On The Edge of Humanity Magazine

Huge thanks to The Edge of Humanity Magazine, for publishing two essays.

The first one on May 9, 2022, that abortion must remain legal for women’s health:

The second today, about behavioral health in a pandemic and war. As caring humans, how could we NOT respond with distress to the suffering and deaths from both Covid-19 and disasters and wars?

I am so delighted to be featured on this platform. I enjoy so many of the artists and writers and poets who are featured there and I am very happy to contribute!

how doctors think, a dual pathway

A friend calls today and says that another person is bleeding and yet they have been set up to be seen Monday. Why isn’t this an emergency?

Based on the limited information the friend tells me, I agree with the doctors. It is NOT an emergency and I explain why. It is uncomfortable for the person because it may be cancer. Why is that not an emergency?

Let’s use chest pain in the emergency room as an example. Doctors have two brain tracks that are triggered simultaneously by every patient. The first one is “What could kill this person in the next five minutes?” The second is “What is common?” Common things are common and more likely. In medical school the really rare things are nicknamed zebras. You know there are a lot of horses but you can’t miss the zebra. I suppose that in Africa the common things are zebras and the rare ones are orcas or something like that.

Anyhow, the killers for chest pain are heart attacks, sudden death. But there could also be a dissecting aortic aneurysm, where the largest artery in the body is tearing. That person can bleed to death really really fast and that is a surgical emergency. No doctor wants to miss it. There could be a pulmonary embolism, a clot blocking the lung. Chest pain could be from a cancer. A very rare chest pain is from the valve leaflets in the heart tearing so that the person goes in to flash pulmonary edema. And there is Takayasu’s Arteritis, “broken heart syndrome”, where the heart suddenly balloons in size and again, heart failure ensues. Heart failure is actually pump failure, so fluid backs up in the lungs or the legs or both. It is usually slow but rarely very fast and dramatic. A collapsed lung can also cause a lot of pain. And my list is still not complete, I haven’t mentioned pericarditis or myocarditis or a compression fracture.

The common things do include heart attacks, but also anxiety, musculoskeletal problems, inflamed cartilage of the chest wall, fibromyalgia flares, broken ribs, trauma and other things. I was very puzzled in clinic by a woman with pain on both sides of her lower chest wall. In front but cutting through her chest. I ruled out many things. I thought that it was her diaphragm. I sent her to a rehab doctor for help. The rehab doctor sent her to radiology. She had a compression fracture of her spine and the nerves were sending pain messages on both sides. That was not even on my “differential diagnosis” list, because she had no back pain at all. My list changed that day.

Physicians and nurse practitioners and physicians assistants and registered nurses and licensed practical nurses and medical assistants are all trained to think of this differential diagnosis. We are alerted by the history and have to think down both pathways. Last year working as a temporary doctor, the medical assistant came to me saying, “This patient’s blood pressure is 80/60.” “Is he conscious?” I asked, as I went straight for the room. “Yes, he’s talking.” He WAS talking, which means that he’s gotten to 80/60 slowly or is used to it. His heart rate was fast, up near 120. I immediately had him drink water and keep drinking, as soon as he denied chest pain. The problem was dehydration: he was developmentally delayed and had only had one cup of fluid that day and it was now midafternoon. I spent time explaining that he needed 8 cups each day. Not more than that, because if he had too much fluid, it would lower his sodium and make his muscles weak. Most days he drank 3-4 cups. His chart graphed the problem: some days he had normal blood pressure and a normal heart rate. Other days his blood pressure was below normal and his heart rate was fast, his heart trying to make up for the low level of fluid. Cars don’t do so well when there is almost no oil, do they? His kidneys were affected as well. I asked him to drink the 8 cups a day, discussed the size of the cup (not 8 gallons, please) and then recheck labs in 2 weeks. If his kidneys did not improve, he would need a kidney specialist. It turned out that he had nearly fainted that morning in the waiting room. His group home person admitted that no one had noticed that he really was not drinking fluid. I thought that the patient understood and would try to drink a better amount of fluid.

