The Hot Cocoa of Peace


I’m thoroughly enjoying a cup of cocoa made by an excellent friend, warmly mulling another cocoa and another excellent friend.

C and I met at the American school in Cairo, Egypt, in the mid-1970’s, and I share this story with her kind permission. I had just moved there and she had just come over from the German school, where she had spent her first five years of school. Her mother was English, a working artist, and her father was American — although his English accent seemed slightly stronger than his wife’s – teaching drama and English at the University.

C told me something which, in this era of rising intolerance and martial rage, gets more interesting all the time…

At the German school, they had cocoa with their morning break. At that time, at least, German children took their cocoa without sugar – more like coffee, really, but milkier and easier on the adrenals. But, every day at 10:30, one of the staff would bring out, on a little silver salver, a sugar bowl and a small spoon, just for the one child who was used to having her cocoa sweet.

It’s a simple story with a lot behind it.

This was less than 30 years after Germany had succumbed to two bitter defeats — an internal one, when they collectively gave in to a meme of hatred and intolerance; and an external one, where they were eventually crushed — despite superior technology and better training — in an epic war.

We lived in a country that had been one of the pivotal battle-grounds of that war. Think of Rommel, the Desert Fox, or google El Alamein.

This one child was the product of their two most bitter recent enemies.  And they were both nuns and teachers, second only to nurses in their capacity for passive-aggressiveness, suppressed rage and murder with a smile.

The way they handled it was this: they taught her the same, scolded her the same, cared for her the same, made accommodations as she learned the language but expected her to finish her homework — and, every day, brought sugar on a little silver salver just for her, so she could mix exactly the right amount of sweetness into her cocoa.

It could have been seen as coddling, and there’s no question that C enjoyed the little feeling of specialness. It could have been seen to spoil her. Instead, it was a demonstration of — well — not just tolerance, not just accommodation, but of real graciousness and decency, a touch of comfort in a foreign environment, and a tiny gift of autonomy inside the regimented life of a strict school.

As it turns out, it was a lesson well learned, because C has always been one of the most gracious and utterly decent people I’ve ever met, while being wholly individual.

She’s also the most adept amateur historian I’ve ever even heard of, one who shows the real sensitivity and love in the word “amateur.” Hard not to be, growing up in such a place, with parents grabbing at life with both hands, as hers did.

But it’s hard for me not to think of an intelligent, middle-aged Teuton with an excellent memory, bringing a little Anglo girl sugar on a salver, without any fuss… and wonder what that added to the mix.

I sit here, wreathed in gentle steam, and wonder what it would take to share my cocoa with all this anguished world. It would be a better place indeed.

And I’d be happy to bring sugar on a salver to anyone who likes it.

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Getting it right

H’mm… Struggling with the recurring message from the world around me that I can’t do this, I can’t cure this case of cold chronic CRPS. It’s twinned with the message that, whatever I’m doing, it’s wrong.

I’m not interested in whining, because, as my CRPS cohorts know, this nonsense is par for the course… but every now and then, it’s good to step back and do a reality check.Let’s take a good look at this thinking:

  • On the conventional medicine side, I walked into a new doctor’s office with my tabulated timeline of years of a complex case, pictures showing the evolution of the disease in this body, and documentation about what works and what doesn’t. The response: “You spend way too much time thinking about this!”

Don’t waste time trying to find any upside to that remark. It surprised me especially because most of my docs (the best in the biz) loved my documentation. Now I know that the really good doctors love it, and the ones who don’t love it are either one-trick ponies or second-rate. This one was a one-trick pony, and once he’d done his job, I was gone.

Let’s back up and pretend this guy asked,

  • “Wow, that’s a boatload of well-crafted, thoughtful documentation. Why did you go to so much apparent effort?”

I’d say, “I was a nurse so the concepts are easy, and I was a tech writer so the structure is even easier. This is a cakewalk for me. If I CAN’T document what’s going on, check for a pulse!

“Moreover,” I’d go on, assuming the doctor cared about my well-being, “tracking this stuff frees up my attention by letting me plonk it down in black & white and then put it out of my head. That leaves the rest of my time free for meditating, friends, bathing, housework, and so on.

“Besides,” I’d add, if the doctor looked like one who could take a joke, “most docs find this case hopelessly confusing, and I don’t need you wasting my time by asking the same questions 3 times and still getting it all wrong in the end, just like the one other doc who refused to look at this!” Ha ha.

Clinical note: Seriously, physicians, that’s how to handle an expert patient: Ask, then listen. Saves time.

  • The alt-health folks are liable to tell me, first, that I’m sick because I think the wrong thoughts; then, if they ask about my mental habits, it’s obviously because I eat toxic foods; if they want to get straightened out about that, “it’s clear, dear, that you’re too attached to this disease” and there’s nothing anyone can do to help. (Direct quote.)

My fellow CRPSers are thinking exactly the same things as me right now.

Besides the sheer cruelty of that response, the fact is that spontaneous total remission from CRPS after the first 3 years is even rarer than spontaneous remission in cancer or AIDS. I’ve heard of it happening once as late as 7 years; I’ve had it for roughly 10; average survival is 30 years after onset. If any of you has more optimistic data, I’d love to see it!

Here are some things I’ve learned about how what you think and what you do REALLY affect the course of your CRPS:

  • Those who stick exclusively with the conventional model and submit to their doctors without question, especially when they have noxious drug reactions (as I do), tend to suffer much and die young.
    That’s what happens when you’re a passive patient with a disease that few doctors understand.
  • Those who become well-informed and educate their doctors, have better results and do considerably better for much longer.
    That’s what happens when you open your eyes and take initiative regarding a very rare and complex disease.
  • Those who research and implement changes to diet and lifestyle most vigorously, have the best results from their care and use a lot less medication with much better results, higher function, and lower disability.
    That’s what happens when you shoulder real responsibility for what you do and how it affects your life.
  • Those who are active in the online communities, seeking support and providing support to others and sharing information, tend to beat the odds.
    That’s what happens when you constructively engage with your community.

I’m looking for something I’m not doing yet. I will figure it out, hunt it down and I will do it.

CRPS is an incredibly hard disease, in every conceivable way. Where there is any spontaneous remission at all, there is something to work with. I just haven’t figured out what yet.

Since I still have CRPS, I find those recurring messages a little intimidating. I  don’t yet have hard data to throw back against the key message.

I can see that, when others say I’m doing things wrong, the statements tend to be presumptuous and ill-informed — but the fact is, I still haven’t cured my own case of CRPS …YET.

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