Practicing Conflict

An essay from my church talks about the writer avoiding conflict, fearing conflict and disliking conflict. This interests me, because I do not avoid conflict, I don’t fear conflict and actually, I like it. Our emeritus minister once did a sermon in which he said that when you are thinking about two conflicting things at once, that is grace. I have thought about his words many times, especially when I am not in agreement about something.

Does this interest in conflict mean I fight all the time? Well, sort of, but not in the way you think. I don’t fight with other people much. I fight myself.

What? No, really. Most topics have multiple sides. Not one, not two, but many. Like a dodecahedron or a cut gem. Hold it up to the light, twelve sides, each different. I argue the different sides with myself.

I learned this from my parents. My parents would disagree about something, they would discuss or argue about it, and then they would bet. Sometimes they bet a penny, sometimes a quarter, sometimes one million dollars. Then one of them would get up and get the Oxford English Dictionary, or the World Atlas, or some other reference and look it up. This was pre-internet, ok? 1970s and 1980s.

Sometimes my parents would even pay each other. The penny or quarter. My father spoke terrible French and my mother had lived in Paris for a year after high school, so he could get her going by insisting that his French was correct. It wasn’t. Ever.

There were other arguments in the middle of the night that were not friendly and involved yelling, but the daytime disagreements were funny and they would both laugh.

Once my sister is visiting after my mother has died. My father is present. My father, sister and I get in a three way disagreement about physics. I’m a physician, my sister was a Landscape Architect and my father was a mathematician/engineer, so we are all three talking through our hats. However, we happily argue our positions. Afterwards, my gentleman friend says, “That was weird.” “What?” I ask. “That was competitive and you were all arguing.” “It was a discussion and we disagreed.” “I won’t compete.” “We let my dad win, because it makes him happy.” “That was weird.” “Ok, whatever.”

My gentleman friend is also shocked when my teen son challenges me at dinner. My son says, “I am researching marijuana and driving for school and there isn’t much evidence that it impairs driving.”  I reply, “Well, there is not as easy a test as an alcohol test and it was illegal, so it has not been studied.” We were off and having a discussion.

Afterwards my gentleman friend says, “I am amazed by your son bringing that up. We weren’t allowed to discuss anything like that at dinner.” I say, “We pretty much discuss anything at dinner and both my kids are allowed to try to change my mind. About going to a party or whatever.” He shakes his head. “That is really different.” “Ok,” I say.

This habit of challenging authority, including adults, did not go over well when my son was an exchange student to Thailand. It did not occur to me to talk to him about it. He figured it out pretty quickly.

Back to my internal arguments. If I take a position, I almost immediately challenge it. I think of it as the old cartoons, with the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. The devil will make fun of things and suggest revenges and generally behave really badly. The angel will rouse and say, “Hey, you aren’t being nice.” Then they fight. The internal battle very quickly becomes comic with the two of them trading insults and bringing up past fights and fighting unfairly. When it makes me laugh inside, I can also be over the driver who cut me off, or someone who spoke nastily, or whatever. My devil is very very creative about suggested revenges. When the angel says, “You are meaner than the person who cut you off!” I am over it.

When I was little and disagreeing with my family, my sister could tell. “You have your stone face on!” That meant I was attempting to hide a feeling, especially fear or anger or grief. Siblings and family are the most difficult because they can read us and see through us like glass. My physician training also teaches control of feelings. I have sometimes wanted to grab a patient and scream “Why are you doing this to yourself?” but that really is not part of the doctor persona. I am doing it inside, but I can put it aside until later. Then the devil goes to town! And the angel tries to calm the devil down.

Maybe we all need more of this skill. Pick a mildly controversial topic. Argue one side of it. Then switch positions and argue the other side. Go back and forth until it gets ridiculous. Let each side get unreasonable and inflammatory and annoying. This can play in your head and not on your face. Once you can do a mild topic, move on to something a bit more difficult. If you only know the arguments on your side, read. You can find the other side, the internet is huge. Start gently.

A friend says, “You always argue about things.” I say, “I prefer to think of it as a discussion.” “You always take the other side.” “Well, it interests me. And if there is no one to discuss something with, I discuss it with myself!” “Weirdo,” says the friend. I think he’s jealous, really I do. Don’t you?

