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.

Baby doctor

I pick up a Steffi-baby doctor while I am in Michigan.

For whom, you say?

For ME. I collect mother/baby images and statues. I have photographs, statues and toys, of mothers and babies and of pregnant women. Some family ones too. I am a Family Practice doctor, after all.

The Steffi is in with a bunch of Barbies. I am glad to see Barbie Princesses that are ethnically diverse. Next I hope the Disney will decide that adult women who are not virgins are human too, but judging by the way the second Frozen was received, I am not holding my breath. The only good Disney Queen is a dead one. The ones who survive, well, sex apparently turns them evil. It is pretty consistent in the Disney animated movies.

So, Steffi. I was thinking of Skipper, Barbie’s friend, but I realize that Steffi is not Skipper. Note that the baby has a facial rash. This apparently resolves if a cool washcloth is used on the baby’s face. I wish all babies were that easy to treat.

I look up Steffi on the internet and she is German. The packaging confirms this, with an instruction sheet in German and multiple other languages. I like Steffi a lot better than the Disney Princesses. She has tools: a stethoscope and a bottle and an otoscope and a thermometer and a rather mysterious looking caliper set. She has a green version of the white coat and a dress with hearts to reassure the babies. And LOOK! Steffi is wearing a MASK!

I love it. Up with Steffi, who can do things. I am not totally against princesses, I am just against the whole princesses are waiting for some prince to arrive and then their life will… well, they will die in childbirth if they remain nice and they will turn evil if they live. It seems like a poor choice of careers, honestly. My favorite princess is the Dealing with Dragons series, because that princess decides not to follow the usual princess path. The first thing she does is follow a frog’s advice and runs away. And the dragons are wonderful too.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: worry. I worry about the message of the Disney Princesses.

where you can’t find me

Poem: where you can’t find me

It is easy with you
All the places you’ve been offended
Where you haven’t been treated right
A bike shop
Food co-op
Coffee shops
Restaurants

It’s easy to hide my physical body
Where you can’t find me

But what of my mind and heart

You always feel it when I go

I go to the Beloved
I give up
I cast myself into the abyss
Grief, denial, loss, bargaining, abandonment, hopeless grief
I throw myself over the cliff
Over and over
I resist
And then let go

It’s not wings
Because the cliff is a waterfall
I don’t want wings
And the Beloved laughs

Wings form
I refuse to fly
I won’t I won’t I won’t
I fall towards the water

Each time I wonder
If this time the Beloved will not shift
I hit the water

Safe again
Scales and tail
And I can breathe

And swim free
To the sea

Adverse Childhood Experiences 12: welcome to the dark

Welcome to the dark, everyone.

When you think about it, all the children in the world are adding at least one Adverse Childhood Experience score and possibly more, because of Covid-19. Some will add more than one: domestic violence is up with stress, addiction is up, behavioral health problems are up, some parents get sick and die, and then some children are starving.

From the CDC Ace website:

“Overview:Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood. ACEs can include violence, abuse, and growing up in a family with mental health or substance use problems. Toxic stress from ACEs can change brain development and affect how the body responds to stress. ACEs are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance misuse in adulthood. However, ACEs can be prevented.”

Well, can they be prevented? Could Covid-19 be prevented? I question that one.

I have a slightly different viewpoint. I have an ACE Score of 5 and am not dead and don’t have heart disease. I spent quite a bit of time thinking about ACE scores and that it’s framed as kids’ brains are damaged.

I would argue that this is survival wiring. When I have a patient where I suspect a high ACE score, I bring it up, show them the CDC web site and say that I think of it as “crisis wiring” not “damaged”. I say, “You survived your childhood. Good job! The low ACE score people do not understand us and I may be able to help you let go of some of the automatic survival reactions and fit in with the people who had a nice childhood more easily.”

It doesn’t seem useful to me to say “We have to prevent ACE scores.” Um. Tsunamis, hurricanes, Covid-19, wars… it seems to me that the ACE score wiring is adaptive. If your country is at war and you are a kid and your family sets out to sea to escape, well, you need to survive. If that means you are guarded, untrusting, suspicious and wary of everyone, yeah, ok. You need to survive. One of my high ACE Score veterans said that the military loved him because he could go from zero to 60 in one minute. Yeah, me too. I’ve worked on my temper since I was a child. Now it appears that my initial ACE insult was my mother having tuberculosis, so in the womb. Attacked by antibodies, while the tuberculosis bacillus cannot cross the placenta, luckily for me. And luckily for me she coughed blood at 8 months pregnant and then thought she had lung cancer and was going to die at age 22. Hmmm, think of what those hormones did to my wiring.

