Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Warm Light

By Richard P. Holm MD

A man more than 90 years of age came into my office one day following a spell in the hospital for severe pneumonia. While I was examining him, he stopped me, looked into my eyes, and said, "I need to tell you that I think I died one night when I was so sick. Then I came back." 

He spoke about a scroll unrolling rapidly before his eyes, re-running all the experiences of his life. Then he found himself walking through a meadow beside a large lake, towards a warm light, along with others coming from somewhere else, all walking in the same direction. The comforting warm light then told him was not ready, and shortly after that he woke up in the hospital as his fever broke.

I have heard similar stories several times in the thirty-five years since I started interacting with patients. It's been interesting and reassuring that the people who have had these "life after death" experiences often have talked about losing their fear of dying after the experience.

What happens to the soul after death is the great mystery about which all religions seem to turn. In this way they give important support to people as we struggle and suffer in this often tough world. 

I should add that, in my opinion, differences in religion or belief systems, about what happens after death, should not be used to separate people. Rather, I believe such questions should help draw us together as human beings. 

I see it as an honor that my job as a physician often brings me to be there at the bedside of a dying person, when the spirit lifts up from the body, and passes to another place. So it happened with my ancestors before me, and so it shall be when my turn comes to walk toward a warm light.

Blizzard On the Journey Home

By Richard P. Holm MD

This last month while driving home from a distant city after holiday feasting with family, we ran into a blizzard. Intermittently the powerful wind and new snow would explode between passing shelterbelts, other vehicles, and especially big trucks. Suddenly all vision of what was before us would be gone. 

The idea of coming to a stop during such blinding snow was not an option, as moving vehicles were coming upon us from behind. So we pressed on as carefully as we could, white knuckled, leaning forward, staring hard out onto a here-and-gone-and-here-again prairie highway, until we finally arrived home safe.

Being able to see what is in front of us is one thing most take for granted. But this will change for many as aging occurs. It's one of those unhappy surprises about growing old that many will have to face.

If we don't lose our vision from a bottle-rocket, cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, or other condition, many will develop age-related macular degeneration. Although this type of vision loss only affects two percent of those over 50, it climbs to 30 percent in those over 75. It's like winter snow that turns into a blizzard as we get older.

The macula is the central element of the retina. It provides for that concentrated part of our eyesight necessary for threading a needle, painting the lips of the Mona Lisa, finding a lost button, or seeing excitement on the face of your grandchild as she discovers a new thing.

The prevention of this age related blindness comes with all the same things that would prevent premature aging, heart attacks, and stroke; namely regular exercise and the avoidance of smoking and sleep apnea. 

Other possible preventatives include eating oily fish and ground golden flax seed, taking regular vitamin D, and maybe special zinc and oil supplements. I hold mostly with the staying physically active and eating a balanced and perhaps fishy diet. 

Growing old has it's challenges, like coming home from a long wonderful trip, and finding oneself in the middle of a South Dakota blizzard.