Olapeju Simoyan

Listening in Music and Medicine

While attending a music retreat several years ago, I had the opportunity to play a piano duet with a more experienced piano player. As we prepared for the recital, it became evident that it wasn’t enough to focus on my part. I also had to listen to what my duet partner was playing in order to make pleasant-sounding music.

Sometimes, when dealing with patients, we get the real “story behind the story” only at the end of the visit or after several visits.

Chocolate, Holidays, and Habits

Food is often a focus of the festivities and family gatherings that mark the holidays. But unfortunately, a season that should be a time of rest and joy can turn stressful, when food that’s meant to be enjoyed becomes a source of anxiety and guilt.

Holiday behaviors for many people include overeating, followed by New Year’s resolutions to eat less and exercise more. On the other hand, those with eating disorders may dread being confronted with so much food and having to explain why they are not “indulging” like everyone else.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

According to Oprah Winfrey, it’s when we feel least thankful that we are most in need of what gratitude can give us: perspective. The neurologist Oliver Sacks expressed a similar idea; his reflections on what it means to live a worthwhile life were published posthumously in a book titled Gratitude. Diagnosed with a terminal illness, Sacks wrote that his predominant feeling was one of gratitude, expressing appreciation both for what he had been given in life and what he had been able to give in return.

Not Just a Matter of Education

I recall once being asked, as part of a physical exam, “Have you been immunized?” The question wasn’t specific with regard to which immunizations, so my response was that I wasn’t positive. I had done much international travel while growing up, and had received multiple vaccinations at various times, but I wasn’t sure all the recommended vaccinations were up to date at that time.

Two Pandemics

A friend of mine once jokingly chided her mother for smoking around her when she was a baby. Her mother defensively stated that her doctor had actually smoked with her! We’ve come a long way since then, but despite progress in our understanding of the hazards of smoking, a significant proportion of the population continues to smoke.

Practice and Rewards

I don’t particularly enjoy physical exercise, but I do it because it’s good for me. The “dopamine rush” that some people associate with exercise is something I have never experienced. Similarly, I don’t enjoy the work that goes into learning a new song on the piano, especially when it involves reading sheet music, but I do enjoy the satisfaction that comes from being able to play it smoothly. Even if it’s weeks or months later.

Accepting the Things We Cannot Change

I enjoy working with adolescents and young adults who are in treatment for addiction because, despite their vulnerability, they are at an age where interventions have a reasonably high chance of being successful. Their genetic risk for addiction is something they cannot change, but they can modify their overall risk by changing their environment and carefully choosing their friends.

Uniquely Me

“She plays with you when you’ve got no one to play with.” Those words were used to describe a young girl in a Sunday school class many years ago.

The adult equivalent of “not having anyone to play with” might be the experience of being in the minority.

Being a black female physician in the US, I am no stranger to this. It seems like I have been “in the minority” for the majority of my life. Those who don’t know me may be surprised to hear that I experienced “minority status” even while growing up in Nigeria. Not only was I a year younger than my classmates, I was also one of the few Nigerians in a boarding school where the majority of students were white North Americans. Later, I was the “American” in a predominantly Nigerian school. Decades later, as a “second career medical student,” I was on the other end of the age spectrum.

The only female in a group visiting a traditional ruler in Northern Nigeria during a year of national service, I wondered why I wasn’t offered a handshake along with my male colleagues, only to realize later that it was for religious reasons.

This perpetual …

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Where Faith and Public Health Meet

Today I participated in a vaccination effort that was conducted at a church. Over the past few weeks, I have been reading about the faith community’s varied responses to the pandemic. While disappointed with the responses of some religious leaders, I was encouraged by others.

Today’s event brought me a sense of hope. It felt like a true meeting point of the faith and public health communities.

In the midst of all the hustle and bustle, I managed to ask some of the patients we saw about their everyday lives. A young woman told me she was working and schooling for a total of about seventy hours a week. A couple of people, who had initially indicated that they would be unavailable on the date specified for the second dose, modified their plans when they realized there was no alternate date for the second dose. One woman told me how she had been trying to get the vaccine for months. Another thought it would be unwise not to get the vaccine, even though she was nervous.

Even though I try to maintain an awareness of my assumptions, some of my interactions expanded my notions of human diversity. I was surprised …

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Healers Need Healing, Too

When flight attendants deliver safety instructions, they remind us of the need to put on our own oxygen masks first before we try to assist others.

As health-care professionals, our natural tendency is to focus on the well-being of others; that’s what we’ve been trained to do. We give our patients good advice regarding their physical and mental health, yet the environments we work in are not always conducive to our own well-being. The result can be burnout, which is associated with depression, which increases the risk for suicide. In fact, physicians have a higher suicide rate than the general population.

Another Day on the Calendar

“And the year 2020 came to an end and they all lived happily ever after.” Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all leave this year behind and be certain of the “happily ever after” part?

I have often wondered at the hype that typically accompanies the end of a year and the beginning of another, especially since the year starts and ends at different times, depending on which calendar we choose to follow. The Jewish New Year and the Chinese New Year do not coincide with the 1st of January, and they do not even occur on the same day each year.

It eventually occurred to me that the meaning we attach to a day or anniversary is what gives it significance, not the day itself. On one occasion during my residency training, I specifically asked to be allowed to deliver a laboring patient’s baby because it was the anniversary of my mother’s passing. I felt that helping to bring a new life into the world on the day when I could have been focusing on death would have a special meaning. I remember looking at an obituary as a child and announcing to my mother that someone had …

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