So if we can’t prevent all ACE Scores, what do we do? We change the focus. We need to understand crisis wiring, support it and help people to let go of the hair trigger that got them through whatever horrid things they grew up with. 16% of Americans have a score of 4 or more BEFORE Covid-19. We now have a 20 or 25 year cohort that will have higher scores. Let’s not label them doomed or damaged. Let’s talk about it and help people to understand.

I read a definition of misery memoirs today. I don’t scorn them. I don’t like the fake ones. I don’t read them, though I did read Angela’s Ashes. What I thought was amazing about Angela’s Ashes is that for me he captures the child attitude of accepting what is happening: when his sibling is dying and they see a dog get killed and he associates the two. And when he writes about moving and how their father would not carry anything, because it was shameful for a man to do that. He takes it all for granted when he is little because that is what he knows. One book that I know of that makes a really difficult childhood quite amazing is Precious Bane, by Mary Webb. Here is a visible disability that marks her negatively and yet she thrives.

A friend met at a conference is working with traumatic brain injury folks. They were starting a study to measure ACE scores and watch them heal, because they were noticing the high ACE score people seem to recover faster. I can see that: I would just say, another miserable thing and how am I going to work through it. Meanwhile a friend tells me on the phone that it’s “not fair” that her son’s senior year of college is spoiled by Covid-19. I think to myself, uh, yes but he’s not in a war zone nor starving nor hit by a tsunami and everyone is affected by this and he’s been vaccinated. I think he is very lucky. What percentage of the world has gotten vaccinated? He isn’t on a ventilator. Right now, that falls under doing well and also lucky in my book. And maybe that is what the high ACE score people have to teach the low ACE score people: really, things could be a lot worse. No, I don’t trust easily and I am no longer feeling sorry about it. I have had a successful career in spite of my ACE score, I ran a clinic in the way that felt ethical to me, I have friends who stick with me even through PANDAS and my children are doing well. And I am not addicted to anything except I’d get a caffeine headache for a day if I had none.

For the people with the good childhood, the traumatic brain injury could be their first terrible experience. They go through the stages of grief. The high ACE score people do too, but we’ve done it before, we are familiar with it, it’s old territory, yeah ok jungle again, get the machete out and move on. As the world gets through Covid-19, with me still thinking that this winter looks pretty dark, maybe we can all learn about ACE scores and support each other and try to be kind, even to the scary looking veteran.

Take care.

Mask refusal in the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic

This is from an article about the history of medicine, about people refusing to wear masks in the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic:

“Adherence is based on three concepts: individualism versus collectivism; trust versus fear; and willingness to obey social distance rules. Jay Van Bavel opines that some countries tend to be more individualistic,16 and therefore more likely to reject rules and ignore attempts by public health authorities to “nudge” behavior change with risk messages or appeals for altruism. In collectivist cultures, people are more likely to do what is deemed best for society. Trust and fear are also significant influences on human behavior.17 In countries with political division, people are less likely to trust advice from one side or the other and are more likely to form pro- and anti- camps. This may also undermine advice issued by public health professionals. The last and most difficult to attain is social distancing. Human beings are social animals with bodies and brains designed and wired for connection. A pandemic, in many ways, goes against our instinct to connect. Behavioral psychologist Michael Sanders argues that if everybody breaks the rules a little bit, the results are not dissimilar to many people not following the rules at all.18

From another article:

“It was the worst pandemic in modern history.

The 1918 influenza virus swept the globe, killing at least 50 million people worldwide.

In the US, the disease devastated cities, forcing law enforcement to ban public meetings, shut down schools, churches, and theaters, and even stop funerals.

In total, 675,000 Americans died from the Spanish flu, named after the disease’s early presence in Spain.”

I read a book on the 1918-1919 influenza. It started in the U.S. The photograph that haunts me is the bodies stacked five deep in the hallways of San Francisco Hospitals.

And in a third article:

“The scenes in Philadelphia appeared to be straight out of the plague-infested Middle Ages. Throughout the day and night, horse-drawn wagons kept a constant parade through the streets of Philadelphia as priests joined the police in collecting corpses draped in sackcloths and blood-stained sheets that were left on porches and sidewalks. The bodies were piled on top of each other in the wagons with limbs protruding from underneath the sheets. The parents of one small boy who succumbed to the flu begged the authorities to allow him the dignity of being buried in a wooden box that had been used to ship macaroni instead of wrapping him a sheet and having him taken away in a patrol wagon.”

