Unspoken Wishes

“In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see.” – Susan Evans McCloud (from “Lord, I Would Follow Thee“)

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

I learned an old piece of wisdom when I was in medical school: “When all else fails, talk to the patient.” The first day I heard this saying I laughed, appreciating its cynical and sardonic humor, but I did not foresee how much this simple maxim would one day help me. Continue reading

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Christmas on Call

Be grateful for every Christmas you can spend with your family.

by Alan Sanderson, MD

This month I made a recording of “Away in a Manger” with my wife and kids. This is one of my favorite Christmas carols because the lyrics contain such a heartfelt prayer for the Lord’s love and presence to be felt in our lives.

You can download the recording here.

I have lately been remembering my first Christmas as a resident physician, when I had the assignment to do an overnight call on Christmas Day. This was in the middle of my medicine internship, and I was working in the cancer hospital that month. The other residents on my team felt bad for me because I had to be on call, and let me come in a bit later in the morning so that I could open presents with my family before coming to the hospital. This was a Christmas like no other one I had ever experienced. Continue reading

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Liberty and Tolerance

You cannot claim freedom of conscience for yourself without also allowing it to others.

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

I can remember a time during my medical training when I was singled out in a negative way because of my religion. It was in the operating room of a smaller community hospital where I was rotating, and I decided to work that day with a surgeon I had not met before.

“Where are you from?” he asked me.

“Utah,” I said.

“Oh, you must be a Mormon then.”

“Yes, sir, I am.”

“Then how many wives do you have?”

I was taken aback, but tried to keep smiling. “Just one,” I answered.

“Just one, huh?” Continue reading

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Burning Out and Back Again

Learning to endure for 30 Hours, 30 Days, 30 Years, and Forever

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

During my medical training I learned that I can do anything for 30 hours, or 30 days. No matter how insanely busy my call night was, I knew that it was only a few hours from being over and that I would be able to sleep like the dead once I got home. And no matter how intolerable my work assignment was that month, I knew that I was just a few weeks or a few days from moving on to a new assignment the next month. I lived my life from call night to call night, and from monthly rotation to monthly rotation, trying to see or at least imagine the light at the end of the tunnel when things got really dark. But along the way I learned that the tunnel never ends. What I thought was the light at the end was really just a window, and the tunnel seemed to keep going on forever and ever and ever. How long was it? When I graduated from fellowship and started my first real job I tried not to think about that question. I knew I could endure for 30 hours or 30 days, but could I do this for 30 years?

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“[We] came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” –(The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, step 2)

by Alan Sanderson, MD

This week I received a letter from Dr. Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, who is currently the United States Surgeon General. In fact, every doctor in America was sent the same letter, and this is the first time in history that a Surgeon General has reached out individually to every physician in the United States. What public health crisis was so important as to warrant this historic action? Was it the Zika virus? Was it heart disease or cancer, the top two causes of death in the US? It was none of these. His subject was the opioid epidemic, a problem caused largely by our profession’s chronic mismanagement of pain. Continue reading

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The Works of God Made Manifest

Disease can be one of God’s most powerful refining tools.

by Alan Sanderson, MD. Adapted from remarks given at the funeral of Stewart C. Sanderson, 30 July 2016.

Near the summit of Mount Timpanogos.

Near the summit of Mount Timpanogos.

Some of my favorite stories about Uncle Stewart involve Mount Timpanogos. The first happened many years before I was born. His little brother Eric was invited to hike Timpanogos with a friend of his, and Stewart prepared him a lunch to eat on the hike. The family Eric hiked with had all sorts of good food to eat at lunch, and trail mix to eat along the way, but when Eric opened his lunch bag he found only one sandwich. It was a slab of raw turnip between two slices of homemade whole wheat bread. Continue reading

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Faith to be Healed

When it comes to healing broken bodies and souls, God is a lot more powerful than any medical doctor.

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

Many years ago I did something stupid. I climbed Mount Timpanogos (11,752 feet, 3,582 meters) a few days after injuring my left knee. By the time I had reached Emerald Lake at 10,000 feet (3,050 meters) I could tell that my knee was going to be sore, and I considered turning back, but I pushed on because I didn’t want to get so close to the top without getting there.¬†As I approached the summit it became painful to bend my knee, so I hobbled along trying to keep my left leg straight. It became clear to me that I was in trouble when I finally stood at the top of the mountain and gazed down on the valley thousands of feet below me.
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Science and Religion

We believe in everything which is true, regardless of where the truth may be found.

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

My father is a geologist. During his career he used the tools of his scientific discipline to answer practical questions about the natural world. “Where do we drill to find petroleum?” “Is it safe to put a building here so close to a fault zone?” “Will this chemical leak get into the ground water?” “Where do we dig to find the most copper in this mine?” When we drove through the beautiful scenery of the American southwest he saw the view differently than other people did. He would often pause on our outings to explain how the canyons and plateaus around us were made. I remember once when I was struggling to understand what he was explaining, he said, “You’re not thinking fourth-dimensionally!” In his mind’s eye all of those sturdy mountain ranges were being simultaneously uplifted and eroded in slow motion over geologic time, following the laws of nature.
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The Mortal Doctor

Medical doctors have a unique perspective on mortality, but we are just as mortal as our patients are.

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

I will always remember the first time I saw someone die. I was a medical student working in the emergency room of a small, quiet hospital, and it was late at night. An ambulance pulled up with sirens blaring, and they wheeled an old man into the trauma bay while giving him chest compressions. Continue reading

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Exercise and Physical Activity

Taking good care of your body is one way to glorify and give thanks to God.

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

One day when I was a medical student I walked into the kitchen of my home and pulled a carton of ice cream out of the freezer. There was only a bit left at the bottom, so I grabbed a spoon and started eating right out of the container. My four year old son was sitting at the table watching me, and apparently thought that I was going to eat an entire half gallon of ice cream by myself. He said, “Dada, if you eat all of that you’re going to get diabetes!

I glanced from him to the almost empty carton of ice cream in my hand, and to the spoon in my other hand, and then I thought, He’s right! With my family history I’m going to get diabetes for sure if I don’t make some serious changes starting now. This experience marked the beginning of a new direction for me in my personal health habits. Continue reading

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