Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA)

Hello Dr. Gary,

What vitamin or mineral should I take to help with my brittle, soft nails?


Hi Anne,

While it’s not a vitamin or mineral, the best supplement for your nails is the essential fatty acid, gamma linolenic acid (GLA). Dietary sources are limited, but GLA can be found in a variety of plant seed oils, including borage (22-25% GLA), black current (15% GLA), and evening primrose (8-10% GLA). Spirulina, a type of blue-green algae rich in GLA, has been recommended by some, but unfortunately there exists the possibility of neurotoxins and/or contamination with heavy metals, and I don’t consider it safe under any circumstance.

Potential issues: 1) If you take antiplatelet or anticoagulant drugs, such as aspirin, Plavix, coumadin, or Eliquis, GLA supplements may increase the risk of bleeding. 2) Borage oil can contain amabiline, which is a pyrrolizidine alkaloid (PA) toxic to the liver. If you choose borage oil as a GLA source, find one that is PA free. 3) The side effects of GLA supplementation are generally mild and may include belching, upset stomach, nausea and diarrhea.

Besides helping with nails, GLA can promote healthy hair and skin. Because it has significant anti-inflammatory activity, GLA can potentially benefit arthritis, PMS, and autoimmune diseases. Like many natural remedies, don’t expect overnight improvement, rather, be patient and give supplementation a trial of at least six to eight weeks.

The medical/health information is provided for general educational and informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for personal, professional advice. Accordingly, before taking any recommendations based on the information here, please consult with your primary care provider and/or appropriate professionals.    


Hi Dr. Gary,

What do you believe to be the most important mineral to incorporate into my supplement regimen?


Hi Dawn,

First of all, I recommend a daily multivitamin/multimineral to fill in your dietary gaps. In this way, you are less likely to develop deficiencies of any one particular nutrient. While all minerals are important in maintaining wellness, magnesium is especially critical and unfortunately deficient in the diet of up to 50% of Americans.

So, why is magnesium such a big deal? According to the National Institute of Health, magnesium is important for many bodily processes, including regulating muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure, as well as synthesizing protein, bone, and DNA.

Realizing its significance, what are the best sources of dietary magnesium? While the list is voluminous, in general, nuts and seeds are excellent choices, as well as legumes, fish (especially salmon and halibut), avocados, whole grains, tofu, bananas, leafy green vegetables (particularly spinach), and raisins. In other words, there exist plenty of delicious, wholesome, magnesium-rich foods available in our American diet, but we oftentimes make dietary selections that are not the healthiest.

When I worked in emergency medicine, I precepted a number of family practice residents, and some of my favorite questions for them were about magnesium. After all, every good emergency physician worth his/her salt loved magnesium, as its therapeutic uses were many, including, but not limited to asthma, pre-eclampsia (a serious hypertensive disorder of pregnancy), migraines, and the the rare, but life-threatening cardiac dysrhythmia, torsades de pointes, first described by French physician François Dessertenne in 1966. What’s not to love about magnesium? Many a life has been saved by its emergent use.

With this in mind, I often quizzed the fledgling physicians with queries such as, “What conditions predispose your patients to hypomagnesemia?” Invariably, I was met with blank stares, and perhaps some futile, stammering attempts to answer. This lack of knowledge certainly wasn’t their fault, though, as sadly enough, medical students and residents are generally taught very little about nutrition. It’s safe to say that the ideas presented in the classic text by Dr. Henry Bieler, “Food is Your Best Medicine,” was not part of their medical repertoire.

“First of all,” I would explain with a knowing look, “if your patients are on diuretics, they will have a tendency to have elevated urinary excretion of magnesium, and thus secondary deficiency. Second, any condition that causes chronic diarrhea, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, can cause stool losses of magnesium. Chronic alcoholics can have hypomagnesemia simply due to poor nutrition. Certain drugs and pancreatitis can also be causative, and finally, diabetics are notoriously deficient in magnesium and other trace minerals because spilling sugar in their urine osmotically depletes them .” I would invariably smile when I answered, as I greatly enjoyed teaching young training doctors, knowing someday the information I gave them might make a difference.

Okay, let’s suppose you have a risk factor for hypomagnesemia, or perhaps your diet is not as nutritious as it should be, and you want to begin a magnesium supplement. If not included in your multivitamin/multimineral, which one should you select? A number of different options are available. Remember that whatever form of magnesium you choose, the possibility exists of a laxative effect, and if such occurs, consider taking a small dose of calcium to counteract it. My preferred magnesium supplement is magnesium glycinate, usually well absorbed and well tolerated, with a close second being magnesium citrate. I would avoid magnesium oxide, one of the most popular varieties, as well as magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts) because of their poor bioavailability and increased likelihood for GI side effects such as diarrhea.

Finally, remember the wise words of Benjamin Franklin: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The benefits of taking supplemental magnesium far outweigh the risks, and I believe in this situation we should all follow Ben’s advice.