Covid-19, Long Haul and the immune system

“Whether immune-mediated secondary OCD could also develop as a consequence of COVID-19 poses a highly relevant research question to be elucidated in the near future [35, 36]. The first studies of their kind have demonstrated infection-triggered neuronal antibody production against various antigens in COVID-19 patients who were presenting with unexplained neurological symptoms [37].” from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41398-021-01700-4

Um, yes. It is looking highly likely that chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and Long Haul Covid-19 are all immune system responses. They are not simple at all. They can involve antibodies, cytokines and killer T cells and probably other things.

Antibodies: the difficulty here is that we all make different antibodies. It’s all very well to say that people with PANDAS and PANS make antibodies to Dopamine 1 and 2 receptors, tubulin receptors and lysoganglioside receptors, but people each make different antibodies. The antibodies can attach and block the receptor or can attach to the receptor and turn the key: act like dopamine, for example. Dopamine makes people tachycardic, a fast heart rate. If dopamine receptors are blocked, that could be a source for “brain fog” and feeling down.

Cytokines: I worked at the National Institutes of Health back in the 1980s before medical school. We were studying interleukin 2 and tumor necrosis factor for cancer treatment. Building 10 had mice on the north south axis and human patients on the east west. It was fascinating. Now I am reading a current book on the immune system. There has been a lot of research since 1988. Cytokines are released by cells and are immunodulating agents. They are a form of communication in the immune system.

Killer T cells: When antibodies coat a cell, there are immune system cells that kill and/or eat the coated cells. This is good if it is an infectious bacteria or a cell infected with virus, but it is bad if it is your own joint cells or your heart cells or, horrors, brain cells. In rheumatic fever, antibodies to strep A attack the patient’s own cells as well as the strep A cells. This is called “pseudo autoimmune” but I am starting to suspect that all the autoimmune disorders are responses to stress or infection or both.

So if you are still reading, you are saying wait, this is awful, what can we do about it?

Our understanding of the immune system is better than 1988 however… it still has a ways to go. I think that Covid-19 and Long Haul Covid are going to seriously accelerate the research in this area. Meanwhile there are some things people can do to “down regulate” or quiet down the immune system.

If antibodies are causing some of the problem, we need to quiet them down. With severe PANDAS in children, plasmapheresis filters the blood and filters out antibodies. However, the body keeps making them. Infection must be treated first, but then the initial antibody response lasts for 6-8 weeks. Then the body makes memory antibodies and cells to remember. With reinfection, the response lasts for 2-4 months and then subsides if the infection is gone.

Treat infection first. Then treat urgent symptoms, including urgent psychiatric symptoms. Then work can start on the sympathetic nervous system, quieting down to the parasympathetic state. This is not easy with Long Haul Covid-19 or chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia because people are afraid, confused, in pain, exhausted. I have written about the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems here and here. Start with slow breathing, four seconds in and four seconds out. It takes practice.

I have been getting feedback at the pulmonary rehab. When I arrive, they take my pulse, 02 saturation and blood pressure. They put the pulse oximeter on and often I am up in the 90s. I slow my breathing and watch my pulse drop. One day I came in relaxed and my initial pulse was 71. When I was a little late, it started at 99 and came down. The therapist took it off when I got my pulse down to 90. We can check our own pulse, the number of heart beats in one minute, or a small pulse oximeter is about $30.

We can’t really “fix” the immune system with drugs. Steroids can quiet inflammation but they make us more susceptible to infection and raise blood sugar and cause multiple problems when used chronically, like osteoporosis. Plasmapheresis is expensive and requires specially trained nurses. Doesn’t a breathing exercise sound a lot more DIY and cheaper too? You got this. Practice, practice, practice.

Autoimmune OCD and my daughter shops my closet

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41398-021-01700-4

The article is a proposal for diagnostic criteria for autoimmune obsessive compulsive disorder, a relatively rare version of OCD. Important because the treatment has to include searching for infection that triggers the antibody response, which in turn attacks the brain. Antibiotics to treat a “psychiatric” disorder. Mind and body connection, right?

The ironic thing about this new proposed diagnosis is that I do not have obivious OCD in any way, shape or form. It is masked by packrat. Also, my OCD is focused. When I was working, it was focused on patients. My clinic charts were thorough, 100% of the time. I was brutally thorough and wouldn’t skip anything. The result was that I got a reputation for being an amazing diagnostician. Usually it was because I wanted ALL the puzzle pieces and the ones that don’t fit are the ones that interested me. They have to all fit. Either the patient is lying or the diagnosis is not as simple as it appears. Occam’s Razor be damned, people can have more than one illness.

