Fallen

I took this photograph outside the Weyerhouser King County Aquatic Center, where my daughter was one of the many WA state high school swimmers. It rained driving all the way there, rained the entire time we were there and then rained on my entire drive back…

This is for Photrablogger’s Mundane Monday Challenge #33. Water again, but now the beauty of water and leaves and asphalt….

Safe harbor

For Ronovanwrites haiku challenge #70, prompt words cover and color.

cover, shelter all
colors, would you harbor me
should be a cover

Sweet Honey in the Rock: Would you harbor me? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0XBXJjoXJ4

I thought about cover meaning shelter and meaning the song, and the refugees needing shelter, harbor and cover. We are frightened and seek cover, shelter, harbor. Who do we have to harbor us but each other?

The photo is a synchronized swimmer in 2012.

Adverse Childhood Experiences 8: Social cues

I am thinking about social cues for people with high Adverse Childhood Experience scores. With crisis brain wiring the response to social cues may be very different than what is considered the acceptable “norm”.

I always miss the cue when someone says “see you later”. I think “When?” Then I realize it’s a social comment and they do not in fact plan to see me later. I have a moment of disappointment. I do the same thing when someone says, “Let’s get together for dinner.” or “Let’s have coffee some time!” or “I will call you back!” or “Why don’t you come to our cabin some day?” Yes, I think, when?

And then I think “Liar.”

So I fail social cues….. or do I? Maybe I am not responding to the “correct” or “conventional” or “nice” social cues.

My father drank too much and especially while I was in high school and college. And my mother would enable and cover up and pretend nothing was happening. Children in this situation, which is way too common, develop special skills.

My sister was three years younger. As adults we discussed the stages of drinking and which one we hated most. We would both walk in the house from school with trepidation. In the door and almost feeling the air: what is happening? Am I safe? Do I need to hide? How dangerous is it? How much will it hurt?

I walked in once during high school and missed the cue. I was thinking about something. I thought my father was asleep in the kitchen. I went in to get something. I was very quiet so as not to wake him. I made a cup of tea.

He was not asleep, or else he woke up. And it was the worst stage, or the one I hated most.
Not physical violence. But he started talking. One of things he said was “You can tell me anything.” Now, he meant it. But he was crying by then and I knew I did not want to tell him anything and all I wanted was desperately to leave the room. And neither my sister or my mother was home. Finally I was crying too, because I said “I just want to go read my book.” and he was more crushed and maudlin and emotional and crying. And I tore out of the room and up to my room, as my mother walked in.

I did not cry much. Ever.

I refused to talk to my mother about it.

The next day she said to me, “Your father told me that you were talking about Lamont.” Lamont Cranston was a very beloved cat, The Shadow, who was missing now. Dead, we thought.

I said nothing. Because we had not talked about Lamont. So either my father was lying or else he’d had a blackout, didn’t remember and was making shit up. And if I told my mother the truth, she would back him and deny what I said or make it into a joke.

The stages my sister and I identified were:
1. sober
2. a little bit
3. goofy/silly/makes no sense
4. crying
5. asleep

We were ok with 2 and 5. I don’t think we saw 1 for years. We disliked 3 intensely, especially in public and especially when our mother was doing a cover up dance. And 4 we hated.
And yet I loved my parents and mostly miss them now that they are gone. Except when I remember things like this.

So, what is the point?

I miss “social cues” because that is NOT what the crisis brain, the ACE score brain, pays attention to. I am paying attention to far more intuitive things: body language. Whether what the person is saying matches what I know about them and what they have done in the past. I am looking for whether this person is telling me the truth.

I don’t trust instantly. Why would I?

I said to a counselor once that reading the “cloud” around the person was terribly useful in medicine but made me a social misfit. “I don’t know how to turn it off.” I said. She grimaced and said, “Why do you think I went into counseling?” She said, “I can’t turn it off either but I have learned to ignore it during social situations.” I was in my forties before I realized that there are people who don’t sense this cloud, who trust people until the person is dishonest, who understand that it is just fine to say “Let’s get together.” and not mean it.

Because actually, when someone says “I’ll see you later.” and they don’t mean it, they are saying an untruth. They are not planning to see me later. They don’t mean it. And my brain automatically files that under evidence that this person is not trustworthy. To them it is a social cue that is polite. To some of us, it is clearly something that is not actually true. I pick up on a cloud of social cues, but not the ones that are acceptable or conventional. And I am not the only one.

my sister on the left and me on the right, in the 1960s

Cheer for the other team

On Friday I was at the Washington State Swim and Dive Championships, at the Weyerhauser Pool in Federal Way, with our small town swim team. The girls did a great job and every race that they’d qualified for at districts, they also qualified for finals. None in the top eight, but all in the top 16.