The medical/health information is provided for general educational and informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for personal, professional advice. Accordingly, before taking any recommendations based on the information here, please consult with your primary care provider and/or appropriate professionals.


Hi Dr. Gary,

I have chronic pain in some of my joints, which my doctor says is due to osteoarthritis. I’ve been taking ibuprofen with some improvement, but I’ve been wondering if you could recommend any other remedies? I appreciate any help you might be able to give.


Hi Hillary,

Osteoarthritis is the degeneration of joint cartilage and underlying bone, usually from middle age upward. Prior overuse and/or injury can be precipitating factors. The most common treatment utilizes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), which work by inhibiting production of prostaglandins, thus reducing inflammation and pain. Taking such medications, which include aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, among others, is generally considered to be safe if taken episodically, but chronic dosing, especially in older patients, has the potential for serious side-effects, including life-threatening gastrointestinal bleeding from peptic ulcer disease, acute renal failure, and a litany of other problems. A general rule of thumb is that NSAIDS should be used at the lowest effective dose for the shortest period of time.

So, what should you do after taking a limited course of NSAIDS? Do you have to give up and accept suffering? Consider joint replacement surgery? Not to worry, other options are available. One excellent choice is turmeric. This bright-yellow spice from India often used in curries has been shown to have significant anti-inflammatory activity, and in an Italian study, demonstrated greatly decreased osteoarthritis pain as well as reduced need for NSAIDS. I recommend culinary use and/or supplements fortified with the active ingredient of turmeric, curcumin, to get the maximal effect. Another anti-inflammatory spice worth considering is ginger, taken either as a supplement or included in your diet. Also, think about adding evening primrose oil (EPO) to your regimen, which has beneficial anti-inflammatory activity. Other supplements to ponder include glucosamine sulfate, with or without chondroitin sulfate, realizing it can take up to two months to see results, and SAMe, which seems to be as effective as NSAIDS, but requires about a month of treatment before you might notice improvement.

Of course, it goes without saying that if you are overweight, weight loss can substantially improve osteoarthritis pain. Exercise can be beneficial, though if your symptoms are worse in your lower extremities, I would consider swimming, water aerobics, or stationary cycling to minimize further joint trauma. As a footnote, acupuncture has shown promise in the treatment of osteoarthritis. In one trial, one-fourth of arthritis patients who had been scheduled for knee surgery cancelled their operations because of improvement with acupuncture, and now some rheumatologists recommend acupuncture as an adjunctive therapy along with conventional medication.

Since information exists that suggests osteoarthritis is likely an inflammatory process, please consider a diet that is anti-inflammatory, rich in omega-3 fatty acids (wild-caught salmon, walnuts, freshly ground flaxseed, algal oil, etc.), along with plenty of different colored fresh fruits and vegetables. Likewise, you should avoid foods which are proinflammatory in nature, such as partially hydrogenated oils (margarine and vegetable shortening), and polyunsaturated vegetable oils.

In closing, I can personally attest to the benefit of an integrative approach to osteoarthritis. If you have read Oklahoma Is Where I Live, you know that some decades ago, I was told that due to osteoarthritis, I would need bilateral hip replacements. I resisted the notion and found that by simply doing Iyengar yoga, my symptoms were much improved. Years later, when my hips started once again with that gnawing, aching discomfort, sometimes waking me up at night, in addition to yoga I added a regimen that included fortified turmeric, EPO, and algal oil, along with my usual anti-inflammatory diet. This resulted in remarkable improvement, and while someday I may have to consider hip replacement, currently my symptoms are much improved, and for that, I am most grateful.

The medical/health information is provided for general educational and informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for personal, professional advice. Accordingly, before taking any recommendations based on the information here, please consult with your primary care provider and/or appropriate professionals.

Allergic Rhinitis

Dr. Gary,

Many of my family are troubled by seasonal allergies, with sneezing, runny nose, cough, and nasal congestion, which seems to be worse in spring and fall. While antihistamines seem to help, I don’t like the side effects associated with them. Can you recommend any natural alternatives? Thanks!


Hi Connie,

Given the fact that your symptoms are exacerbated in spring and fall, chances are good that they’re due to mold sensitivity, though other allergens could be involved. As one who has been troubled by the annoying aspects of allergic rhinitis in the past, I am very sympathetic to the misery you and your family are experiencing, and I would like to offer some simple solutions, ones I hope will provide some benefit.