In fact, an article 20 years ago looked at average patient panels and said that the average primary care patient has 4-5 chronic illnesses. Hypertension, diabetes, emphysema, tobacco overuse disorder, alcohol overuse disorder, well, yeah. And then the complex ones had 9 or more complex illnesses. You can’t see the person for one thing, because if the diabetic has a toe infection, you’d better look at their kidney function because the antibiotic dose can kill their kidneys if you don’t adjust it. So do not tell me to see the patient for one thing. Malpractice on the hoof. Completely crazy and evil that administrators tell doctors to do that.

No one looking at my house would ever think I have any OCD. I am not a hoarder (ok, books) but the packrat force is strong in me. My daughter did not inherit that gene. She is a minimalist. However, she has come to appreciate the packrat a little.

This summer she said that her purse is wearing out. As a minimalist she has one purse. I ask, “Would you like to see if I have one that you like?” It so happens that as I was trying to recover from pneumonia, a local garage sale had 20+ year old designer purses for $3 each, because the house was going on the market. Got to get rid of the stuff.

“Yes, please.” says my daughter.

I start with the weird ones that I know she will not want. I get eye rolls. But I am progressing towards the purses that are close to the one she has. At last I produce a small leather purse, the right size, in good shape, and she sits up. “Let me see that one.” Like Eeyore with his popped balloon, putting it in a jar and taking it out, she tries putting her phone and wallet in the purse and taking it out. “Yes, I like this!” She calls it “Shopping mom’s closet.” I think it is delightfully comic. The benefits of a packrat mother.

Back to the Nature article and OCD. The diagnostic criteria are gaining steam. Having watched a conference this summer about Pandas and Pans, mine is mild. Some young people have a version where killer T cells invade the brain and kill neurons. I had a moment of panic when the conference was discussing a case, but then I thought, if I had the neuron killing kind I would be dead or demented by now.

Instead, I’m just a little neurologically unusual.

Healing

I realized I had pneumonia for the fourth time on March 20, 2021. It has been a year and five months now. I do not have an “overarching diagnosis” for why I am so vulnerable to pneumonia, though not for lack of trying. I have seen twenty specialists since 2012, including four pulmonologists.

Most specialists dismiss me as soon as their tests don’t fit me into one of their boxes.

I have one now who is not dismissing me. He referred me to the Mayo Clinic. They did not call back when I did a self referral three months ago nor when my primary care physician referred me. However, they called within a week of his referral.

Mayo Clinic called yesterday. I may need a prior authorization or something, I have a number to call today.

I am healing. I still am on oxygen for singing, flute, night and heavy exercise, but pulmonary rehabilitation is working. I have built up steadily on the treadmill for 6 weeks. I have 5-6 more. Many of the pulmonary rehabilitation people are on oxygen and will not get off oxygen, so I am an outlier here too.

I feel better than I have in seven years, since the 2014 pneumonia. I had strep A pneumonia in 2012 and 2014 and really did not fully heal after 2014. I was tired all the time. I think I went back to work too soon and just did what I could. Not returning to work is helping immensely. I can’t return anyhow, unless the Mayo Clinic or someone figures out my “overarching diagnosis” and how to make me less vulnerable to pneumonia. Seems unlikely after 19 years. My first round was influenza in 2003. Maybe choosing a different career than primary care would have made a difference, though maybe I would not have survived a pneumonia without being a primary care doctor. We aren’t supposed to treat ourselves, but if no one believes us, well, there is not much choice, is there?

The photograph is from a beach hike in November 2021.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: heal.

Hello universe

You know what?

I want to get remarried. Add that, Beloved, to me wanting someone to love and to love someone.

Commit, damn it.

And that is what I now want. Thank you recent ex for showing me what I want.

I want to be myself from the start.

I want to notice bullshit and walk away before we get involved.

I don’t want to be controlled, I don’t want to control, I want a partner.

I don’t want to be enabled, I don’t want to enable, I want mutual respect and caring.

I am not your shrink, you are not my shrink, and if one of us needs a shrink, we should find one.