So back to the person I was called about. Infection has been ruled out. This is blood in the urine. A kidney stone has been ruled out, but there is something in the kidney. This is urgent, but if the person is not bleeding hard, it is not emergent. When there is blood in the urine it does not take very much to turn it red. If there is a lot of blood, that can be an emergency, but from the story I got third person, it’s not very much. The emergency things are ruled out but there is still not a clear diagnosis. Yes, cancer is one of the possibilities but it could also be benign. Now a specialist is needed to figure out the next step and the differential diagnosis, the list of things it could be. They will order tests in the same dual order: what could kill this person quickly and what do we need to rule out as common? People often can be very anxious during this period, which is normal. The person says, “I don’t care what it ISN’T, I want to know what it IS.” But sometimes it is a zebra and it takes a while to get to that specific test.

Another example is a woman that I sent to the eye doctor. The optometrist thought it was something rare and bad. He sent her to the opthamologist, who ruled out the first thing, but thought it was something else rare and bad. He sent her to a retinal specialist. The retinal specialist ruled out the second rare and bad thing and said, “No, you have something very rare that is benign.” My patient said, “I have three diagnoses. Who do I believe?” I replied, “No, you have one. The optometrist knew it was unusual and sent you to an eye doctor. The eye doctor know it was unusual and sent you to an even more specialized eye doctor (a “sub specialist”. We keep them in basements.) Now you have a diagnosis. It was a scary process, but I think you should focus on the third opinion because hey, she said it’s benign and it won’t hurt you! That is the best outcome!” She thought about it and agreed. The process was frightening but the conclusion could not have been better.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: disquieting.

how to use a specialist

I am a rural Family Medicine doctor, board certified and board eligible. I have used the Telemedicine groups in the nearest big University Hospital since 2010.

Initially I started with the Addiction Telemedicine. I accidentally became the only physician in my county prescribing buprenorphine for opioid overuse in 2010. I panicked when I started getting calls. Dr. Merrill from UW had taught the course and gave me his pager number. I acquired 30 patients in three weeks, because the only other provider was suddenly unavailable. Dr. Merrill talked me through that 21 day trial by fire.

I think that I presented at least 20 patients to telemedicine the first year. The telemedicine took an hour and a half. First was a continuing medical education talk on some aspect of “overuse”, aka addiction, and then different doctors would present cases. We had to fill out a form and send it in. It had the gender and year of birth, but was not otherwise supposed to identify the person. TeleAddiction had a panel, consisting of Dr. Merrill (addiction), a psychiatrist, the moderator/pain doctor, and a physiatrist. Physiatrists are the doctor version of a physical therapist. They are the experts in trying to get people the best equipment and function after being blown up in the military or after a terrible car wreck or with multiple sclerosis. There would usually be a fifth guest specialist, often the presenter.

After a while, TeleAddiction got rolled into Telepain and changed days. They added other groups: one for psychiatry, one for HIV and one for hepatitis C. These can all overlap. I mostly attend TelePain and TelePsychiatry.

After a while, I pretty much know what the Telepain specialists are going to advise. So why would I present a patient at that point? Ah, good question. I use Telepain for the weight of authority. I would present a patient when the patient was refusing to follow my recommendations. I would present to Telepain, usually with a very good idea of what the recommendations would be. The team would each speak and fax me a hard copy. I would present this to the patient. Not one physician, and a rural primary care doctor, but five: I was backed up by four specialists. My patients still have a choice. They can negotiate and they always have the right to switch to another doctor. Some do, some don’t.

I am a specialist too. Family Practice is a specialty requiring a three year residency. The general practitioners used to go into practice after one year of internship. My residency was at OHSU in Portland, with rotations through multiple other specialties. We rotated through the high risk obstetrics group, alternating call with the obstetrics residents, which gave me excellent training for doing rural obstetrics and knowing when to call the high risk perinatologist. In my first job I was four hours by fixed wing from the nearest more comprehensive obstetrics, so we really had to think ahead. No helicopter, the distance was too far and over a 9000 foot pass, in all four directions. That was rather exciting as well.

from blue to breathe

I attended a medical conference on line yesterday and today and it made me very blue. At first it just frustrated me, because it is about increasing behavioral health access. Isn’t that a good thing? Yes, but they completely missed the biggest barrier for primary care: TIME.