The parents and our young women were excited and delighted. The pool is Olympic size with international flags hanging in two parallel rows along the roof. I love the flags and was admiring them. My daughter and I went to that pool for the first time when she was 8, for the National Junior Synchronized Swimming Competition. We volunteered to help at the competition.

Hearing the news of more bombs and shootings later in the day, I felt terribly sad. But there is hope in peoples’ kindness: in the culture of girls’ high school swimming each team does a cheer at the start of the meet. And the tradition is to do a cheer for the other team.

Finals started with cheers before the National Anthem. I asked my daughter if the cheers were for the other team and she said, “No, not at the State Competition.”

I am not cheering for anyone who has committed violence. But I am cheering for the voices of tolerance and love and peace and refusal to generalize hate on all sides. I hope we can all remember to cheer for the other team.

Mozart Requiem: Confutatis lacrimosa

It’s about caring

I described helping a woman bring her bad LDL cholesterol down from 205 to 158 with two clinic visits the other day, and someone said, “I can replace you with a teacher who is much cheaper. Why should you go to medical school to talk about the things people already know? Let’s free you up to do heart surgery or something important.”

Well? What about that? Is my career as a doctor wasted because I am in primary care? I am in Family Practice and I spend tons of time counseling people about diet, exercise, lifestyle choices.

My work is not wasted.

If all we had to do was give people information, we have the information. Every magazine and newspaper screams at us: “Obesity! Stop smoking! Exercise for health! Eat right! Don’t eat junk food!”

Why do two visits with me make a difference?

People do not feel valuable and do not feel cared for in our culture. In the same magazine with articles about losing weight, getting organized, shouting “You can do it!” there are multiple advertisements for sugary desserts and things to consume. My spouse used to joke, “If I get (whatever he wanted at that time) then I’ll be a better person.”

I see pregnant woman who can stop smoking while pregnant, to care for the baby on board, but who often can’t extend the same caring to themselves after the child is born.

The history is often listed as the most important part of a clinic visit. I agree, but not just for diagnosing illness. I am listening to the person, and now with a laptop, I am recording their history. Why are they here today, what medical problems have they had, allergies, surgeries, do they smoke, are they married, do they have children? I want a picture of the person and I must listen hard. What do they reveal about their trust in medicine, about favorable or unfavorable medical interactions in the past, about what they understand or believe about their health? The visit is a negotiation. I need their view of what is happening and their questions.

The physical exam is often an interlude for me. I look at the persons throat, in their ears, listen to their heart and lungs. And part of me is collating the information that I’ve gathered, so that we can move to the next step: analysis and plan.

If I am doing a preventative check, a wellness visit, a physical, whatever you want to call it, I name the positives and negatives. Are they exercising regularly, have they stopped smoking, are they trying to eat a good diet? I name these. Are they lucky enough to have four grandparents who lived to 102 or do the men in their family die at 52 of a heart attack? A 55 year old man who has lost multiple relatives in their early 50s is surprised that he’s alive, and starting to wonder if it might be worth attending a little to his own health. He is a bit shy about hoping that he might not die tomorrow, and ready for encouragement in taking care of himself.

The visit is really about caring. Many people in our culture do not feel cared for. Moms are supposed to care for everyone else. Parents are very very busy, trying to take care of children and have jobs. People are afraid that they will lose their job, their insurance, their homes. We try to do the tasks of adulthood: have the career, find the true love, raise the children, achieve the lifestyle, home and place in our society. And many people feel that they are failing or fear failing. They have not gotten the job they hoped for. They have a house, but it is a huge amount of work. They are working very hard, but there are still so many things they would like to do or see or have. They have become overweight, they have gotten hooked on tobacco, their children are not turning out as they’d planned, the ungrateful wretches. And their parents’ health is crumbling, and in all the chaos, why would the person attend to themselves? The cell phone rings, the computer beckons, it’s time to work, to cook, to clean, to stay on the hamster wheel of life.

In clinic, for a few moments, this person is the center. They explain their health to me. They are painting a picture of their life. A patient will say, “I’ve been worrying about my mother, my son, my spouse, and I don’t take the time to exercise or eat right.”