I want to notice lies and walk away before we get involved.

I want to speak up if you tell me lies, or I want to back away for good.

I want to be loved and I want to love. By the same person, damn it.

Hear my prayer, Beloved. Hello, universe. Here I am.

Top ten causes of death, US, 2020, and doctor time pressure

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm

There is an article about US doctors, that primary care would have to work around the clock to apply all of the guidelines, here: https://news.uchicago.edu/story/primary-care-doctors-would-need-more-24-hours-day-provide-recommended-care.

Yes, but this is not new news. There was a trio of articles twenty years ago that said the same thing. And the guidelines have only expanded. Primary care is doing the same thing it has always done: what it can. Meanwhile we go to “Continuing Medical Education” and the other specialists ALL say we are not doing enough, we need to do more. Makes a woman cynical, don’t it?

Family Practice is a specialty, did you know that? We do a three year residency. Internal medicine is also three years, but many then “sub specialize” — further training in cardiology or rheumatology or nephrology, and etc. Sometimes we get a primary care doctor who doesn’t do the extra years but gets interested in something and they learn to subspecialize. We had a pulmonologist on the peninsula here, best I’ve worked with, who had not done the fellowship but learned it on the job. She was excellent and is now retired.

So you as a patient need to be aware of the top ten causes of death and do some thinking. Heart is still number one, in spite of Covid-19. All the cancer deaths are number two, but that’s only a fraction of the cancers. You want cancer screening, to pick it up before it is lethal. Pap smears, colon cancer screening, get your skin checked. Covid-19 is number three in 2020. Let’s look at the list.

US top ten causes of death, 2020.

  • Heart disease: 696,962
  • Cancer: 602,350
  • COVID-19: 350,831
  • Accidents (unintentional injuries): 200,955
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 160,264
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 152,657
  • Alzheimer’s disease: 134,242
  • Diabetes: 102,188
  • Influenza and pneumonia: 53,544
  • Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 52,547

The list changes. What has fallen out of the top ten, since Covid-19 was not on the list back in 2019? “Intentional self-harm” aka suicide, was number ten in 2019.

Let’s go through the list one at a time and give you some basic tools and ideas about prevention, since your physician doesn’t have enough time to deal with all of it.

