In the Spirit of Medicine

"In the Spirit of Medicine" is a new feature on Northland Morning.

Dr. Arne Vainio is an enrolled member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and a family practice doctor on the Fond Du Lac reservation in Cloquet.

His essays on life, work, medicine and spirit are published in "News From Indian Country," and you can find the link to his stories and more on our website at KUMD.org.

In the Spirit of Medicine on KUMD is made possible by University of Minnesota Medical School- Duluth CampusAmpers, and the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

Russ Allison Loar/Flickr

"I deserve to die alone, Dr. Vainio. I was never any kind of father and I stopped at the bar on my way home every time I got paid. I never took him to a park or swimming or to a fair. I wasn’t any better husband than I was a father. I told my wife she was the cause of my drinking. Maybe I was wrong,” he smiled grimly, “they’ve been gone for over thirty years.”

©Lisa Johnson

“I don’t want you to get the impression we’re just putting you on a medicine to hide your problems. Having depression is more common than you know. Continuing to see the counselor is important. These medicines are safe and really have minimal side effects. They don’t make you look at the world through rose colored glasses and needing them is not a character flaw and taking them is not a sign of weakness.

Mulyadi/Unsplash

  I think back to a year ago. There was an entire household with multiple generations living together and they were too sick to come to the clinic for COVID-19 testing. Three of our nurses selflessly volunteered to go to them. They put on personal protective equipment and went in and
tested everyone there. That single act of love and dedication will always define medicine for me.

Sherri Monroe. Used with permission.

  He has finally been able to talk about his seizures and has talked to a group of pharmacy students and talked to a group at the college. “It’s like I finally came out of the closet and I can finally talk about my seizures without being ashamed.”  He welcomes the chance to help others with seizures and knows he has a lot to offer for those needing support and first hand information about epilepsy.

Jonathan van Smit/Flickr

  She was 94 pounds and 28 years old, but you couldn’t tell her age by looking at her. She had the rotting teeth that come with using meth. But mostly, her drug of choice was heroin. Her blond hair was greasy, thin, graying and matted flat against her head. Her face was almost skeletal and she had dark circles under her eyes. Her eyes seemed big because of the loss of fat around them and they almost protruded from her eye sockets. All of her ribs were easily visible and I could actually see her heart beating against her bony chest.

Noah Silliman/Unsplash

  There were four students working with the body we were studying and we didn’t know anything about him as a person. The medical school was very explicit that we were to carry ourselves with the utmost respect when we were in the lab with the body and we were to respect this gift that was given to us. This almost didn’t need to be said, but I’m glad it was. Very few people get the opportunity to study a body in detail and learn the anatomy as they learn the organ systems. There is no book, no video, no plastic model that can give the same experience. This is the way doctors have been learning medicine since the beginning.

Hakan Nural/Unsplash

The COVID-19 pandemic has been with us for almost a year. In that year businesses have closed and people have lost jobs. Wearing masks and keeping social distance have caused deep divisions among us. 

  There are scare stories and myths on social media and other places about the vaccines and many people believe these myths. Fear has always been a powerful tool and has long been used to cause division. Fear is being used now and it isn't always easy to know what to believe.

Arne/Ivy Vainio. Used with permission.

That means we need to continue to wear masks, keep our social distance, wash our hands frequently, avoid public gatherings and sanitize frequently touched surfaces.

Is this a sacrifice?

Not compared to losing an elder. Ivy and I go to her grandmother’s house and we stand outside the window and we wave and we can talk on the phone. I can see the sadness and longing in Ivy’s eyes and in her grandmother’s. I can see the distance that pane of glass puts between them.

Copyright Ivy Vainio. Used with permission.

  The cemetery is far from city lights and is surrounded by tall pine trees.  We are close to the same latitude as Finland and my grandmother would have seen the same winter constellations as a little girl in her homeland. 

We walk carefully so we don’t disturb the snow and we reverently place the candles on each grave.

  In the Spirit of Medicine features the essays of Dr. Arne Vainio, an enrolled member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and a family practice doctor on the Fond Du Lac reservation in Cloquet. His essays on life, work, medicine and spirit are published in "News From Indian Country," and you can find the link to this story here.

Jordan Whitt/Unsplash

She was looking down into one of the barrels and once she started talking, the words came out and it was like she couldn’t stop. She was sobbing and dipping a watering can into the barrel and she told me about all the things that were going on around the time of my father’s death and all the fears she had for him and how she never talked with him about suicide because she was afraid she would plant that idea in his head and how she blamed herself for his death. We hugged for a long time after she finished telling me and her body shook with her sobs and I could tell she had that bottled up for years and years.

Cristian Newman/Unsplash

  Money was short and you ran out of heating fuel in the middle of winter. I expect those were some bad days. You didn’t tell me about that until after it was passed. A desperate someone looking for something to sell kicked your door in when you weren’t home and made your crumbling house lose some of that precious heat. Visiting your mother in the nursing home must have been warm. Your old television couldn’t have brought much money.  Your car got repossessed.

Lisa Johnson

Do the leaves remember those from last year?In the heat of summer, the bright green shimmers of forever.Then the fall.The bitter cold.They show their true colors, these elders.They remind us of the passage into the next life.The commonest of them persistAnd they speak to me.They tell me I am one of them.

Arne/Ivy Vainio

  I was almost to my hotel and a man was kneeling on the sidewalk pulling a trumpet out of its case. I was well past him and was about to cross the street when he started to play.  Jazz? Blues?

Copyright Ivy Vainio. Used with permission.

  You told me you didn’t feel you contributed anything to anyone anymore. My father, your brother, died when I was four years old. I have maybe three or four actual memories of him and some memories that are from stories someone else told me and I took them as my own memories. I didn’t get to see his smile except in old photographs. I didn’t get to hear his voice and I never had the chance to hear the advice he would have passed to me from his parents when he thought I needed to hear those things.

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