Besides antihistamines, other conventional options such as steroid and cromolyn sodium nasal sprays, as well as decongestants, can give symptomatic relief. For a more natural approach, though, I would consider freeze-dried nettle, a herb with known antihistaminic effects, 300 mg capsules, one-two every four hours as needed. Children under twelve should not take more than one capsule a day. Also, try quercetin, a flavonoid that inhibits the release of histamine from mast cells, 400 mg/daily, starting a least two weeks before allergy season. Nasal douching with saline to open the sinus cavities can provide symptomatic relief, and I recommend HEPA air filters in the main living areas and bedroom to remove the offending allergens. Try to decrease or eliminate milk and dairy products, which can irritate the immune system and may contribute to the intensity of symptoms. On a personal note, stopping milk resulted in a profound decrease in the frequency and severity of allergic rhinitis after only a few months. One can consider allergy injections, but remember they don’t work for everyone and may take years to become effective.

In conclusion, please remember the concept of biochemical individuality, the main precept being that everyone responds to healing modalities in their own unique way. What is a godsend for some may offer no benefit whatsoever to others, and vice versa. Experiment with some of the ideas I have given and discover what works best for you, conventional or non-conventional. I am confident if you look hard enough, the symptoms of allergic rhinitis can, at the least, be satisfactorily controlled, or hopefully, even eliminated.

The medical/health information is provided for general educational and informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for personal, professional advice. Accordingly, before taking any recommendations based on the information here, please consult with your primary care provider and/or appropriate professionals.

A Beacon of Light

Sometime back in the mid-1980s, I was attending a metaphysical workshop, an activity I enjoyed at that point in my life. While I don’t recall what the topic of the conference was, I do remember meeting Ann Smith. How could I not? She was friendly, exuberant, optimistic, and a sparkling bundle of spiritual energy. I liked her immediately, and we struck up a friendship.

Sharing an occasional lunch, I gradually learned more about her. She was deeply interested in the spiritual kingdom, believing that each angel and saint were there to guide humankind in their own unique way. Generally, Ann loved anything and everything that involved the occult, and that included auras, psychics, astrology, crystals, tarot cards, and continued connections with friends who had passed on before her. And talk about someone who loved good food! One of Ann’s great passions was fabulous eateries, and to describe her as a ardent and enthusiastic foodie would be a gross understatement. Will Rogers might have said, “Ann never met a restaurant she didn’t like.”

Looking back to the early 90s, when I realized my marriage was in trouble, I clearly recall the phone call I made to Ann. I was emotionally barely hanging on, and when she answered the phone, I haltingly mumbled, “Ann . . .” before I burst into uncontrollable tears. Trying to regain my composure, I said, “I’m so sorry . . .” before I began weeping again. She softly replied, “Keep crying,” and I did, until I had no more tears left. Ann knew tears were healing, and she allowed me to cry for as long as I needed. I would have never guessed how many years it would take me to heal from my divorce, but Ann was with me every step of the way, and for that, I will always be grateful.

I could go on and on about what a wonderful friend she was, but instead I’d like to share just a few highlights. Ann was delighted beyond words when I met and eventually married Sheridan, believing that the suffering I experienced with my divorce all those years ago was necessary not only for my spiritual growth, but also to give me the opportunity for a loving, new beginning. When I began writing books in 2008, starting with The Lhasa Trilogy, she was an enthusiastic supporter, and all of her friends simply had to have copies of each of my books. I could have not had a better promoter than the exuberant, energetic, bubbly Ann Smith. She was also known as “Auntie Ann” to our dogs, Karma and Buddy, and she lavished attention and care on them when Sheridan and I traveled to faraway places.

When Ann was diagnosed with colon cancer at eighty-four years of age, I knew her prognosis was poor, yet she maintained an upbeat attitude. She had experienced a full and rich life, and she was not afraid of dying. With time, our restaurant visits declined, a sure sign Ann was not doing well, and she eventually entered hospice care.

Before she died, Sheridan and I paid her a visit. I was surprised at how much weight she had lost. She was pale, her blood pressure was extremely low, yet she continued to be at peace with her approaching death. The three of us held each other’s hands, and after we expressed our love for each other, I asked her what she thought was the most important thing she had learned over her eighty-five years. She paused for a moment, smiled and said with a twinkle in her eyes, “Know when to say no.” Ann was a strong woman, always willing to speak her mind, not a shrinking violet by any stretch of the imagination, and I’ll remember her dying words for the rest of my life. Ann peaceably passed away two days later.

It’s impossible to describe in words what a loss Ann Smith’s death is not only to me personally, but also to the world. Her radiant, effervescent optimism was completely infectious, and without fail, she made the darkest times better. For me, I have lost a dear friend, a counselor, a lunch buddy, and someone I could always count on, no matter the circumstances. While I feel a profound sense of loss, I don’t feel sad, rather, I’m happy God has blessed me to have known Ann for over thirty-five years, and I feel joyous knowing that her journey will continue in the spiritual realms, her true and everlasting home. After all, hanging around with angels, saints and sages of all religions, her beloved passed friends, combined with a gourmet meal every now and then, well, that’s Ann’s idea of heaven. I can think of no one who deserves it more, and I have no doubt God has already prepared a lavish table for her.