With the current US medical corporate money extracting insurance non-caring system, primary care is increasingly forced into 20 or 15 or 10 minute visits. I fought my hospital district when they said “See patients for one thing only.” I replied “That is unethical and dangerous: if it is a diabetic with an infected toe, I HAVE to check their kidney function, because antibiotic dose must be adjusted if their kidney function is reduced.” And there are at least two and maybe three problems there: infection, and if the diabetes is out of control that worsens the infection, and then kidney function. And actually I have to be sure anyone going on antibiotics has good kidney function or adjust my dose. I am very very good at this, but it takes time. I can work with complex patients, with veterans, with opiate overuse, with depression: but none of this is a simple template slam dunk. A study more than a decade ago says that the “average” primary care patient had 5 chronic illnesses. My patients don’t want to come in for each one separately and anyhow, if they have kidney problems I have to pay attention when I pick medicines for their high blood pressure. None of it can be separated out. That is why medicine is complicated.

Someone asked why can’t I just post the price of a “simple” visit for a sore throat. But a sore throat can be viral, can be strep A, can be a paralyzed vocal cord, can be a throat abscess, can be vocal cord cancer. I can’t tell ahead of time. I can’t. Early on during covid, a patient called and wanted a Zoom visit for abdominal pain that he said was constipation. I said “No, I can’t do abdominal pain over Zoom safely.” I can’t ASSUME it is constipation. It was appendicitis and he had his appendix out that evening. He called from his hospital bed the next day to thank me for making him come in.

The conference made me blue because they ignored my questions about why they were not advocating for primary care to have more time with patients. They claim to be all about change, but changing the US medical system? Nope. Do not want to talk about that. But I do want to talk about it. You can help by letting Congress know: single payer or medicare for all. That insurance company gets 20 cents of every dollar to profit and wastes tons of money forcing doctors’ offices to call for prior authorization. And if we have single payer, think of all the small businesses that will start because the terror about health insurance will disappear! I think it would reduce everyone’s stress, except the insurance CEOs. And they have earned more than enough, goodbye greed.

I am also tired of specialists telling me that primary care needs to do MORE. When I get told that I am not doing enough about hypertension, bladder leakage, depression and stopping smoking, and then 20 other specialists lecture me. Ok, so one minute per topic to fulfill what all of them think I should do? I want a primary care conference where primary care doctors are celebrated: cases are presented where the specialist says what a brilliant job the primary care doctor did.

I received a consult letter from a cancer doctor a few years ago. He wrote that I had diagnosed the earliest case of chronic leukemia that he had ever seen and that he was impressed and the patient would do fine. That’s the conference that I want to go to: where primary care and specialists talk about that and we inspire more doctors to do primary care.

You can learn more and how to talk to your congressperson here: HealthCare Now: https://www.healthcare-now.org/

or at Physicians for a National Healthcare Program: https://pnhp.org

And put your vote and your money towards healthcare, not health insurance.

speaking up

A friend says he does whatever he wants. He refuses to answer questions about how he makes his money. He doesn’t care if this annoys people. I suspect he may enjoy it.

I have one of those public jobs. Well, had. I have now been disabled from Family Medicine for a year. My lungs are much better than a year ago but they are not normal. And I have now seen 17 specialists and 3 primary care doctors since 2012. The consensus is “We don’t know.” Though many specialists are not willing to say that. What they say instead is, MY testing is NORMAL, go to someone else. My lungs are not normal, but I am on my fourth pulmonologist. I saw a cardiologist this year and the first thing he says is, “It’s your lungs, not your heart.” Well, yeah, I know that.

I miss my patients, but there is something freeing about not working. Ok, more money would be nice, but I am doing ok. Meanwhile, I am thinking about what to do now. I can write full time. Write, make music, travel (on a budget) and sing. And speak up.

Doctors have interesting portrayals on television. We went from Dr. Kildare to Dr. House, working our way through the shows with an emergency room and medical residents. ER drove me nuts. No one EVER dictated a chart so at the end of each show I hyperventilated at the hours of paperwork/computer/dictating they had left. House interests me because it’s always the thing that the patient is hiding or lying about that is the key. “Go search his apartment.” says House. I have figured out cases by getting permission to call family or a group home. More than once.

But a physician is a public figure. I had been here for less than a year when a woman comes up to me in the grocery store and says “What are my lab results?” I look at her blankly. I can’t remember if I really did the snappy comeback that comes to mind: “Take off your clothes and I will see if I remember.” I respond politely and she says, “Oh. I should call the office, right?” “Yes, I try to leave the work there,” I say. If a particularly difficult person was bearing down on me, I would whisper “cry” to my kids. That worked. They would act out on cue and I would be the harassed mother. The person would back off.

