Tag Archives: Depression

A Mere Coincidence?

Vincent J. Rizzuto, M.D., FACP

When you’re an 80-year-old doctor, you think you’ve seen it all.
For two years I served as a specialist in internal medicine in the U.S. Army in Okinawa during the height of the Vietnam War.
I’ve done industrial medicine for a large New York bank.
I taught interns and residents at Mary Immaculate Hospital in Queens, New York.
I supervised the work of other doctors prior to my retirement.
But nothing in all my professional experience prepared me for what happened next.
I developed a severe episode of depression following the sudden death of my younger sister. I was afraid I might take my own life if I were left unattended, so I voluntarily consented to several successive admissions to a major psychiatric/medical center in New York City. The diagnosis was endogenous depression and Parkinson’s disease. In short, I suddenly found myself in Hell and proceeded to abandon all hope!

From a technical viewpoint, I received the finest, most comprehensive, up-to-date psychiatric and medical therapy available today. However, my depression was so deep that eventually I exhausted most of the customary therapeutic modalities, including medications. Consequently, I was forced to resort to some of the older agents. The only remaining procedure was shock therapy, but this was discontinued because of serious adverse effects. I remember telling my doctors that I would rather die than undergo shock therapy. For all practical purposes, as far as I was concerned, modern medicine had come to a standstill.

Finally, after a deeply distressing two-year period, I was discharged in “stable” condition for outpatient follow-up. I contacted a doctor friend who “just happened” to know a home health aide who was “ eminently capable and trustworthy”, who in turn, “just happened” to be available since, unfortunately, her patient expired the week before. As Albert Einstein once said, “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous!”

The next phase of my life was punctuated by a series of plunges–deeper and deeper into depression. The only clear recollection I have of this period was that I experienced an overwhelming, almost constant nausea which was refractory of all treatment. I awakened each morning “immersed” in nausea which progressively worsened throughout the day.

At this point, another doctor friend introduced me to a 92¬–year–old, but positively brilliant Catholic priest, Father Joseph Guzinski, C.P. Father Joe’s ministry was spiritual direction. I told him my story and he became my personal spiritual advisor. This was the only avenue left to explore, but quite frankly, I did not ascribe much hope to it. How could this 92–year–old man in a wheelchair possibly stop the unrelenting onslaught of the depression/nausea–fueled crises which engulfed me?

Father Joe was quick to grasp how sick I was–he immediately got down to business. He instructed me in the use of the holy oil of Saint Charles, and he provided directions for its administration. He suggested that Vanessa (my home health aide) apply Saint Charles’ oil on my forehead in the form of a cross each morning while we recited a prayer to Saint Charles.

Similar to Jesus’ time, olive oil is still used by the Catholic Church to anoint the sick. It’s a sign of God’s mercy, soothing and healing our wounds. Of course, the Church offers other spiritual measures to help those who are ill, but that subject is beyond the scope of this article.

St. Charles spent most of his life as a priest at the Passionist monastery at Mount Argus in Dublin, Ireland. He was responsible for many miraculous cures. In fact, the doctors surrounding the Passionist monastery wanted St. Charles transferred because his miracles had a negative impact on their income!

One day, my severe depression simply vanished as quickly and dramatically as it began. There was no “fuss or fanfare”. I suddenly felt vigorous and healthy–very peaceful, extremely happy– a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders. This euphoric feeling only lasted about 1-2 minutes. Concomitantly, I knew my depression was cured! I can’t tell you how I knew–I just knew and felt it instinctively. This event took place about 7-10 days after we initiated the prayers to Saint Charles with the application of the holy oil. I can pinpoint the day/time precisely. It was 11:00 a.m. Easter Sunday morning.

Subsequently, I was examined by a professor of neurology at New York Columbia-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Hospital. He concluded that I did not have Parkinson’s disease and he advised me to stop taking the very powerful anti-Parkinsonism drugs.

You might ask, to what do I, as a doctor and a man of science, attribute my cure from depression. As a matter of fact, there is very little doubt in my mind because I have never had any difficulty reconciling science and religion.

Perhaps Shakespeare said it best when Hamlet told Horatio, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, that are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Let’s review a few facts and then you can decide for yourselves.

First, depression is a serious, even deadly, disorder in which suicides are not uncommon. My depression had a veritable stranglehold on me. I was so nauseous that I couldn’t think or see properly or even walk a straight line. And it was getting worse! And there was no relief in sight!

Following my cure from depression, I developed a problem holding my head up. This is a rare phenomenon known as the “head drop syndrome.” In my case, it was the direct result of the “stranglehold” related to my depression, a reminder, as it were, of the time when I was more dead than alive.

When we are sick, God expects all of us to avail ourselves of the best possible medical care which He has already provided. He will not help us unless we help ourselves. I did that. But there came a point when it was obvious that modern medicine was no match for my disease. Psychiatry was powerless over the degree of depression. This was when I requested divine intervention thorough the intercession of St. Charles. And you know the result.

I would like to conclude with a word of advice. We must be very cautious when we ask for God’s assistance. Don’t be like the businessman who was looking for a parking spot in New York City. He was already late for an important meeting. At last, he looked up in the direction of heaven and said, “Dear God, let me find a parking spot, and I will do anything you want.” Just then, a small truck pulled out, leaving him more than ample room to park. He looked up and said, “Never mind. I found one.”

Miracles are rare, but when they do occur, they often happen very quickly. If you are not observant you are liable to miss them.

As C.S. Lewis once said, “Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.”

The Depression, Then and Now

I’m reading David M. Kennedy’s  fine book “Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945”.  The time he describes seems to be almost a mirror of ours–loss of jobs, world-wide economic uncertainty, fear about the future.

Then as now, the best brains couldn’t figure out the causes and cures for the depression. The government was hard-pressed to cope with it.

There were expectations of revolution and violence in the most troubled areas of the country that depended on agriculture and mass production, but popular reaction to the situation didn’t occur to any great extent.

Instead, Kennedy says, a silent helplessness fell over the country as people lost their homes and fell into poverty. People, especially men who had quality jobs, felt shame and guilt for losing them.

“The Depression revealed one of the perverse implications of American society’s vaunted celebration of individualism. In a culture that ascbribed all success to individual striving, it seemed to follow axiomatically that failure was due to individual inadequacy”

That’s still true today, I believe. The more you think you can do and be anything you want to do and be, the harder it is not to think that losing a job is your fault.