The world will miss you greatly, Ann. You are a shining, scintillating beacon of light. I know, because I know you.

Bon voyage, my friend.

Forty-three Years

Today, March 26th, 2023, is the one year anniversary of my last shift in the emergency department (ED), after having worked there for over forty-three years. As I look at this picture, I see faces of not only gifted healthcare providers, but also of dear friends, some with whom I labored for decades. While the photo gives me some sense of nostalgia, even more so, I’m happy to have moved on to a calmer, more peaceful existence. I have no desire to turn back the clock. It’s high time to enjoy the fruits of my labor, and I am grateful to God that I still have good health and the opportunity to enjoy my life. It seems impossible that I am seventy-years-old. Where has the time gone?

Thinking back, I recall when I first walked through the doors of the ED. Nothing in my training could have prepared me for the chaos and seeming insanity I would come to face. Yet, mixed with these sometimes overwhelming challenges were many beautiful, transformative, and yes, spiritual moments, ones I will never forget. All emergency medicine personnel are regularly faced with such wild swings, frighteningly-steep ups and downs, yet much like the yin and yang of Taoism, one can’t occur without the other.

It seems a good time to express a word of thanks to my beloved colleague and friend, Dr. Mary Puntenney, my parent’s internist in days past, who later became an emergency physician. Because of her recommendation, I landed at the hospital where she worked, a place I would stay for my entire career. I am also appreciative of Dr. J. D. McKean, who as the physician director, was willing to offer me a position. Deserving special mention is Dr. John Clemons, an emergency physician and my racquetball buddy, a man deeply loved by his fellow healthcare providers and patients alike. He died at far too early an age from complications of Parkinson’s Disease, and I will always miss his contagious smile and upbeat personality.

I will forever be grateful to all of the experienced nursing staff in my early years who helped show me the ropes.  Nurses are the true backbone of medicine, and the whole system would collapse like a house of cards without them. Thanks to each and every one of you, from early in my career to years later. Because of you, I was able to complete my life’s work.

Before I close, I have a few thoughts I’d like to share. One thing I am most proud of is the fact that no one in my ED was ever turned away because of inability to pay. In my opinion, healthcare is a right, not an earned privilege, and I’m happy to report that while in the ED, the medical safety net for the poorest of the poor remained intact.

The devastation that those in medicine faced in dealing with Covid-19 cannot be overstated, and I well recall the period of time before immunizations were available. Our lives were placed at risk simply by performing out duties, and the heroism of those who provided healthcare in spite of this danger stands out to me as the ultimate in courage and bravery, which has never been surpassed during my career. I applaud all of those – and there were many – who put the wellbeing of others before their own, sometimes at great cost.

In my book, The Pit, I have described at length my thoughts as I approached retirement, and I feel no need to repeat them here. I will conclude by saying while emergency medicine has presented challenges to me on many different levels, if I had my life to live over, I would do it again in a heartbeat. I may have scars from all those years in the ED, but I am wiser and better for it.

And for that, I couldn’t be more grateful.

Is Stinging Nettle Leaf a Therapeutic Option to Prevent Vertigo Caused by Baro-challenge-induced Eustachian Tube Dysfunction? A Case Report


Stinging nettle leaf (Urtica dioica) has been extensively utilized for centuries as a folk remedy for many varied ailments. In this case report, the herb appears to be an effective preventive for vertigo related to baro-challenge-induced Eustachian tube dysfunction.

Keywords:  Stinging nettle, Urtica dioica, vertigo, Eustachian tube dysfunction, baro-challenge-induced Eustachian tube dysfunction


For some time, I’ve been troubled with vertigo associated with Eustachian tube dysfunction (ETD) that occurred with air travel, specifically termed baro-challenge-induced ETD.  The symptoms I experienced were not trivial; they included nausea, difficulty keeping my balance, diaphoresis, inability to focus my eyes, and constant movement of my environment. Initially, my symptoms were somewhat ameliorated by taking vitamin C powder, in advance of and during my flight, because of its known antihistaminic effect and documented improvement of vertigo (1). During a more recent flight, though, I had concurrent vomiting and wondered if I should try conventional antihistamines beforehand, hoping they would keep my Eustachian tubes patent. Yet, I preferred not to deal with the potential side effects, such as drowsiness, dry mouth, difficulty urinating, and reduced coordination (2). So, I tried another option, stinging nettle, with its antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties (3), and a suspected milder adverse reaction profile. Three hours before my next scheduled departure flight, I took three 300 mg capsules of wildcrafted, freeze-dried stinging nettle leaf, along with a hot cup of organic stinging nettle tea. I repeated only the capsules for my return flight.  The results were astonishing.  Not only did my eustachian tubes easily clear on both flights simply with sipping fluids and exaggerated yawning, I had no symptoms of vertigo whatsoever, and I experienced no adverse reactions to the herb.