A CDC article about the history of the 1918-1919 influenza says this:

“The fully reconstructed 1918 virus was striking in terms of its ability to quickly replicate, i.e., make copies of itself and spread infection in the lungs of infected mice. For example, four days after infection, the amount of 1918 virus found in the lung tissue of infected mice was 39,000 times higher than that produced by one of the comparison recombinant flu viruses.14

Furthermore, the 1918 virus was highly lethal in the mice. Some mice died within three days of infection with the 1918 virus, and the mice lost up to 13% of their body weight within two days of infection with the 1918 virus. The 1918 virus was at least 100 times more lethal than one of the other recombinant viruses tested.14 Experiments indicated that 1918 virus’ HA gene played a large role in its severity. When the HA gene of the 1918 virus was swapped with that of a contemporary human seasonal influenza A (H1N1) flu virus known as “A/Texas/36/91” or Tx/91 for short, and combined with the remaining seven genes of the 1918 virus, the resulting recombinant virus notably did not kill infected mice and did not result in significant weight loss.14

The 1918-1919 influenza virus was sequenced and studied in 2005. We did not have the tools before that. Frozen bodies were exhumed with the permission of Inuit tribes to find the virus.

Later, that same article talks about future pandemics:

“When considering the potential for a modern era high severity pandemic, it is important; however, to reflect on the considerable medical, scientific and societal advancements that have occurred since 1918, while recognizing that there are a number of ways that global preparations for the next pandemic still warrant improvement.”

Let us now travel back to a worse epidemic: the plague in the Middle Ages:

“Did you know? Between 1347 and 1350, a mysterious disease known as the “Black Death” (the bubonic plague) killed some 20 million people in Europe—30 percent of the continent’s population. It was especially deadly in cities, where it was impossible to prevent the transmission of the disease from one person to another.”

I am hoping that people will awaken, get their vaccines, wear their masks and stop Covid-19 in its’ tracks, so that our death rate resembles the 1918-1919 Influenza. Not the Middle Ages plague.

even if

even if

I never see you again
you never speak to me again
you never love your bearish parts
you never let yourself get angry
you never let yourself get sad
you never let yourself feel
you tell yourself you are happy
you tell yourself everything is the way it should be

even if

I never see you again

I still love you
I still forgive you

I still love you

I hope that you truly do

find happiness

Top ten causes of death: US 2020

Top ten causes of death US 2020, according to JAMA, here.

Total deaths: 3,358.814
Contrast total deaths in 2019, at 2,854,838. That number had been on a very slow rise since 2015 (2,712,630) to 2019 (2,854,838). That increase over four years is 142,208 people. Then the death rate suddenly jumps 503,976 people in one year. Ouch. I cannot say that I understand vaccine refusal.

1. Coronary artery disease: 690,882
Heart disease still wins. And it went up 4.8%. It is suspected that people were afraid to go to doctors and hospitals. I saw one man early on in the pandemic for “constipation”. He had acute appendicitis. I sent him to the ER and his appendix was removed that day. He thanked me for seeing him in person. Might have missed that one over zoom.

2. Cancer deaths: 598,932
This is cancer deaths, not all of the cancers.

3. Covid-19: 345,342
I have had various people complain that covid-19 is listed as the cause of death when the person has a lot of other problems: heart disease, cancer, heart failure. The death certificate allows for more than one cause but we are supposed to list the final straw first. I cannot list old age, for example. I have to list: renal failure (kidneys stopped working) due to anorexia (stopped eating) due to dementia. That patient was 104 and had had dementia for years. But dementia is not listed as the final cause. So if the person is 92, in a nursing home for dementia and congestive heart failure, gets covid-19 and dies, covid-19 is listed first, and then the others.

4. Unintentional injuries: 192,176
Accidents went up, not down, which is interesting since lots of people were not in their cars. However, remember that the top of the list for unintentional injuries is overdose death, more by legal than illicit drugs. If there is no note, it’s considered unintentional. Well, unless there is a really high blood level of opioids and benzos and alcohol. Then it becomes intentional. They do not always check, especially if the person is elderly. The number rose 11.1%, which seems like a lot of people.

5. Stroke: 159,050
This rose too.

6. Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 151,637
This went down a little. This is mostly COPD and emphysema. So why would it go down? Well, I think bad lung disease people were dying of covid-19, right?

7. Alzheimer’s: 133,182
This seems to belie me putting renal failure due to anorexia due to Alzheimer’s. I think they actually read the forms and would put that as Alzheimer’s rather than renal failure, because it is not chronic renal disease.

8. Diabetes: 101,106
This rose too. 15.4%, again, probably partly because people avoided going to clinic visits. Also perhaps some stress eating. Carbohydrate comfort.

