It was a little over a year ago that I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Robbins. Like most headache/migraine patients I had spent many years bouncing around between Family Practice doctors, Internists, Allergists, Neurologists, all to no avail. At the time I walked into Dr. Robbins clinic, I had little expectation that I was going to find any answers, let alone any actual treatments that would reduce the frequency or severity of my migraines. I was haggard, depressed, hadn’t slept well in weeks, and was tired of going through the same routine with doctor after doctor. I’m sure he was glad to see me too.
My wife (who is an Anesthesiologist) received a recommendation to the Robbins Headache Clinic from asking several colleagues if they had any idea of who might be able to help me with my migraines, and Dr. Robbins was mentioned. As we reside in Arkansas, the prospect of traveling all the way to Chicago for treatment did not sound appealing, at all, and I was reluctant to commit to an appointment with a physician I had never heard about, especially if it included flying across the country. In all honesty, I was jaded, and felt at that time that there was no one who could help me. Like most of you reading this blog, I was already convinced that this would be a waste of time and money. However, being a curious creature, I decided to do what everyone does these days when they want to start an investigation into a person’s expertise and character, and I was very methodical in my Google search. (I actually have a black-belt in Googlefu, so I was confident I would find an excuse not to make the appointment.) Once I began reading his hundreds of articles and several books, my doubts began to diminish. Then, I came across his curriculum vitae (CV), (which to a layperson such as myself, I knew to be a Latin word meaning, “much smarter than you will ever be.”)
I began pouring over the CV for obvious signs that he was not the doctor for me (e.g. majored in Bowling during college, or perhaps spent 9 years doing “magnetic therapy” in a foreign country that I couldn’t locate on a map. The problem was, Dr. Robbins has the longest and most extensive CV I have ever read in my life. Matter of fact, not only had he authored at least two books, but also had written over 200 peer reviewed articles that had been published in every reputable medical periodical in existence. As I began to analyze his CV like a forensic detective surveying a crime scene, I began to realize that even for a person with a degree in English Literature and a minor in Philosophy, this was going to take an extensive amount of time, and coffee, in order to absorb all the information contained therein. I got through half of his CV before I conceded defeat. Joyce’s Ulysses took less time for me to read, and I think I even understood more of that book than all the letters attached to Dr. Robbins’ name, except the MD.
I began to realize that this doctor was better trained in headaches, pain management, and preventative medication than all the other doctors I had ever seen, combined. So without admitting to my wife that she was right about scheduling an appointment with his clinic, I reluctantly scheduled an appointment, and began planning for another horrible experience with a doctor that didn’t understand my migraines. As I stated above, I arrived looking like a walk-on for the TV series The Walking Dead.
Dr. Robbins greeted me with a big smile, and so did his staff, and as I looked around the waiting room, I began to notice several things different about his clinic that I had never seen in other doctors’ offices. Covered from wall-to-wall was literature on headaches/migraines, including handouts of his most recent studies and published articles. As I sat in the waiting room, perusing the various literature, I noticed a sign on the entryway into the office, which simply read: “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
For reasons I still can’t express, that sign evoked a lot of emotion in me, like it was specifically put there for my benefit. Something about the words conveyed a sense of inequity that was recognized by all, especially the patients, and yet at the same time I conveyed a sense of not surrendering, to keep moving, to keep fighting, “to carry on” despite the onslaught of pain and suffering. I remember thinking that this sign was perfect for a migraine specialist’s office, as I think most of us feel a sense of unfairness about our disease, a certain injustice that we all share. From being unable to control the pain, to the misconceptions of doctors, employers, friends, and even family; a lot of times I think we feel we are fighting a losing battle against not only the medical establishment, but against society as a whole, and yet we continue to fight. We get up every day knowing that today we are very likely to experience the worst pain we have ever felt in our life; traumatic pain, devastating, and debilitating pain, which we have no ability to control. To me it feels like a great deal of the time I am at war, besieged and attacked by my own body and mind, and there is nothing I can do to stop it, nothing. Perpetual warfare, in any circumstance, is enough to drive even the most balanced person to insanity and hopelessness.
My appointment with Dr. Robbins did not go as I expected. He was compassionate, considerate, he listened to what I had to say, and for the first time in my life, I was actually invited to sit down in his office and talk about my migraines. I had never even seen the inside of an actual doctor’s office before, and to this day, it is the only time it has been offered. Not only did I leave his clinic that day with a better understanding of my migraines, but I had weapons (I use that word purposefully, because I am at war) to fight back against the perpetual onslaught of pain, and indignity suffered by all of us. And as it turned out, Dr. Robbins was the only doctor I have ever encountered that was able to help decrease my migraines.
A few months later, I was studying a legal case that surrounded around a set of facts of concerning trademark infringement. The plaintiff in the case tried to claim a copyright infringement against the defendant for the use of a slogan, none other than, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” The plaintiff, as I learned, lost the lawsuit. The poster pictured in the upper left corner had been created by the Ministry of Information by order of the British government in 1939, and was designed as a propaganda poster to increase morale among the British public during WWII. It was distributed around the city squares and government buildings to prepare the public for what was thought to be a certain invasion by the Germans. It was intended to display the unmitigated pride and fearlessness of the British population who were awaiting imminent destruction. The crown displayed on the poster was intended to remind the population that it was a direct message from their King, speaking to his people. The posters were intended to convey the message that no matter what happened: invasion, bombings, complete destruction of town and country, that it was the duty of the populace to remain strong, no matter what agony or suffering would be inflicted upon them. It was meant to invoke a sense of pride, courage, and calm dignity for which the British are commonly known. It was meant as a message for people that were under siege, facing an enemy that they had no ability to control or defeat.
As I sat there reading the case, I understood why I thought it was perfect for a migraine specialist’s office and why it had meant so much to me at the time. I had realized something innately in that poster that spoke directly to the way I was feeling, even though I didn’t realize it at the time, the poster really was meant for me and others like me. It is a message that no matter what happens to us, no matter how unfair the circumstances may be, or the pain inflicted, it is our duty to fight the good fight. As Churchill would later state, “Never give in, never give in, never; never; never; never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.” I can’t think of a more apt saying to have in the office of a doctor dealing with people who are chronically ill, and are constantly under threat of bombardment at any second, for the worst pain they will ever experience or imagine.
Since the copyright on artistic works expires after 50 years in the UK, and the phrase was in such common usage, the image is now in the public domain, hence the many companies selling t-shirts, coffee mugs, hats, books, and posters- just like the one in Dr. Robbins’ office. It is amazing to me to think of the history involved in this one simple message, which after 73 years, found its way into my life at a time when I felt the weakest, and has indeed inspired me to fight, and to never, ever, ever, give up. The next time you feel hopeless, helpless, like everything is at its worst and you simply can’t take it anymore, I implore you to remember this story and the history that made it manifest, and to never give up. No matter what is happening, do your best, do your duty to your family and loved ones, and “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
I always welcome any thoughts, experiences, critique, or accolades in regards to my posts. Please feel free to share your stories and comments with me and others. The more we communicate the more we learn, and the sooner we will find better solutions to sustain the imminent bombardment. Thanks for reading, and may you have a pain free day.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a healthcare provider, and I do not provide any medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The information presented here is designed for general informational purposes and discussion only, and is not intended to replace a physician’s judgment about the appropriateness or risks of a procedure, medication, product or diagnosis. Always consult your doctor about any medical questions or conditions you may have.