ETD is a problem that affects around 1% of the general population and can be categorized into three different types. Patulous, caused by overly patent Eustachian tubes. Dilatory, where inflammation and mucosal edema from rhinitis, upper respiratory tract infection, and/or gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), leads to blockage and dysfunction. Baro-challenge-induced, which is the failure of the Eustachian tube to open with surrounding ambient pressure changes, such as with air travel or deep-sea diving, thus inhibiting the regulation of middle ear pressure (4).

Conventional medical and surgical treatment options depend upon the type of ETD.  For GERD-associated ETD, lifestyle changes and proton pump inhibitors should be considered. Otherwise, avoidance of allergens is recommended, and medical interventions may include oral antihistamines and/or nasal corticosteroids. Antibiotics may be prescribed for rhinosinusitis.  Surgical dilatation of the closed Eustachian tube may be performed, and ETD from otitis media with effusion can be managed with tympanostomy tube placement. If adenoid hypertrophy is felt to be a contributing factor, adenoidectomy should be considered.  Auto-inflation devices for reopening the Eustachian tubes by raising the pressure in the nose have shown positive results for correcting middle ear pressure and fluid clearance. (ibid., 3-4)

Urtica dioica, known as stinging nettle, greater nettle, common nettle, giant nettle, European nettle, or simply nettle, is native to Europe and Eurasia and grows wild in temperate parts of the world. The use of nettle dates to ancient times, having been mentioned by Hippocrates (ca. 460-370 BCE) and Theophrastus (ca. 371-287 BCE), by Dioscorides (40-90 CE) in Materia Medica, and by Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE) in Naturalis Historia. In the medieval period, nettle was recommended by German philosopher, mystic, composer, and abbess Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) in Physica, and by Swiss physician Paracelsus (1493 – 1541) in his writings on the doctrine of signatures (5).

What are the current clinical uses for stinging nettle leaf?  The herb can be beneficial in the treatment of allergic rhinitis, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Its diuretic effect has been demonstrated in vivo, and it has been shown in an isolated study to be effective in the treatment of migraine headaches (6).  Stinging nettle root, as opposed to the leaf, has been utilized to improve urine flow, decrease residual urine volume, and reduce urinary frequency and nocturia in the early stages of benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH)(5). Despite much previous clinical research on stinging nettle leaf, I have discovered no study that indicates the herb can be utilized for the prevention of vertigo in general, or specifically, vertigo caused by baro-challenge-induced ETD.

As far as safety is concerned, the Botanical Safety Handbook (1997) of the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) assigns Urtica dioica as a Class 1 herb: Can be safely consumed when used appropriately (6).

I have carefully evaluated the scientific data, and while the exact mechanism of how stinging nettle prevented my disabling vertigo is unknown, one might intuit this effect was due to the herb’s unique antihistaminic and anti-inflammatory activities.

Finally, on a personal note, I can’t explain in words the sense of relief that I had after my experience with the use of stinging nettle. I was, at long last, given hope that vertigo might no longer hang over my head like the proverbial sword of Damocles, dampening my enthusiasm for travel to faraway places.


In this case study, stinging nettle leaf appears to have aborted vertigo secondary to baro-challenge-induced ETD. Further human studies are needed for confirmation.


I want to express my gratitude to Andrew Weil MD for his helpful suggestions and review of this article.  Thanks to Dr. Chris Corbett for his adept editorial assistance.  Much appreciation to Dr. Stefan Gafner of the American Botanical Council for his aid in information gathering. 


1) R. Jarisch; D. Weyer; E. Ehlert; C. Koch; E. Pinkowski; P. Jung; W. Kähler; R. Girgensohn, W. Hemmer, A. Koch. Influence of Orally Taken Vitamin C on Histamine Levels and Motion Sickness. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Volume 127, Issue 2, Supplement, February 1, 2011.

2) Khashayar Farzam; Sarah Sabir; Maria C. O’Rourke. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.  Antihistamines, January, 2022.

3) Bill Roschek; Ryan C. Fink; Matthew McMichael; Randall S. Alterte. Nettle extract (Urtica dioica) affects key receptors and enzymes associated with allergic rhinitis, Phytother Res. 2009 Jul;23(7):920-6

4) Sahar Hamrang-Yousefi; Jimmy Ng; Claudio Andaloro, NCBI Bookshelf, National Institutes of Health, Eustachian Tube Dysfunction, January 2022, updated July 15, 2022.

5)  Gayle Engels; Josef Brinckmann. Stinging Nettle, Herbalgram, American Botanical Council, Issue #110, pages 8-16.

6)  Roy Upton RH, Editor; Teresa Soria BS, Associate Editor and Monograph Coordinator; Teresa Soria BS and Diana Swisher MA, Research Associates. Stinging Nettle Herb, American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, 2009.

About the Author

Gary D. Conrad, MD, is an integrative medicine physician and author who is currently retired from a forty-three-year practice in emergency medicine. 