I am in a small town. We have three grocery stores. I see patients everywhere, now that it has been 22 years. If I remember every detail, that means they are or were really sick. And we have the layers of relationships: someone might have kids the same age or work with boats or be in chorus with me. Once I take my daughter to a party. The mom introduces me to two other mothers. “She’s my doctor,” says the introducing mom. “Well, me too.” says the second. “And me,” says the third. We all laugh.

Once I am visiting my brother outlaw’s bicycle shop. He has a customer. The customer starts talking to me too. Brother outlaw says, “Do you two know each other?” The customer eyes me. I have my neutral doc face on. “She’s seen me NAKED!” says the customer and I howl with laughter. What a great reply. And my brother outlaw gets it.

Docs have to pay attention to HIPAA. When three women say that I am their doctor, I reply, “Yeah and I left my brain at work, so I can’t remember a thing.” Those three were healthy, so I really do not remember labs or the results of a pap smear. Once I was in cut off shorts and waved at an older woman who was at the ophthalmologist’s. She sniffs and looks away. I get the giggles: I think she did not recognize me. My town is only 10,000 people, so after 22 years I have taken care of many of them. Though sometimes people thank me for taking care of their mother, and after it sounds unfamiliar I ask if they mean Dr. Parkman? Oh. Yes. People get me mixed up with two other small Caucasian woman doctors.

I started the “outfits inappropriate for work” category last year when I was still very sick and short of breath and on oxygen. I did not go out much, partly to avoid covid. My pneumonia was something other than covid and it was my fourth pneumonia and I should not need oxygen. Now I’ve had mild covid and the oxygen is only part time. I sang at my son’s wedding, off oxygen, so I can sing off oxygen for a short time. I danced off oxygen too and did get QUITE short of breath. Since I am no longer a public figure, I can speak out and speak up more. I am thinking about that, particularly with the recent Supreme Court news. I do not agree with what they seem to be planning.

Patient Satisfaction Score

The latest issue of Family Practice Medicine has an article on patient satisfaction scores.

I remember my first patient satisfaction score VIVIDLY.

I am in my first family medicine job in Alamosa, Colorado. I receive a 21 page handout with multiple graphs about my patient satisfaction scores. I am horrified because I score 30% overall. I am more horrified by the score than the information that I will not receive the bonus.

I go to my PA (physician’s assistant). He too has scored 30%. We are clearly complete failures as medical providers.

Then I go to my partner who has been there for over 20 years.

She snorts. “Look at the number of patients.”

“What?” I say. I look.

My score is based on interviews with three patients. Yes, you read that correctly. THREE PEOPLE.

And I have 21 pages of graphs in color based on three people.

I am annoyed and creative. I talk to the Physicians Assistant and we plan. I call the CFO.

“My PA and I think we should resign.”

“What? Why?”

“We scored 30% on the patient satisfaction. We have never scored that low on anything in our lives before. We are failures as medical people. We are going to go work for the post office.”

“NO! It’s not that important! It is only three patients! You are not failures!”

“Three patients?” I ask.

“Yes, just three.”

“And you based a bonus on three patients? And sent me 21 pages of colored graphs based on three patients?”

“Um…”

“I think we should discuss the bonus further….”

I did not get the bonus. It was a total set up and I am not sure that ANYONE got that bonus. Much of the maximum “earning potential” advertised was impossible for any one person to get. You would have to work around the clock. They got out of paying us by having multiple bonuses that each required a lot of extra work…. They were experts in cheating the employed physicians. That became pretty clear and I was 5th senior physician out of 15 in two years, because ten physicians got right out of there. I lasted three years, barely. I knew I would not last when an excellent partner refused her second year of $50,000 in federal rural underserved loan repayment to quit AND stayed in the Valley working in the emergency room. I called the CEO: “Doesn’t this get your attention?”

“She just didn’t fit in.”

“Yes, well, I don’t think anyone will.” I asked my senior partner how she stayed. “You pick your turf and you guard it!” said my partner. I thought, you know, I hope that medicine is not that grim everywhere.