And I say, “I hope that your mother, son, spouse does better. But you are important too. It is wonderful that you have stopped smoking, excellent! But we’re both worried about your cholesterol, right? It is too high. How are we going to take care of you? What can you fit in?”

Most people do not want to start with a medicine. They want to take care of themselves, too. They are willing to make lifestyle changes. They need encouragement and permission and to come back to see how it is going. What they need is my caring. And I do care.

I used to think that somehow complex patients would gravitate to me. But that is not true: the truth is that everyone is complex. Each person has layers and thoughts and feelings: fears and joys. I barely scratch the surface. It is the caring that is most important and each person that I see is important.

At the end of the visit, I print my note. I give it to the person. “Check it. Tell me if something is wrong. I cannot change the note, but I can put an addendum.” I see that people are shy and often show some confusion. Two pages? Single spaced? About me?

Yes. About you.

written in 2010 and published first here: http://everything2.com/title/It%2527s+about+caring?searchy=search

I took the photo in 2004, a school overnight trip to explore settlers 100 years ago….

Why care for addicts?

Why care for addicts?

Children. If we do addiction medicine and help and treat addicts, we are helping children and their parents and our elderly patients’ children. We are helping families, and that is why I chose Family Practice as my specialty.

Stop thinking of addiction as the evil person who chooses to buy drugs instead of paying their bills. Instead, think of it as a disease where the drug takes over. Essentially, we have trouble with addicts because they lie about using drugs. But I think of it as the drug takes over: when the addict is out of control, the drug has control. The drug is not just lying to the doctor, the spouse, the parents, the family, the police: the drug is lying to the patient too.

The drug says: just a little. You feel so sick. You will feel so much better. Just a tiny bit and you can stop then. No one will know. You are smart. You can do it. You have control. You can just use a tiny bit, just today and then you can stop. They say they are helping you, but they aren’t. Look how horrible you feel! And you need to get the shopping done and you can’t because you are so sick…. just a little. I won’t hurt you. I am your best friend.

I think of drug and alcohol addiction as a loss of boundaries and a loss of control. I treat opiate overuse patients and I explain: you are here to be treated because you have lost your boundaries with this drug. Therefore it is my job to help you rebuild those boundaries. We both know that if the drug takes control, it will lie. So I have to do urine drug tests and hold you to your appointments and refuse to alter MY boundaries to help keep you safe. If the drug is taking over, I will have you come for more frequent visits. You have to keep your part of the contract: going to AA, to NA, to your treatment group, giving urine specimens. These things rebuild your internal boundaries. Meanwhile you and I and drug treatment are the external boundaries. If that fails, I will offer to help you go to inpatient treatment. Some people refuse and go back to the drug. I feel sad but I hope that they will have another chance. Some people die from the drug and are lost.

Addiction is a family illness. The loved one is controlled by the drug and lies. The family WANTS to believe their loved one and often the family “enables” by helping the loved one cover up the illness. Telling the boss that the loved one is sick, procuring them alcohol or giving them their pills, telling the children and the grandparents that everything is ok. Everything is NOT ok and the children are frightened. One parent behaves horribly when they are high or drunk and the other parent is anxious, distracted, stressed and denies the problem. Or BOTH are using and imagine if you are a child in that. Terror and confusion.

Children from addiction homes are more likely to be addicts themselves or marry addicts. They have grown up in confusing lonely dysfunction and exactly how are they supposed to learn to act “normally” or to heal themselves? The parents may have covered well enough that the community tells them how wonderful their father was or how charming their mother was at the funeral. What does the adult child say to that, if they have memories of terror and horror? The children learn to numb the feelings in order to survive the household and they learn to keep their mouths shut: it’s safer. It is very hard to unlearn as an adult.

I have people with opiate overuse syndrome who come to see me with their children. I have drawings by children that have a doctor and a nurse and the words “heroes” underneath and “thank you”. I  have had a young pregnant patient thank me for doing a urine drug screen as routine early in pregnancy. “My friend used meth the whole pregnancy and they never checked,” she said, “Now her baby is messed up.”

Addiction medicine is complicated because we think people should tell the truth. But it is a disease precisely because it’s the loss of control and loss of boundaries that cause the lying. We should be angry at the drug, not the person: love the person and help them change their behavior. We need to stop stigmatizing and demeaning addiction and help people. For them, for their families, for their children and for ourselves.

I took the photo of my daughter on Easter years ago.