  1. Heart: The people who have not seen a doctor for twenty years, um, go see a doctor. If you have high blood pressure for twenty years, you will also have heart failure, which means pump failure. This is bad and will kill you. Check in at least every three to five years. In the US currently, you are a “new” patient after three years, so it’s best to show up just before that three year mark. Call ahead, everyone is short staffed. Check blood pressure, cholesterol and quit smoking (that includes pot, also bad for the heart), cocaine is very effective at trashing the heart, alcohol is bad for it, so is methamphetamines, and any other silly and stupid substance “overuse”. Kratom? Bad. Fake pot? Also bad. Turn off the tube or computer and go for a daily walk. Outside. Without headphones or earbuds. Try to figure out the bird noises, ok? Eat more vegetables. Don’t be stupid.
  2. Cancer: do the screening tests. Get the HPV vaccine for your children. Get pap smears. Use sun screen. Get your colonoscopy when you hit that age. Want to read about a screening test? Go to this site: https://uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/home . This is the clearing house for the current guidelines AND THEY CHANGE. They get updated. The vaccines are all here too. Get them.
  3. Covid-19. If you aren’t vaccinated then I don’t even want to talk to you, unless you are seriously immunosuppressed and your docs told you not to. Otherwise your brain has been taken over by non-scientist crazy whackos. IMHO.
  4. Accidents have been rising up the list and currently number one is opioid overuse deaths. Do not buy pills on the street because even if they claim to be oxycodone they may actually be fentanyl. The drug cartels aren’t so good at diluting the fentanyl enough to not kill you. If you are on prescribed opioids you should have a shot to reverse it (narcan shot or nasal spray) and your family or friends should know where it is and how to use it. Next is guns and cars. Guns should be locked up with the ammunition locked up separately when you are not working as a policemen or hunting a deer or rhinoceros. Cars should not be driven under the influence and hello seat belts. Oh, let’s see, wear your helmet on the bicycle, roller blades, e-bike, jet-skateboard or whatever. Wear a life jacket in the boat. Don’t point Axe towards your face and try to light the spray on fire.
  5. Stroke. This is all the same stuff as heart. And also Covid-19 increases your risk of stroke.
  6. Chronic lower respiratory disease: this is mostly caused by tobacco, tobacco, tobacco, marijuana, tobacco, asbestos, tobacco and woodsmoke or firefighting. Smoke is bad. Vapor is smoke, ok? See your doctor to get help quitting smoking. My father quit after 55 years of 2 packs a day of unfiltered Camels, so don’t tell me you can’t. Also it takes an average of 8 tries or so to quit. Yes you can.
  7. Alzheimer’s: keep your brain active, eyes are important, ears are important, eat those vegetables and if you live where I do, vitamin D in the winter.
  8. Diabetes: sweet drinks are bad. Fake sweet drinks are bad. A coke has 32 grams of carbohydrate. A Starbuck’s mocha 12 oz has 60. Quit drinking sweet drinks. Your goal is no more than 15 grams of sweetener a day. Now, what exactly is a carbohydrate? It’s anything edible that is not fat or protein. However, there are lots of very low carbohydrate vegetables out there. A cup of kale only has 8 grams of carbohydrate. Sweet peas and sugar beets have a lot more. Diabetics and everyone else should have at least half of every meal be vegetables, green and yellow and orange. Fruit is sweeter and all of the portion sizes (except kale) are less than you’d like to eat. Prevention is good.
  9. Influenza and pneumonia. Get your flu shot. There are two pneumonia shots and the first is given at age 65 and the second at 66. Except in people with heart or lung problems, then they get the vaccine early and repeat at 65 and 66. I think we are going to have a group of people who always mask on planes. I am one of them.
  10. Nephritis and etc. This is kidneys. What can affect your kidneys? Pills and illegal drugs, mostly. All pills that are absorbed are metabolized (which means broken down) by either the liver or the kidneys. Kidney function goes down slowly over a lifetime with age. We are seeing a huge rise in kidney problems because of too many pills. Yes, supplements too. Natural does not mean safe and what the heck is natural about a pill anyhow? Take as few pills as possible. Take ALL the pills to show your doctor. Ok, your doctor might be clueless about supplements. We had one person nearly hit the liver transplant stage until she showed my partner her supplement’s new label “Can affect the liver.” Holy cow. Should say “Can kill you.” So back to prevention: my baseline was that people should have blood lab basic testing every five years before age 50 and every three years after that if they were on NO PILLS. If they are on ANY pills, I recommend yearly testing. Did you know that the supplement companies can change what is in the pill at any time without telling you? Isn’t that reassuring? Heck no.
  11. There are still a long list of other causes of death. Liver disease, intentional self-harm, and on.

Since your doctor does not have time to think about all of this every time you stop by, it’s partly up to you. I don’t trust Dr. Google at all, but the sites I go to are the CDC, the Mayo Clinic, NIH, AAFP (American Academy of Family Practice). I look at lots of quack sites too, to see what is being sold, but I am not advertising them!

Be careful out there.

The photograph is Elwha watching the four point buck and wondering if it will eat him or not. From last week.

Parasympathy

In 2013, Catherine Hodes, director of the Safe Homes Project (a domestic-violence program), started a workshop called “Is it Conflict or Abuse?” An abusive dynamic, she argues, requires one person to have power over the other, whereas conflict involves two people struggling for power. The distinction can be confusing, and in some cases “both people feel like they’re being abused, because they’re not getting their needs met or they’re not getting their way.”

From the Atlantic Monthly article: That’s it, you’re dead to me. September 2022 p. 14.

I think this is a fascinating idea, in the article that questions the internet wisdom of getting rid of “toxic people” in one’s life. When we cut off someone we consider “toxic”, we aren’t peaceing them, are we? Peace me, peace you, how do we actively peace people instead of being afraid, on guard, at war. I think everyone is more afraid after the two years of Covid 19 pandemic and all of the deaths and the Long Haul Covid and war. Everyone has a shorter fuse, everyone is stressed.

Remember that stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight system. The body makes less thyroid and less sex hormones and makes more adrenaline and cortisol. Cortisol is a steroid and great for short term, but bad for long term. If we are continually stressed, cortisol messes up the immune system and we get auto-immune disorders, the body attacking its’ own cells. The adrenaline raises our heart rate and blood pressure, neither of which are good for the heart long term. When the thyroid hormone is on the low side, we feel tired. The adrenaline makes us feel wired and we have trouble sleeping. The cortisol makes us more likely to get sick and raises blood sugar too. The low sex hormones, well, women can stop menses and men start asking for viagra.