Unfortunately I think that it IS that grim and getting grimmer. Remember that in the end, it is we the people who vote who control the US medical system. If we vote to privatize Medicare, we will destroy it. Right now 1 in 5 doctors and 1 in 4 nurses want to leave medicine. Covid-19 has accelerated the destruction of the US medical non-system, as my fellow Mad as Hell Doctor calls it. We need Medicare for all, a shut down of US health insurance companies, and to have money going to healthcare rather than to paying employees $100,000 or more per year to try to get prior authorizations from over 500 different insurance companies all with different rules, multiple insurance plans and different computer websites. Right now I have specialists in four different local systems. The only person who has read everyone’s clinic notes is ME because it is nearly impossible to get them to communicate with each other. Two of them use the EPIC electronic medical record but consider the patient information “proprietary” and I have to call to get them to release the notes to each other. Is this something that we think helps people’s health? I don’t think so. I have trouble with the system in spite of being a physician and I HATE going to my local healthcare organization. Vote the system down and tell your congresspeople that you too want Medicare For All and single payer.

Physicians for a National Healthcare Program: https://pnhp.org/

Healthcare Now: https://www.healthcare-now.org/

I have had people say, but think of all the people out of work when we shut down insurance companies. Yes AND think of the freedom to start small businesses if we no longer have to fear the huge cost of insurance: Medicare for all!

Covert covid conundrum

I had covid recently AND I have been very lucky with it.

WHAT?

Ok, so when the war started I had been talking to a friend in Europe about visiting. He said nice seasons were May and September, but he and his wife have a kitchen make over planned for September.

“My son is getting married at the end of April, after two year long postponements, and so May doesn’t seem feasible. Maybe next May.”

Then the war starts. And it is affecting gasoline and causing inflation. I call my friend. “Can I come in two weeks?” March to early April.

“Yes. We have other guests a week after that.”

“Ok.” I try to get a British Airways ticket to stop in London to see an old friend from high school. British Airways has a computer attack and three days go by. To heck with it. I buy a ticket to Paris and on to my friend’s country.

I spend an hour on the phone trying to change to a layover in Paris for three days. I manage that. I fly to Paris and then take the train to London. Three wonderful days with my friend in London. I mask on planes, metros and trains. I double mask on the airplane, with my oxygen, and use a ceramic straw to drink liquids.

After three days I take the train back to Paris, the local train to the airport, and fly to my old friend’s. I arrive at midnight and we take the metro.

We do lots of sightseeing and take a memory trip to his parents’ graves and the town we lived in when I was 17 and he was 18.5. I was an exchange student. The language comes back. I can read but listening is more difficult. My brain won’t process it fast enough.

Four days before I am due to fly back, I get an email from AirFrance. I need a negative PCR covid test within 24 hours of flying to return to the US.

Well. I have a mild headache and muscle aches. Probably not covid, BUT. I go online, register in the country for a test and go to the testing site. Positive. I read about covid. The muscle aches of this strain usually happen at day 4-5. I did notice that going from London to Paris to my destination four days earlier, I feel a little off balance. Not bad, not spinning, just slightly weird. So my guess is that I am at day 4 or 5 of covid.

My hosts have both had covid within the last month, so I am not confined to my room. I read the rules for being allowed on the airplane once you HAVE covid. I have to wait 11 days, have a certificate of the test and then the eleven day certificate saying cleared. I isolate for 5 days, spend about 8 hours rescheduling the flight with Air France and Delta, and contact my doctor. My doc wants me to take medicine, but the local medical people where I am say I am not sick enough. I agree with the local people. The headache is gone the next day, I have mild sniffles, and my lungs are fine. Well, at least, they are no worse.

When I am out of isolation, I take a train to another town masked and stay at a hotel for four days. In that country, 80% of the people are vaccinated and 80% have had covid. They are no longer masking, except a few. I am feeling good. I mask when I am around other people and in all public spaces in the hotel.

The trip home is rather more exciting than I would like. At the airport I am informed that I need a doctor clearance ALSO. They say retest. I say “I AM a doctor.” and pull out a copy of my license. I brought it just in case the war spread and I needed to help out. They let me on the plane. In Paris I nearly miss my connection, but am one of the last 8 people on the plane. I am very relieved once we take off.