An Outer and Inner Journey

After my retirement from emergency medicine in March of 2022, I have enjoyed a softer, gentler existence. Besides spending more blessed time with my wife, Sheridan, and our dogs, Karma and Buddy, I can now enjoy added moments with my grandchildren, especially since the misery of Covid-19 has at long last waned. With that in mind, I decided to drive to Enid, OK, to see my granddaughter Sawyer play a soccer game with her rather incredible team, the Stingers, little knowing the inner journey I was about to experience.

And so, on that fateful afternoon, I hopped in my rattly, but still loved 2004 Honda CR-V, and headed north on I-35, expecting a drive of about an hour and a half. I love quiet moments in my car, as while my outer mind is focused on the highway, my inner mind can wander unfettered. Before long, I approached the first of two exits to Guthrie, and my consciousness was unexpectedly flooded with bittersweet memories. Guthrie was the town where I lived for a number of years on nine wooded acres, and where I was a devoted father to my three daughters, Sarah, Megan, and Hillary. I was married before I moved to Guthrie, and while there, I was divorced, with all the inherent emotional trauma. Guthrie was where I began my healing pathway, not realizing at the time how long it would take to approach normalcy.

I recalled taking my daughters and their friends to the Guthrie Country Club lake during the summer and frolicking for endless hours on our family jet ski. I thought of when I coached Megan and Hillary in fast-pitch softball. At the time, I wasn’t the laid-back person I am now, and I approached coaching with a fire and intensity that eventually led to a number of championships. I loved all my players deeply, and, at the same time, I did my very best to prepare them to win.

In Guthrie, I took the “Back to Earth” movement quite seriously. I raised dairy goats and milked them twice a day, maintained a large organic garden, and tended a flock of chickens, not for their meat, but for their delicious eggs. Besides all this, I was a beekeeper, oh, and yes, amidst all this busyness, I also happened to be an emergency physician. The days I labored at the hospital, I drove almost forty-minutes to get there, and the drives back home after my challenging shifts were tiring and difficult. Perhaps it was because I was younger that I tolerated so much simultaneous, frenetic activity, though even now, I honestly don’t know how. Continuing down the highway, I wondered what thoughts and feelings would come up next.

As the exit ramp to Stillwater approached, I remembered my three years as a student at Oklahoma State University, a place that admirably prepared me for my eventual medical training at the University of Oklahoma. I thought of the fact that my parents met at OSU and were later married in my mother’s hometown of Claremore. I recalled my three years of living at the now-demolished Willham Hall, where I roomed with my old U.S. Grant High School football chum, Phil Dean. Years later, my brother, Jim, and sister, Connie, also attended OSU. Being a longtime fan of sports, I loved OSU football, as well as intramural athletic events, including wrestling, softball, and volleyball. These were formative, explorative years for me, as it was the first time I had been away from the my parent’s protective mantle for any extended period of time.

Before long, I approached the exit to Perry, and I was reminded of the deep friendship my family had with the Paul and Lois Edmundson family. Paul was a veterinarian, and he and his wife, along with their two sons, Wade and Todd, lived on a small acreage just northwest of the interstate exit. One memory that came to mind was when Wade and Todd, along with my brother Jim and I, went swimming in their murky farm pond and made the questionable decision to scoop up and throw mud pies at each other. All went well until Wade hit Todd in the face just as he emerged from the water, and his irritated mother had to clean copious amounts of mud out of Todd’s eyes. Wade was in big trouble, and he knew it. Isn’t it odd how these memories can resurface when you least expect it?

Of course, the clear highlight of the day was seeing my granddaughter Sawyer’s team play soccer against their archrival, Enid. Here I am seen proudly wearing my official Stingers hoodie as I stand next to her.

The final score of the thrilling match was 1-1, but the main reason I was there was not to see a victory, but rather, to give my full and unwavering support to Sawyer. Isn’t that what grandparents are for?

After the game, I drove back toward my home in Edmond, deep in thought, my contemplations accentuated by the gorgeous sunset pictured at the beginning of this post. As I thought about it, it’s natural to have reactions to places of importance and intensity in our lives. Yet, it was hard for me not to have a sense of melancholy, after all, much of my life has passed me by, so much quicker than I ever could have imagined. While I hope to still have a number of healthy, happy years before my time on Earth comes to an end, the simple truth is that most of my life has already taken place. I feel joyful in the knowledge, though, that God has blessed me with such an interesting, productive, and service-oriented existence. Not that it’s all been peaches and cream – it hasn’t – but the hard lessons blended with many beautiful, sacred moments have helped me grow into a better person. Scarred, perhaps, but definitely an improved version of myself. Jimmy Stewart might pat me on the back, look in my eyes and say with his distinctive timbre, “Gary, It’s a Wonderful Life!”

And it has been.