So we as a world, need to learn to downregulate the sympathetic nervous system and go back to parasympathetic. The relaxed one. The one where we have less adrenaline and less high cortisol and more thyroid and our gut works and sex works again. How do we get there?

Breathing is one way. Slow breathing: 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out. Work up to 20 minutes. One of my veterans said he was not used to feeling relaxed, it felt weird. Ok, it may feel weird, but maybe we need to practice it. He did. There is circular breathing too, 5 seconds in, 5 hold, 5 out, 5 hold. Zen meditation, facing a wall for 40 minutes, works too. We try not to follow the thoughts. The thoughts pop up anyhow, but not following them down the rabbit hole is interesting and challenging. Mindful mediation and Jon Kabat Zinn’s books and tapes work as well. It takes practice. Practice peace, practice relaxing. Doesn’t that sound like a lovely practice?

Stupid cat videos work for me too. Laughter works. What makes you laugh? I like the silly animal videos, the moose playing with the wind chimes, three baby bears rescued (with care) from a dumpster, with the truck driving off to avoid momma bear. Rocking, knitting, sewing, fishing, walking the beach, cuddling a baby, dancing, listening to music, playing music. Which works for you? Silly movies. I don’t like horror movies, and I love cartoons and animation. Engage the child at heart for the parasympathetic nervous system.

In high school my daughter said that most fights were stupid. “One person says something without thinking. The other person goes off and gets upset. She stops talking to person one, who has no idea what is going on, and they often talk to their friends. So there is this big fight over some dumb comment.”

I don’t think it ends with high school, sadly enough. And before we label someone “toxic”, maybe we need to wander off and breathe, or watch a silly cat video. Whatever works for you that doesn’t hurt others.

We need more parasympathy in the world. Yep, I just made that word up. Relax and if you can’t or won’t, consider practicing.

Peace you and please peace me.

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/23266-parasympathetic-nervous-system-psns

https://healthnews.com/family-health/healthy-living/how-to-activate-the-parasympathetic-nervous-system/

August 19, 2022

Adverse Childhood Experiences 14: Hope

I keep reading bits about despair and about how a generation of children is being “ruined” by the pandemic.

Not so, I say. There is hope. We need to support each other to survive and then to thrive.

This generation WILL have a higher than average ACE score. If the Adverse Childhood Experience scale is from zero to eight, children in this time period will have at least one higher point than average and many will have three or four or more. Loss of a parent, a sibling, beloved grandparents during covid. Increases in domestic violence, child abuse and addiction. These are all part of the ACE score.

What does this do to children? They have survival brain wiring. They will do their best to survive what is happening. A friend and I both have high ACE scores, 5 or more, and we are both oppositional defiant. We showed this in different ways. He grew up in the same community. He escaped from home and knew all the neighbors. He walked to the local church and attended at age 3 or 4. He has lived in this community all his life.

His oppositional defiance showed up at home, where he consistently refused to obey. And in school, where he confounded and disobeyed teachers and passed anyhow.

My family moved every 1-5 years. I hated moving. I wouldn’t talk to kids in a new school for a year. It was very difficult. So my oppositional defiance was very very internal. I hid in books and in my head. In 6th grade I got in trouble for hiding novels inside the school book I’d already read. I also would just not listen and my respect for the teacher got even lower when she would be angry that I knew the answer to the question once she’d repeated it. I wasn’t listening because I was bored. She was the first teacher that I thought, well, she is not very bright. The next year they stuck me in the honors class and I stopped being bored, though I still questioned practically every opinion every teacher had. I wanted evidence and I did not believe it just because the teacher said it.

I am not saying that oppositional defiance is in every high ACE score. I don’t know that. Why oppositional defiance? Imagine you are a small child and you are beaten. There isn’t rhyme or reason. You can’t predict when the adult will be out of control. Why would you behave “well” if it makes no difference? You might as well do what you want, because nothing you do will change the adult. Or imagine you are a small child who is with one person, passed to another, then to another. You may not exactly trust adults after two or three repetitions. And you want to survive.

