingen.  What Dr. Sweet shares is Bingen’s philosophy about the prescription of time when it comes to treating a patient.  She also comments on how Bingen’s triumvirate of care, Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet, and Dr. Merry were methods of treatment not just comic relief as we might believe today.

Dr. Sweet’s devotion to invoking the essence of time into her treatment plans, as much as she was allowed in modern medicine is a tribute to her knowledge of Hildegard of Bingen’s methodologies, and her believe in the human body and the human spirit in healing.

One of the beautiful aspects of “God’s Hotel” is how Dr. Sweet describes her personal pilgrimage.  In addition to walking the Santiago de Compostela, she discusses her personal pilgrimages experiences by her interactions with staff and patients at Laguna Honda.

So what do you think about Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet, and Dr. Merry?  In case you’re wondering it’s about diet, rest, and joy.  The book is a great read not only for the history of Laguna Honda Hospital, but for the incredible devotion Victoria Sweet takes us on both personally and professionally.  She’s the type of doctor we all wish we had.

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Emotional Health, Having a Voice, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

Negotiating with Your Illness

Throughout our lives we all come up with ways of coping with stress.  Over time as our stressors increase we may have to devise new and improved methods of coping.  I can’t think of anything more stressful than receiving a chronic or life-threatening illness diagnosis.  This is the time to call out the big guns…don’t be shy, get creative.

One of the most creative strategies came from a man in one of my support groups.  “V” was HIV+ and had an AIDS diagnosis yet his health was reasonably good.  He came to group a lot less consumed by his illness than some of his other group members so I decided to ask what strategy was he using to minimize the impact of stress on the body.  His strategy involved negotiation.

He explained that the virus was feeding off his cells.  If he died the virus would die.  The negotiation was that if the virus let him live they could find a way to co-habitate.  This may seem outrageous but for “V” it was a win-win situation.   He felt in control of his life and the choices regarding treatment.  He was on a maintenance schedule of treatment, he wasn’t getting better and he wasn’t getting worse.

The inner dialogue empowered him.  He felt that this inner agreement would allow him to move forward in his life without having to always live defensively.  The illness wasn’t his enemy…trust me, they weren’t friends either, but they found a middle ground of co-existence.

The dialogue  was ongoing.  They, “V” and the virus would have regular pow wows to discuss the state of both their lives.  The visualization/dialogue process seemed to work for both, not the virus spoke to the world, but they had their own secret language.

What types of coping mechanisms are you developing on your journey to wellness?  Why reinvent the wheel, share so others can gain from your experience.