In the meantime, when Sheridan and I enjoy an occasional glass of wine, I now pick out one of the best bottles we have, following the dictum of the French phrase, joie de vi​vre, “the keen or buoyant enjoyment of life.” Another way of putting it is the Latin adage, carpe diem, “seize the day.” Given the limited time I have in this incarnation, as we all have to one degree or another, I plan to do everything I can to experience life fully and completely, not delaying my joy for a nebulous and unpredictable future.

I love seeing the happiness on my grandchildren’s faces, travel with Sheridan to faraway places, singing with the Edmond Community Chorale, small-scale organic gardening, and deepening my relationship with God through meditation, living in the Present Moment, and simply being as kind as possible. The Dalai Lama once wisely said, “My religion is kindness,” and I couldn’t agree more. John Denver, in “Poems, Prayers and Promises,” said, “I have to say it now, it’s been a good life, all in all. It’s really fine to have a chance to hang around.” Amen.

The next time I need a growth experience, hopefully, it won’t require a trip to rural Oklahoma, but I’ll take any opportunity that God so graciously gives me.

What’s next? I wonder.

Only God knows.

The Top Rooster

After the death of my mother on August 12, 2016, my father was abruptly left by himself after sixty-five years of marriage. While we all missed our beloved mother, the family had a sense of relief, knowing she had suffered for years with polymyalgia rheumatica, and at long last, she was no longer in intractable pain.

We all did what we could to support Dad during this challenging time. For myself, I called him a couple of times a day just to check in, and I visited him weekly, oftentimes going to Olive Garden for a hearty Italian lunch. Sometime later, after the acute pain of Mom’s death had waned, I thought it was high time to inject a little humor into the situation. After all, according to author and world peace advocate, Norman Cousins, wasn’t laughter the best medicine? Given Dad’s farming heritage, I decided to nickname him the “Top Rooster.” When Dad answered the phone in the morning, our conversations would go something like this:

I would say, “Is this the Top Rooster?”

Dad would answer with a chuckle. “Yes.”

“How are you doing?”

“I’m okay.”

“Are you off the roost?”

“Yes.” Yet another distinctive chuckle.

“Are you crowing?”


“Are you still kicking?”

“Yes, by golly.”

“Are you kicking high?”

“No, but I’m kicking.”

At that point, we would go over the upcoming events of our respective days, but conversations with Dad were never very long. Dad was not windy, as we say in Oklahoma, and he felt everything he needed to say could take place in no more than a few words. One was destined to failure if one expected to engage Dad in a long conversation. When I called Dad from the emergency department, sometimes others would overhear our brief chats, and Dad became known as the Top Rooster. It was not uncommon at all for my fellow healthcare practitioners to ask me later, “How’s the Top Rooster doing today?”

I’d answer, “He’s doing okay,” knowing that Dad would rarely complain. Dad grew up in a farming family in southwest Oklahoma while in the middle of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, yet these hardy folks somehow found a way to get by. Couple his upbringing with his role as an Army lieutenant on the front lines of the Korean War, Dad was as tough as a boot. Unless something was terribly wrong, I would never hear a gripe from him. It just wasn’t his nature.

While greatly missing his wife, Dad did the best he could to get by. He continued to garden, and his neighbors and friends said Dad grew the best tomatoes in Oklahoma. After sampling a few of his heirloom Cherokee Purple tomatoes, I was certain they were right. He enjoyed watching the Oklahoma City Thunder games, and usually once a week, my son-in-law Anthony and I would go over to his home and enjoy a game along with pizza and beer. Dad loved being with the family, and for a while he continued to have a massive egg hunt at his home on Easter, with the well-known and highly appreciated “money eggs” – stuffed with bills of varied denominations – which kept everyone interested, even the young adults. Dad was very proud of the fact that he was still able to live at home, enabled by the willing assistance of family and friends, along with a number of rather amazing neighbors.

Aging gradually began to take a toll on Dad, though. His balance became so poor that he sustained a horrific fall while working outside, fracturing his right shoulder, requiring an extended period of rehabilitation. This effectively ended his precious time working in the garden. His eyesight began to fail, caused by a deadly combination of macular degeneration, glaucoma, and corneal issues. His vision became so impaired that he was no longer able to read, something he had previously greatly enjoyed. Having family over for Thunder games was no longer an option, and he didn’t feel healthy enough to leave the home except for intraocular injections for macular degeneration. Dad’s life came to an end on May 9, 2022, a consequence of a fall after which he developed bilateral subdural hematomas – blood clots on his brain. He died at ninety-two – almost ninety-three – years of age.

As I reflect on Dad’s life, I recall once when I asked him, “Hey Dad, what’s the most important thing you have learned over your years?”

Dad paused not a second. “Family.”

Family was critical to Dad, as it was with Mom, and his priorities were being the best husband, brother, uncle, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather he could be. In all these roles, he succeeded admirably.

