Book Review: Kennedy’s Hugs

This book has raw authenticity and powerful emotional impact.

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD


Last fall at the Latter-day Saints Publishing and Media Association conference I picked up a copy of Kennedy’s Hugs by Jason and Heather Hansen. The cover of the book has nine pictures of Kennedy, a beautiful teenage brunette, in various poses: smiling while talking on a cell phone, kissing a boy on the cheek, laughing with another teenage girl, etc. There is a big pink heart under the “u” in the title, and “XOXOXO” written under a couple of the pictures. It didn’t look like a book that I would be interested in reading, or even caught dead reading, so when I got home from the conference I gave it to my teenage daughter, who read it the next day. (She is a natural speed reader.) When she gave it back to me she said, “You have to read this. It’s so sad!” She explained that it was about a girl who died of a neurologic disease, so I started to warm up to the idea of reading it — but only at home where no one but family would see me holding the book.

My wife read it next, and sobbed the whole time. She said, through tears, “There is so much hardness and unkindness in the world, you begin to expect people to be mean. It was the love they had for each other that was so touching that I was unable to stop crying. There really are loving people in the world.” Obviously this book had emotional impact. I decided to read it.

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Announcement: Ensign Article in February 2019

man_doctor_exam_roomThe article I submitted to the Ensign Magazine will be published in next month’s edition, and you can read it online now:

I supplied a mug shot picture, and the Ensign illustrator Allen Garns came up with this image. I think he did a good job!

Here is the text I submitted last March: Mourning with Those that Mourn. Continue reading

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Treadmill Journal, Part 3: Words of Wisdom

The Word of Wisdom is a token or symbol of our covenant to follow all of God’s commandments.

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

treadmill journal 3

My old treadmill is kind of a piece of junk. It is 5 years old, and has been put to heavy use in the winter months (and heavy abuse by the children in all seasons). It works well enough to use, but it is certainly not in peak condition. One of its quirks is an inability to lower its belt speed while running. If I am using the interval workout program, for instance, and the speed is supposed to drop from 8 mph to 6 mph at the end of a high intensity interval, then the belt speed actually stays at 8 mph. This makes it difficult to do any kind of speed training or cardio work. Fortunately the manual incline adjustment still works, so I can set the speed to a moderate pace and adjust the incline to add variation.

During December I was reading the reviews on new treadmills, and decided that a NordicTrack Commercial 1750 would make a good Christmas present. It is a little pricey, but I have some money saved up in a rainy day fund. And what are treadmills for if not for rainy days?

Over the last few weeks I have been listening to President Nelson’s talks from October 1985 through October 1986 while running on the treadmill. We have discussed the Word of Wisdom on this website before, but one of his talks made me think of it in a way that I had never considered before.

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Finding Novelty in the Scriptures

When the going gets tough, don’t give up — get creative!

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

finding novelty in the scripuresHave you ever had a hard time staying focused while reading the scriptures? Does your mind wander away into unrelated topics? Do you ever reach the bottom of a page and then realize that you can’t remember anything you have read?

Chances are that if you answered no to all of these questions, then you have never tried to read the scriptures.

Why is it so hard to stay on task mentally when studying the scriptures? And what can we do to make it easier for us? In this post I will answer these questions from a neurologic perspective.

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Latter-day Doctor: 2018 Year in Review

This has been a transformative year for the blog

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

Here is our year-end summary!

Top Ten Posts of 2018

2018 review

  1. The Book of Mormon – Alternate Chronology. This post was actually from 2015, but its traffic has really taken off this year and it has gotten twice as many hits as any other post. I revised the chart and the post this year to include hyperlinks to the online scriptures.
  2. Is There Something Wrong? A personal story about love, friendship, and mental illness that happened during my senior year of high school. This post really struck a chord with people, especially when it was shared among my high school classmates.
  3. The Crescent Moon. My neighbor Christie Perkins died in April, and this was my euology for her.
  4. Medical Marijuana. A contentious political and cultural issue, explained from the perspective of a practicing doctor.
  5. A British Summer: My Experience as a Latter-day Saint Missionary. My two years in England really changed my life.
  6. To Be Learned is Good If… This was the first post by Rand Colbert, MD, a new contributor who joined the site this year.
  7. Alternative Medicine. A fairly balanced discussion of another contentious topic.
  8. Ministering for Sociophobes: A Practical Guide. A discussion of social anxiety disorder, focusing on practical advice for sociophobes trying to fulfill church assignnments.
  9. It Becomes You – A Memoir About Medical Education. This was the series of posts which launched the year, describing the launch of my career. If you know someone who is thinking about becoming a doctor, send them to this post.
  10. What Is Death? A discussion of medical and religious definitions of death, and an explanation of Latter-day Saint doctrine about the afterlife.

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Christmas, Upside-Down

Has your Christmas been turned upside-down? You’re in good company.

