Perspective and the Tripod Maneuver

Turret Arch – Arches National Park
August 2013
Perspective: A 180-degree view of Turret Arch and the adjacent Windows Arches 
Arches National Park – August 2013

M is an eccentric 72 year old Russian lady that spent her life working as a stripper. She’s one of my favorite patients, and recently came to see me. She never had children and has lived alone for as long as I’ve known her. Many years ago she had pituitary surgery for a large tumor and now sees me for panhypopituitarism.  Let me assure you she is a gem of a person—far better than she is bad—former profession not-withstanding. But she lacks perspective.

With M, you never know what’s coming your way: she throws more curve-balls than an all-star pitcher. We had what I considered a pretty successful visit. Her labs were great and her meds stable. I was reaching for the door and about to walk out of the room when she said “Doctor, there’s one thing that has me worried”.  When I turned to discuss things further, she abruptly stood up in front of me, straightened both her legs and bent over at the waist and placed both her palms flat on the floor.  I was impressed by her dexterity. To my amazement, she then raised her right leg straight up in the air with her heel at the level of my head–and held it. I was absolutely dumbfounded. 
When she finished her ‘tripod maneuver’ and stood up, her face was beet-red and her neck veins bulging like someone had just tried to choke her out.  She looked me in the eyes and in all seriousness asked “What’s wrong with me? Why is this [her red face] happening?” 
How do you politely tell someone that they are old, when, in their head they still feel like they are still in their prime?  How do you persuade someone that it isn’t the end of the world when they realize their body is in a state of slow deterioration? Though it would have been easy to say, ‘you’re not a spring chicken anymore’, it was not the answer. I really didn’t have one for her then, but as I think back on the incident now, I’m increasingly convinced it’s about perspective.
“Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live for ever, and this must be either true or false. Now there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had ether bother a out very seriously if I am going to live for ever.” C. S. Lewis
Proper perspective about the immortality of man, and our capacity for eternal life does wonders for the disappointments and frustrations that accompany each passing year. Without the perspective that C. S. Lewis masterfully captures, life can degrade into a lament about diminishing capacity and progressive decline.  And that is where M is at right now. She has always been hyper-vigilant about her body, partly because of her medical history, partly because of her trade. In spite of this vigilance, she IS getting old. Sadly, everyone seems to know it but her.  She has become my modern-day Ugly Duchess.
My recent trip to Arches struck me with how very old the Earth is.  Our mortal life comes and goes faster than the wink of an eye on a geological scale. Though the experience could have left me feeling small, insignificant, and defeated, my perspective left me with a profound sense of gratitude for and understanding of the eternal and divine nature of man. Perspective is power. When M comes in next time, I think I’ll have better answers for her.

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