The silver lining is that at my son’s wedding I am now very unlikely to get covid or give anyone covid and mine was very mild. The Omicron BA2.12.1 that is circulating in Europe is milder than the previous strains AND ten times more contagious or more. So the covid is morphing towards a cold, which is what coronaviruses used to do to us. There are some strains that I read about that are going in a more virulent direction, so I would prefer to have the mild one and be protected from the nasty ones.

Here is the CDC section about strains in the US:

https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#variant-proportions

I arrive home on April 12 and then am unsurprised to see covid cases starting to rise again in the US. Here is the CDC tracker: https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#datatracker-home

I am hoping that it’s more and more Omicron BA2.12.1, since it seems to be milder. I am reassured that covid did not make my lungs worse. Within a week I am better from covid and then get what seems like a normal cold. Covid testing negative. I am feeling well for the wedding and reassured that a normal cold does not force me on to continuous oxygen. I am feeling lucky about the version of covid that I have but I am NOT recommending that people get it on purpose, because even with mild covid, some people go on to develop long covid. Here is an article that I got yesterday through the American Academy of Family Practice:

https://www.healio.com/news/infectious-disease/20220425/global-prevalence-of-long-covid-substantial-researchers-say

Long covid is very worrisome and we don’t know what it will look like after a year or more. Many of the present studies are on unimmunized people, from the first year of covid, so the studies of immunized are still evolving. There is hope that there is less risk of long covid with immunization but there is still a risk.

Covid will continue to morph into different strains. We continue to get “colds” or “upper respiratory infections” because the viruses are very very good and fast at changing and avoiding our immune systems. Consider checking the CDC data tracker above regularly to see if your county or your destination has a high covid level and if so, mask back up.

One caveat: my local health department says we have a high level of transmission right now, here:

https://www.jeffersoncountypublichealth.org/1429/COVID-19

while the CDC says low, here:

Remember that all of these sites have to exchange data and update everything. My best guess is that the local has the best numbers, but that is a guess.

Are our immune systems failing because of isolation? No, and here is why.

A friend quotes her son, who says that our immune systems are failing because we have been in isolation. I respond that it’s not isolation: it is stress. Anyone who is not stressed by the addition of war to a pandemic needs to have their head examined. Why does stress mess up our immune systems?

We have two main systemic states: sympathetic and parasympathetic. Sympathetic is the high stress, fight or flight, muscles fired up, gut on hold, and unfortunately we have a pretty sympathetic state culture. Add a pandemic on top of that and then a war and no wonder everyone is flipping out. Parasympathetic is the one we don’t hear about: the happy, relaxed one that likes stupid cat videos and laughter.

Without the sympathetic nervous system, we can survive. Without the parasympathetic, we die.

I have written about how we metabolize cholesterol, depending on whether we are in a sympathetic or parasympathetic state. When we are relaxed, or less stressed, we make more sex hormones and thyroid hormone. That is parasympathetic.

When we are in a crisis, or more stressed, we make more adrenaline and cortisol. That is in the sympathetic nervous system arousal state.

A pain conference I went to at Swedish Hospital took this a step further. They said that chronic pain and PTSD patients are in a high sympathetic nervous system state. The sympathetic nervous system is the fight or flight state. It’s great for emergencies: increases heart rate, dilates air passages in the lungs, dilates pupils, reduces gut mobility, increases blood glucose, and tightens the fascia in the muscles so that you can fight or run. But…. what if you are in a sympathetic nervous system state all the time? Fatigue, decreased sex drive, insomnia and agitated or anxious. And remember the tightened fascia? Muscle pain. The high cortisol level also is not good for the immune system, so we are more likely to get sick. High cortisol also raises blood sugar and the immune system is hyperalert. We are more likely to develop autoimmune disorders.

When we are relaxed, the parasympathetic system is in charge. Digesting food, resting, sexual arousal, salivation, lacrimation, urination, and defecation. So saliva, tears, urine, and bowel movements, not to mention digesting food and interest in sex. And muscles relax.

If the sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive, how do we shut it off? I had an interesting conversation with a person with PTSD , where he said that he finds that all his muscles are tight when he is watching television. He can consciously relax them.

“Do they stay relaxed?” I asked.

“I don’t know.” he replies, “but my normal is the hyperalert state.”

“Maybe the hyperalert state, the sympathetic state, is what you are used to, rather than being your normal.”

He sat and stared at me. A different idea….

