05 Oct


Today I had the pleasure of reading a post by a fellow EBTS member. The post discussed frustrations she had with her Neurosurgeon. This post generated much response, and garnered many replies. I must admit that my initial emotion was frustration…frustration with the minimization by this Neurosurgeon, frustration with the lack of the ability of this clinician to portray his thoughts, and empathy for her frustration in dealing with this condition. I will share her post with you below:

Errrrgh. . .another visit to my (neuro) Ophthalmologist yesterday. Third one in the last 6 months. Lovely man except for one thing. His need to assure me that I am very fortunate that I do not have a malignant tumor, that I shouldn’t really use the term tumor because that sounds more frightening than what it actually is, and that really all “it” is, is a growth and you can get growths anywhere! Then he says we are just keeping an eye on this because of the proximity of it to the brainstem. . .I am a watch and wait. My Epidermoid is around my brain stem causing many symptoms which I am treated for. Three surgeons have said they do not want to operate because the risks of permanent damage currently outweigh the symptoms I live with at this time. I am fine with that! But what I don’t get is why so many medical professionals downplay the Epidermoid like its nothing to fuss about and don’t call it a tumor. . .sorry just feeling frustrated.

My frustration turned to anger with subsequent reads; anger that this brain tumor is being treated this way. Now that I have had time to reflect with a cooler head about my reaction, I’ve come to realize that the emotion, frustration, plays a major role in dealings with this condition.

To truly understand the topic of frustration, it’s necessary first to give you my definition of it. In my eyes frustration is a deep seeded emotion; this is in contrast to an annoyance. These terms are sometimes mistakenly used interchangeably.
frustrationWhile someone taking the last parking space in front of you may be a frustrating experience, I think of it more of an annoyance than a frustration. To me, living with a brain tumor inside your head and having your trusted physician trivialize the condition is frustrating.

I would be remiss if I mentioned frustration and did not interject my experience with the emotion: having been on the path to becoming an Attending physician (in medicine, there is a hierarchy to becoming a physician: this hierarchy is ordered medical student, resident physician, and attending physician. I was diagnosed with this brain tumor near the end of my residency). Then having this ‘path’ interrupted by the diagnosis of an Epidermoid Brain Tumor, becoming physically disabled overnight (as I once explained to my friend) has put me through many frustrations. These frustrations varied from fumbling with paper straw covers, to being viewed as incompetent by patients due to my poor physical and verbal ability.

The key to dealing with these frustrations is to focus instead on the positive and not to dwell on the negative. In my case, if I were to contemplate all of the frustrating factors that accompany my condition, I would no doubt spiral into a crippling depression. In fact, many around me have said, “Chris, if I were in your shoes I would become depressed.”  A number of psychological and psychiatric professionals routinely screen me for depression, asking about my sleep and appetite and general mood. My wife, worried about my mental state, once told me, “If you keep bottling up your frustrations, there will come a time when it all boils over and spills out.”  My response was that I was not ‘bottling up’ or ‘ignoring’ these frustrations; I instead chose to focus on aspects of my condition that did not frustrate me, and actually brought me hope.

I am not a daily meditator, but you are taught to try and ‘clear your mind’ when you meditate. “What are you seeing when you close your eyes [to meditate]?” my father, an avid and expert meditator once asked me (at the time I was trying to leech off his knowledge with meditation). At first, my response was that I would try and picture a tranquil mountaintop. (I was impressed with my answer and thought it was a clever way to clear my mind). My father’s response surprised me, “Mountaintops are something, remember you’re trying to clear you mind. Try instead to imagine a clear blue sky.”  Furthermore, he taught me that thoughts may manifest as clouds coming through this sky. “Do not ignore these clouds,” he told me, “instead it’s important that you acknowledge them, but then let them pass.”  He went on, “as you become more adept at meditation, these clouds will appear less and less.”  What does this have to do with frustration? If you think of these frustrations as clouds that can only hurt you, then it’s important to acknowledge them but then to let them pass. In this case, yes there are people who minimize what you are going through, but remember that only you truly know what you are going through and that in the end, it does not matter what others say about your condition, what matters is how you let it affect you.