9. Influenza and pneumonia: 53,495
So this went up too in spite of a lot less influenza. Other pneumonias, presumably.

10. Kidney disease: 52,260
This went up.

And what fell out of the top ten, to be replaced by covid-19?

11. Suicide: 44,834
This actually went down a little. What will it do in 2021?

So what will 2021 look like? I don’t know. It depends what the variants of covid-19 do, depends on what sort of influenza year we have, depends on whether we are open or closed, depends if we bloody well help the rest of the world get vaccinated so that there is not a huge continuing wave of variants.

Today the Johns Hopkins covid-19 map says that deaths in the US stand at 608,818 from covid-19. If we subtract the 2020 covid-19 deaths, we stand at 263,495 deaths from covid-19 so far this year. Will we have more deaths in the US from covid-19 than in 2020? It is looking like yes, unless more people get immunized fast.

Take care.

Judgement

Why are the roses caged, you ask? What did they do? Nothing, they are being protected. I found that rose and transplanted it years ago, but our deer eat the buds every year. This is the first time that it has bloomed in the 21 years I have lived in this hours. Isn’t it beautiful?

I am listening to this:

I wrote this poem today. This is one of the poems where I have no idea where it will go when I start writing it. I start writing about judgement and it never ever goes where I expect. The poems go where I want to go in my deepest heart, in my soul. I am never where the poem is, the poems show me the way….. Then I try to go there. And it can take years….

I am being judged
and watched

I have no issue with the Beloved

it’s the humans I don’t like

I twist people’s words
but not with malice

when the antibodies are up
it is hard to communicate
hard to explain
it is hard just to survive
and I might be focused on survival first
and comforting the people around me second

can you blame me?

how near to death have you passed?
and how often?

first pneumonia
heart rate 135 when I stood up

my doctor and I could not understand it

my doctor partners thought I was lying
in 2003

second pneumonia
after my sister’s death
which was bad enough
but the legal morass that she had set up
with her daughter as the center

pitting me and her daughter’s birth father
and my father
against all the PhDs in the maternal family
smart, smart, smart
yet emotionally stupid

my niece is not an inheritance
to be passed to whom my sister wants

she reluctantly came home
and the myth endures
that this is an injustice

third pneumonia
one year after I find my father dead
triggered by grief
and the outdated will
and the mess he leaves

and I don’t even get sued
about the will
for another year

endure that
endure endure endure
endure hatred
endure triangulation
endure meanness
unwarrented

I do not care
if you want to believe
what you want to believe
it isn’t true
and it hurt

and I learn to let go

with the fourth pneumonia

I see the liars surrounding me
downvoting
yes, it does matter
except that one that I trusted
that mentored me

has lied all along

that hurts too

let it go
let it go
let it go

and I let it go

each pneumonia is a time of change
creativity
I am lonely and sick
and not trusting

as I improve
slowly, slowly

I wander garage sales
estate sales

and find things
things that are beautiful
things that enhance my joy

at the start of covid
I was so down
I was so sad
I wanted to lie in the street
and give up

the Beloved sent a spirit
he says he is no angel

I see angels bright and dark
after all they all fall

just as humans do

we all fall
we all fall down

try to look perfect
try to look virtuous
tell yourself that you are good

that is the biggest lie of all

the bad parts of your spirit
locked in the basement of your soul
howl
howl and want to be freed

and if one gets out
and you reject her or him

he will return with nine friends
yes that is what the bible says

she will return with nine friends

he/she MONSTER
will free the others

and you will do bad things
you will be terrible
you will hurt people
while you try to contain
while you try to lock away
while you try to chain
your monsters
your evil
your self

let them go
let the monsters go
they are howling
I hear them all the time
when I meet you
when I speak to you
the monsters howl at me
begging to be loved

yes, they want to be loved
and I love them

but if I mention them

you get that look
of horror

someone sees
me
someone sees
my evil
someone sees
what I hide

I can’t help it
raised in alcohol neglect and lies
on my own
as soon as I can walk

but I can’t walk away
at nine months

so I find other escapes
words
songs
books
poetry
rhymes
numbers

and my sister
when she is born

I do all the mothering

that I have longed for

even though I am three

we were talking about your monsters
not mine

you must go in to the cave
where you have locked them

and free them all

fall on your knees

and say
forgive me forgive me

for I have sinned

bow your head

and hold out your arms

and what, you say,
will the tortured monsters do?

will they smite you?
will they burn you?
will they lock you in their place?

mine didn’t
mine were babies
grief, fear, shame
and I embraced them
carried them up to the light
and care for them

wash them
diaper them
feed them
wrap them in warm blankets

and love them

until they stop crying

and begin to grow