So HOW do we switch over from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic state?

Swedish taught a breathing technique.

Twenty minutes. Six breaths per minute, either 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out, or 6 in and 4 out. Your preference. And they said that after 15 minutes, people switch from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic state.

Does this work for everyone? Is it always at 15 minutes? I don’t know yet. But now I am thinking hard about different ways to switch the sympathetic to parasympathetic.

Meditation.
Slow walking outside. No headphones! We need to listen to the birds and wind, watch the trees, really look at nature. All of the new sensory input relaxes us.
Rocking: a rocking chair or glider.
Breathing exercises: 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out. Work up to 20 minutes.
Massage: but not for people who fear being touched. One study of a one hour massage showed cortisol dropping by 50% on average in blood levels. That is huge.
Playing: (one site says especially with children and animals. But it also says we are intelligently designed).
Yoga, tai chi, and chi kung.
Whatever relaxes YOU: knitting, singing, working on cars, carving, puttering, soduku, jigsaw puzzles, word searches, making bean pictures or macaroni pictures, coloring, a purring cat, throwing a ball for a dog…..and I’ll bet the stupid pet photos and videos help too….

My patient took my diagrams and notes written on the exam table paper home. He is thinking about the parasympathetic state: about getting to know it and deliberately exploring it.

More ideas: http://www.wisebrain.org/ParasympatheticNS.pdf

stranded mermaid, cilia and tubulin

I took this photograph last summer at North Beach. I thought she looks like a stranded mermaid, thrown up on shore. I couldn’t move her, she was twice my length. The rock attachment had come too, up from our sea beds.

Happy solstice. Today marks the one year day from when I realized that I was having my fourth round of pneumonia, with hypoxia, agitation, fast twitch muscle dysfuntion and felt sick as could be. I am way better but not well. That is, I still need oxygen to play flute, to sing, to do heavy exercise and to carry anything heavy. Which is WAY better then having to wear oxygen all the time. Today I find a connection between the lungs and the brain, in quanta magazine. This video talks about a new found connection between cilia and the brain. We were taught that cilia and flagella are for locomotion, powered by tubulin. However, this shows that cilia behave like neurons and there is a connection. Since my peculiar illness seems to involve cilia dysfunction in my muscles and lungs, so that I get pneumonia, and the brain, because I am wired when it hits, this is a fascinating connection. If neurons developed from cilia, the dual illness makes a lot more sense. Hooray for quantum mechanics! We use it in medicine every single day.

Happy solstice! Here comes the sun!

Avoid death by fentanyl

Some of the West Point Cadets overdosed on March 12, 2022 are still on ventilators. They took what they thought was cocaine. It was laced with fentanyl and they all nearly died.

Not only that, but two of the bystanders who did not use the drug, but did cardiopulmonary resuscitation, CPR, also succumbed. They stopped breathing because they got a heavy dose of fentanyl giving CPR.

Fentanyl is being laced into ANY illegal drug, and being 50 times stronger than morphine, it can kill you by making you stop breathing. Also, fake pills are made. Do not buy pills on the street. And I don’t care if it is your friend. Remember that when someone is really addicted, the addiction is running the show. They need the drug more than your friendship. People will lie, steal and sell drugs. Protect yourself:

Please read the website at

https://www.cdc.gov/stopoverdose/

If you or a family member uses illegal drugs, please get naloxone to have at home. If the shot is given in time, very soon after the person stops breathing, it can save their life.

Here: https://www.cdc.gov/stopoverdose/naloxone/index.html

If you give someone a dose of naloxone CALL AN AMBULANCE. Because it is short acting and the opioid may take back over. The person may need to be on naloxone iv! You must get them to an emergency room as fast as possible.

Our local Health Department was giving out naloxone shot kits in the last few years for free. Our local police carry naloxone. If you are on prescription opioids, you should be offered a prescription for naloxone and your family should be instructed on how to use it.

And teach your children well. I interviewed my patients for years on the age they started smoking. Most of my patients started at age nine. One woman said age seven. We have to start talking to children about drugs and risk and not smoking anything by third grade. That is the horrific reality.

And Bless the punk band The Offspring for reaching out to opioid overuse people and saying, “Get help. You can do it. Please do not die.”

The Opioid diaries live by the Offspring.

And they too are inimitable.