In retrospect, what amazed me most about Dad was his resiliency, and how he found reasons to live in spite of much that he loved being inexorably taken away. His will to live was strong, though, and he pressed on as a good soldier and Oklahoma farmer would.

Toward the end of his life, while Dad was still lucid, I explained to him that there was a chance that the blood clots on his brain could kill him. He said, “If I live, it’s okay. If I die, it’s okay.” As a Christian, Dad accepted God’s will for him, no matter the end result.

While I would have preferred that Dad had stayed in the world, he died on his terms. The course of his life-ending illness was comparatively short, he didn’t have to go to a nursing facility, which he had fiercely resisted, and to his delight, many family members paid him a visit as the end of his life approached. Even though his ability to communicate was limited in his final days, he still found a way to break into a smile when he recognized loved ones at his bedside.

I miss Dad greatly, and I expect the tears will continue to flow for a while. Letting go of my father, the only person left on the Earth who knew me for all of my sixty-nine years, will be no easy task. That said, the Top Rooster died well, and for that, I am most grateful. How could I not be? At ninety-two years of age, he lived as full and as rich of a life as anyone could ever imagine, and the world is a better place for it.

By golly.

A New Beginning

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1

The time of personal transition has finally come. I have given my notice, and sometime before the end of this year, 2021, I will walk away from my job as a physician in the emergency department where I have labored for over forty-three years. I made this decision with intense ambivalence, as overall I have received a tremendous amount of satisfaction from my occupation. I have worked alongside capable, compassionate, healthcare providers, who are as much friends as coworkers, and together we have cared for an enormous number of patients over the years. As a unit, we have helped many people, and on occasion, we have snatched some from the jaws of death.

Emergency medicine has inexorably pressed me on physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual levels, reminding me of the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” Because of this trial by fire, I’m a much better physician and person than I was all those years ago when I first started my career. Emergency medicine has taken a great deal from me, no doubt, but it has given back so much more, and for that, I am most grateful. But the end of my occupation approaches soon, and I find myself wanting to focus not on what I’m leaving behind, but rather, on the positives of my upcoming existence. I have so much to anticipate.

First of all, I’m looking ahead to a more relaxed life. No more “sphincter moments,” when the actions I take in a few critical seconds make a difference whether a patient lives or dies. While I’ve taken great pride in my ability to act quickly and appropriately in times of crisis, enough is enough. It’s time to sleep in every now and then, spend more precious time with my wife, Sheridan, and when the coronavirus eventually wanes, enjoy longed-for moments with my father, children, step-children, grandchildren and dear friends.  

I’ll also cherish deepening my meditation practice, and I can think of no endeavor more worthy than becoming more intimately aware of the God within and without. Music opens my heart, and I greatly anticipate singing inspired compositions with my circle of friends in the Edmond Community Chorale.

I look forward to future travels. Sheridan has convinced me that I would love visiting Italy, with all its varied culinary, historical and artistic opportunities. I’d jump for joy to go to Paris again, one of the most memorable places I’ve ever been, with a culture and ambiance that nourishes my soul. Most of you are aware of my fascination with glow worms, and the ultimate experience to satisfy this passion would be to visit the famed Waitomo Glowworm Caves in New Zealand. Domestically, I’d love to visit San Francisco, along with nearby Napa Valley, Seattle, and New York City. Can we eventually go to all of these places, and perhaps more? I’d surely like to give it a try.

Also, I want to go on many more challenging hikes, as nowhere do I feel the presence of God more than when I’m in the wilderness. Where? I’ve often asked myself. Of course, one of the best places in the world for trekking is Big Bend National Park in southern Texas, and I’d like to introduce Sheridan to its mystery and majesty. Also, Bandelier National Monument near Los Alamos, NM, has been calling my name. While I’m still physically able, I’d like to go with Sheridan to Sri Lanka and experience the vigorous hike to the top of Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka’s most sacred mountain. Of course, how could I ever go wrong by taking day hikes at the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge, the Oklahoma analogue of Adam’s Peak?

Of course, I’d like to pen more books. In the midst of a busy emergency practice, it’s hard to find time to sit and quietly be creative. No longer will that be an issue. After putting together five books, with one more coming out soon, I believe my writing skills are as good as they’ve ever been. I look forward to sharing my future inspirations with you.

The list could go on and on, yet I also want to be open to other unexpected happenings that God decides to bless me with. I wonder: What does She have in store for me? I smile as I think about it.

In my book, Oklahoma Is Where I Live, family practitioner Doctor Sather said in a lecture to a group of medical students, “As an individual, you are much more than a doctor.” After forty-three years of primarily functioning as a physician, I believe it’s time to explore fully the other aspects of my being before I cross the glowing, inviting entry to The Great Beyond. Besides that, this is the perfect stage of my life to just have fun and connect on a deeper level with those I love. At sixty-eight years of age, I can wait no longer. The time is now.

I can’t tell you how excited I am.