There is an increase in addictions, behavioral health diagnoses, and chronic illness in adults with a high ACE score. A researcher when I first heard a lecture about it said, “We think perhaps that addiction is a form of self medication.” I thought, oh, my gosh, how are we ever going to treat THIS? Well, we have to figure that out now, and we’ve had 30 years to work on it.

I was very comfortable with the oppositional defiant patients in clinic. I got very good at not arguing with them and not taking their behavior personally. They might show up all spiky and hostile and I might be a little spiky and gruff back: sometimes that was enough. I think the high ACE score people often recognize each other at some level, though not always a conscious one. With some people I might bring up ACE scores and ask about their childhood. Sometimes they wanted to discuss it. Sometimes they didn’t. Either was ok.

One thing we should NOT do is insist that everyone be “nice”. We had a temporary doctor who told us her story. Her family escaped Southeast Asia in a boat. They had run out of water and were going to die when they were found by pirates. The pirates gave them water. They made it to land and were in a refugee camp for eight years or so. She eventually made it to the US. She was deemed too “undiplomatic” for our rural hospital. I wondered if people would have said that if they knew her history and what she had been through. It’s not exactly a Leave it to Beaver childhood, is it? When she was telling us about nearly dying of thirst in the boat, my daughter left her chair and climbed on my lap. She was under ten and understood that this was a true and very frightening story.

We can support this generation of children. This has been and is still being Adverse Experiences for adults as well. Family deaths, job loss, failure of jobs to support people, inflation. Remember the 1920s, after World War I and the last pandemic, of influenza. “On October 28, 1919, Congress passed the National Prohibition Act, also known as the Volstead Act, which provided enabling legislation to implement the 18th Amendment.” (wikipedia). There were forces trying to legislate behavior, as there are now. The result in 1920s of making alcohol illegal was speakeasies, illegal alcohol, and violence. Some people acted wild after WWI and the influenza pandemic and some people tried to lock down control, by controlling other peoples’ behavior. It did not work then and it will not work now. The wildness is out of control grief, I think, grief dysfunctional and drinking and shooting and doing anything and everything, legal or not. We remember how the 1920s ended too. Let us not repeat that. Let us mourn and grieve and support each other and support each other’s decisions and autonomy.

Blessings.

Adverse Childhood Experiences 13: on gratitude

I saw a meme today about gratitude. It is saying that some people look at a garden and see thorns and weeds, but others see the roses. That we need to have gratitude. I think this is simplistic and papers over the trauma and grief that some people have. If they have endured a highly traumatic childhood, who am I to say they should focus on the roses? They may have a very good reason to see if there is something like a thorn that can hurt them before enjoying the roses.

I work with many patients with high Adverse Childhood Experience scores and mine is high too. I don’t tell my patients that they should have gratitude. I tell them “You survived your childhood. You have crisis wiring. Good for you. Some of your learned crisis survival wiring may not serve you as well now as it did when you were a child.” Then we discuss whether they want to work on any aspects and the many many different approaches. One example: a man who sleeps very lightly. He said that it was lifelong. When asked about his childhood he says, “We would have to leave in the night when there was shooting in my neighborhood. It was a very dangerous area.” I said, “I am not surprised you sleep lightly. You HAD to in childhood to survive. Is this something you want to try and change?” He thought about it and decided, no. Once it was framed as learned in childhood to survive, he stopped worrying about “normal”. He was satisfied that the way he slept was “normal” for him and he wanted to wake up if he heard shooting.

I think we have to ask why a person sees thorns and weeds in a garden before we judge them. My first thought with a new and angry or hostile patient is always, oh, they have been badly hurt in the past. What happened? I don’t worry that the anger is at me. I know it’s not at me, it’s at the system or a past physician or a past event. Under the anger there are other emotions, usually fear or humiliation or grief. I have brought up Adverse Childhood Experience scores on the first visit sometimes. One person replies, “I am a 10 out of 10.” The score only goes up to 8 but I agree. He was a 10. He stated once, “The military loved me because I could go from zero to 60 in one minute.” Very very defensive and very quick to respond. The response may seem extreme and inappropriate to other people: but it may feel like the only safe way to be to my patient.