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

Christmas Upside DownOne of my family traditions, started when my oldest kids were little, is to illustrate the Christmas story from the Bible, one scene at a time on large paper, and post them on the wall. Each week in December, usually in our Family Home Evening, we do another drawing and read that part of the story together. The little kids crowd around and lean over the paper so that it is hard for me to see what I’m drawing, and at some point early on I started sitting at the top of the paper, across from the kids, and drawing from the upside-down perspective. My rule is that every mark I make on the paper has to be done this way, including the lettering. This is a great mental exercise, drawing and writing upside-down, and my drawings are so bad anyway that they are not much worse when I do them this way.

Over the years I have known many people who have had their Christmases turned upside-down because of illness. I told one of those stories a couple of years ago on this blog. Just two weeks ago I said to a patient, “This will go down in history as your Christmas in the hospital. Just get used to that idea now.” But fortunately this patient improved much faster than I expected, and last week he was discharged home after only five days in rehab. This will go down in history as his Christmas miracle.

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Taking It Religiously

I wish more people would take religion religiously

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

Taking it Religiously

One day in clinic I was seeing a patient in follow up. At her previous visit I had given her a prescription to help with her migraine headaches. “Have you been taking the medication?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” she replied. “I take it religiously.”

The literal meaning of her reply struck me, and I suddenly imagined her on her knees, swallowing a pill with devotion and fervor.

“Do you take it at church?” I asked.

She looked at me quizzically. “You just said that you take it religiously,” I explained.

She laughed. “No, I don’t take it at church, but maybe I should.”

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Treadmill Journal, Part 2: Speaking for the Voiceless

“This doctrine is not of me, but is that of the living God and of his divine Son.”

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

Treadmill Journal2-title

I woke up to the baby calling early in the morning, about half an hour before my alarm was to go off. The house was completely dark, and would have been quiet if not for my baby calling out. He’s not really a baby anymore, but he is the youngest so he gets to be the baby still even though he is really a toddler.


She was still asleep, and gave no sign of changing that. So I slid out of bed softly, trying not to disturb her, and stumbled through the house. I found our little early bird standing up in his crib, looking much more ready for the day than I felt. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether I am the early bird getting the worm, or the early worm getting eaten alive.

“Hi, Dad!” he said.

“Good morning, Baby.” I gave him a new diaper, a drink of water, and a banana. By that time I had given up on going back to bed.

“Do you want to go running?”

“Yeah! A running!”

On a summer morning I might have put him in the jogging stroller and taken him along for my morning run, but I don’t like to do that when the temperature is below freezing outside. So instead we went downstairs to the treadmill, where he sat on a nearby couch watching a trail running video while I ran a few miles and listened to President Nelson’s third Conference talk.

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Imagining Is Doing

A neurologic perspective on the Higher Law

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

How would you like to learn to play the piano without having to spend hours practicing at the keyboard? It turns out that you can, although the process requires more effort than you probably hope. Everything worth doing is hard, right?

Imagining is Doing

Here’s how the process works. Some years ago a team of brain researchers did a study to understand more about the process of learning. They took volunteer study subjects who didn’t know how to play the piano, and showed them how to play a simple song. The subjects were then split into two groups, one of which sat at a piano and practiced playing the song for a certain amount of time every day, and the other of which merely imagined doing so, but for the same amount of time. Surprisingly, study subjects who did mental practice alone were able to play the piece almost as well as those who had practiced at the piano. And after spending a few minutes at the keyboard the mental practice group was able to catch up to the skill level of other group.

These results are not extremely helpful for those of us who do not already play piano, because the no-practicing piano method still requires just as much time and motivation as the more traditional way, and therefore does not provide a shortcut to developing this enviable talent. (And I suspect that maintaining the motivation and the discipline to persist in mental-only practice is probably harder than for hands-on practice.) But the implications for learning and behavior are HUGE.

A purely mental exercise, just thinking about movement, has the power to change the parts of our brain which execute that movement. In fact, imaging studies which can detect brain activity, such as fMRI and PET scans, show activation of the motor areas of the brain when subjects are asked to think about performing an activity without actually moving. From the perspective of the brain, there isn’t much difference between doing, and thinking about doing.

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Treadmill Journal, Part 1: The First Miles!

Putting a few exclamation points behind the Prophet’s words.

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

Treadmills are boring. Running on a treadmill is only slightly better than not running at all.

Treadmill Journal-1

But sometimes the treadmill is my best or only option, because of inclement weather, family responsibility, or some other reason. This time of year when it is getting colder and darker outside I sometimes retreat to the basement to put a few more miles on my creaky old hamster wheel.

How does one occupy the mind during such a meaningless task as running nowhere? There are various tricks, almost all of which involve distracting yourself with some kind of audiovisual experience. I almost never listen to anything on headphones while running outside, but without music my treadmill workout would only last about 5 minutes.

A couple of weeks ago I went downstairs for a treadmill run after putting the youngest kids to bed for the night. I was listening to some pretty good swing jazz, an old Benny Goodman recording with a killer Gene Krupa drum solo, but within the first mile I was suddenly struck with the thought that I was wasting my time. Wasting my time?

“Yes,” says my conscience.

But I’m getting a good workout, and listening to some great music! These activities are of good report.

“You could do better. You should listen to Conference.”

Hmmmm. But I’m really enjoying this music.

“But Conference is better. And I will keep nagging you until you do it.”

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