I grew up hiding any grief or fear in my family, under anger, because grief or fear would be made into a story told for laughs. In college, a boyfriend told me I was an ogre when I was angry. I started working on it then and it was difficult to tame that. The person who took the longest was my sister: she could make me explode until I was in my residency. Medical training was excellent for learning emotional control, at least, on the surface. After my mother died, I had to do the next piece of emotional work: open the Pandora’s Box of stuffed emotions, mostly fear and grief, and let them out. It was such hard work that my day where I saw the counselor for an hour was harder than my ten hour clinic day. I did the work, for two long years. Blessings on the counselors who stood by me while I worked through it.

I do not think we are ever done with that sort of work. I think, what do I need to learn next? What is this friend teaching me? Why is this behavior frustrating me and I have to look in my inner mirror. Why, why, why?

Blessing on your healing path and may you not be judged.

Link about ACE scores: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/about.html

Sometimes I do feel like a fossil, now that I am middle aged. For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: fossil.

behavioral health, cancer, and the immune system

There are more and more articles about immune causes of “behavioral health” diagnoses.

The latest I’ve read is about schizophrenia:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-63776-0

Auto-antibodies are antibodies that we make against something else that then attack a part of ourselves. The most well know version of an auto-antibody is Rheumatic Fever, where an antibody to streptococcus A attacks the joints or skin or heart. I had a patient in Colorado who needed a new heart valve at age 10 or 11 because of Rheumatic Fever.

I have written a lot about PANDAS and PANS (respectively Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Strep A and Pediatric Acute Neuropsychiatric Syndrome) because an older psychiatrist was suspicious that I have PANS. I have had pneumonia four times and it is accompanied by anxiety and fear, part of which turns out to be hypoxia and tachycardia. I think a heart rate of 135 makes just about ANYONE feel anxious. It feels awful.

But what about other Behavioral Health Diagnoses? Remember, we are on the DSM V, the fifth manual of psychiatric diagnoses. We have not had markers or a clear cause. That is, we are aware that serotonin is low in the intracellular spaces in the brain with depression but we don’t know what the mechanism is, what the cause is and what exactly is happening in the neuron or brain cells. A paper on a particular rat neuron said that there were 300 different types of serotonin receptors on that neuron. Blocking one type caused rats to act in an obsessive compulsive manner. But there are 299 others and then combinations. Whew, there is a lot to be learned about the brain.

Fibromyalgia can be caused by autoantibodies, at least some of the cases: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/07/210701120703.htm

Chronic fatigue: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34441971/

Lupus and fibromyalgia overlap: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9207710/

Autoimmune disorders are more common in women. We think this is because of pregnancy. The woman’s immune system has to tolerate a pregnancy where half the genetic material is from the father. Yet the immune system also has to recognize “not me, infection” and be able to distinguish that from the pregnancy. This is tricky. The most common autoimmune disorder currently is believed to be Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, where there are self antibodies to the thyroid. Post covid could potentially beat this out.

Chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia have been orphan diseases in that we do not have an inflammation marker that defines them. The ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate) and CRP (um) are usually normal. These are often elevated in rheumatological disorders. Not having a marker doesn’t mean that the muscles are not painful and doesn’t mean that the fatigue is not real.

I am hopeful that we are on the cusp of a true revolution in medicine, with more understanding of the immune system and behavioral health disorders, as well as post covid, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. I worked at the National Cancer Institute in the 1980s before medical school, with Steve Rosenberg, MD. He was trying to get the immune system to fight cancer.

Now there has been a cancer treatment with 100% success: an immune treatment for people with rectal cancer with a particular immune profile. This is AMAZING! https://www.zmescience.com/science/experimental-trial-cancer-complete-remission-02725735/

Only 18 patients, but 100% success! No surgery.

The patch for the National Cancer Institute shows a man fighting a crab: Cancer, the crab. Dr. Rosenberg talked about Sysiphus, who was rolling a stone up a mountain eternally while it rolled back on him. From here: Later legend related that when Death came to fetch him, Sisyphus chained Death up so that no one died. Finally, Ares came to aid Death, and Sisyphus had to submit. In the meantime, Sisyphus had told his wife, Merope, not to perform the usual sacrifices and to leave his body unburied. Thus, when he reached the underworld, he was permitted to return to punish her for the omission. Once back at home, Sisyphus continued to live to a ripe old age before dying a second time.

Maybe the stone has reached a resting place. Blessings and peace you. Please peace me.