I voted

…after I spent about three hours going through paper and throwing it out… ok, like a total numbskull I mislaid my ballot. Have you mislaid your ballot? FIND IT! VOTE!

” …that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

When I went across the country as a Mad as Hell Doctor in 2009, we talked to people everywhere. I joined the group in Seattle. I had never met any of them and had only heard about them two weeks before. But we were on the road, talking about health care, talking about single payer healthcare, talking about Medicare for All.

Some people said, “I don’t want the government in healthcare.”

We would ask, “Are you against medicare?” “No!” “Medicaid?” “No!” “Active duty military health care?” “No! We must take care of our active duty!” “Veterans?”  “No! They have earned it!”

…but those are all administered by the government. More than half of health care in the US. So let’s go forward: let’s all join together and have Medicare for ALL! And if you don’t agree… so you don’t think you should vote? Hmmm, I am wrestling my conscience here….

We need one system, without 20 cents of every insurance paid dollar going to health insurance profit and advertising and refusing care and building 500++ websites that really, I do not have time to learn and that change all the time anyhow. How about ONE website? How about ONE set of rules? We are losing doctors. It’s not just me worrying: it’s in the latest issue of the American Academy of Family Practice.

Vote. For your health and for your neighbor’s health.

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Physicians for a National Healthcare Progam: http://pnhp.org/

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

I can’t credit the photograph, because I don’t remember who took it…. or if it was with my camera or phone or someone else’s! But thank you, whoever you are!

Why is she really here?

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: object. I strenuously and loudly object to medicine meaning pills.

During my three months temp job at a nearby Army Hospital in 2010, I wanted to work with residents, Family Practice doctors in training. I finished residency in 1996 and have worked in rural clinics and hospitals for 14 years. I want more rural family practice doctors and I agitated to work with the residents in training.

The Family Practice Department had actually hired me to do clinic. They are swamped and trying to hire temporary and permanent providers as quickly as they can. Six different temp companies called me about the same job, so the word is definitely out.

Initially the department head explained that I was there to do clinic, but she changed her mind. I was cheerful about the electronic medical records. Learning a new electronic medical record is awful, but I was happy to be there, excited about working with residents and in a hospital more than 16 times as big as my usual small town hospital. Most importantly, I was patient with the computer. I have finally realized that computers don’t actually speak English. They speak computer and they are dumb as rocks and they make no effort to understand what I am saying. They don’t care. So it is no use getting mad at the dumb thing when it crashes or when it doesn’t do what I want: I have to go find someone who knows the exact language that the stupid machine will understand.

Since I was cheerful, my department head let me do what I want. I was on the clinic schedule every day, but it was empty. I would arrive and see walk-in active duty people from 6:30 to 8:00. At the same time, I would email the department head and ask what I was doing that day. Half the time, a physician was sick or had a family crisis, so she would move people around and put me with the residents. If not, I would open clinic.

I enjoyed the “Attending Room” duty. Family Practice Residents have their MD but then go through three years of training. The first year residents must precept every clinic patient. That is, they see the person and then come discuss the case with the faculty. Second year residents were required to precept two patients per half day and third year residents had to do one; and all obstetric cases were precepted.

Back when I was in residency and the dinosaurs roamed the earth, no one ever read any of my notes. This has changed. Every note that is precepted must be read by the attending and co-signed. After three years hating the electronic medical record that my small hospital bought, it was very interesting to see a different system. In some ways it was better and in some worse.

We had one or two “Attendings” in the faculty room, no more than three residents per attending. One case stands out, more because of the resident than the patient. He was a first year.

He described an elderly woman in her 80s, there for headaches. Two weeks of headaches, getting a bit worse. History of present illness, past medical history, medicines, allergies, family history, social history and the physical exam. He said, “She’s tried tylonol and ibuprofen, but they aren’t helping that much.” He frowned. “She doesn’t seem to want another medicine.”

“No?” I said.

“No.” he said. “I started to talk about medicines. It doesn’t sound like migraines and she doesn’t have anything that’s really worrisome for a tumor……but she doesn’t seem to want a headache medicine.”

“Why is she really here?”

He looked more confused. “What do you mean?”

“Why is she really here?”

“I don’t know.”

“You already said why. Think about the history.” He frowned. I said, “Ok, you said that she was worried that she was going to have a stroke. Are these headaches likely to be a precursor of a stroke?”

“No.”

“Right. But that is why she’s here, because that is what she’s worried about. Look at her blood pressure, see what her last cholesterol was, talk to her about what symptoms ARE worrisome for strokes. Find out if a family member or friend has had a recent stroke. She doesn’t need a medicine. She is here for reassurance.”

“Oh.” he said. He left and came back.

“How did it go?”

“She was happy. She didn’t want a medicine. Her blood pressure is great, her cholesterol is great, we talked about strokes and she left.”

“That’s real medicine. Forget the diagnosis if the visit seems confusing. Ask yourself what is your patient worried about? What are they afraid of? Don’t focus on giving people medicine all the time. Ask yourself, why are they really here?”

And that is why I wanted to work with residents. It’s not all diagnosis and treatment. It is people and thinking about what they want and what they are worried about.

Why is she really here?

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previously published on everything2.com
According to dictionary.com, precept is a noun. Medical school and residency have verbed it. Hey, get updated, dictionary.com!

it’s natural

Sometimes in clinic, people say, “It’s natural, so it can’t harm me.”

Um.

As we hiked Tunnel Creek yesterday, the forest shifted. We entered a drier section, still in shadow, and saw patches of these black fungi. We enjoyed their creepy beauty and wondered if we were entering a forest of no return.  Even though they are natural, we did not touch, nor pick, nor eat these mushrooms.

Mordechai on fleek

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: fleek.

In October, Mordechai the plastic skeleton hangs out in the Quimper Family Medicine waiting room. She changes outfits. We had a 10 year old visitor who rearranged everything and now Mordechai is on fleek. She is holding out emergency preparedness pamphlets.

DSCN4262.JPG

 

The chances of a poet reaching us are slim

I wrote this after working at Madigan Army Hospital in 2009 for three months as a temporary doctor. I am posting it here because Shoreacres sent me this link about poetry and medicine.

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I would pray if I could. It seems ludicrous to pray for a poet, but there it is.

It started with two soldiers. The Army was embedding a behavioral health specialists (the new politically correct term for mental health specialists) in units starting before 2010. Soldiers were trained in suicide prevention, instructed to stay with a buddy if they made any comments about suicide. A soldier was to walk his or her buddy directly to the behavioral health specialist or to to higher rank. As soldiers went on their fourth and fifth tours, post traumatic stress disorder, depression and traumatic brain injuries were rampant. Unfortunately, psychologists basically felt like they were putting Power Ranger band-aids on hemorrhaging brain arteries. It wasn’t working.

A soldier was accompanying a convoy in Iraq when an IED went off. Right through the bottom of a convoy truck. The driver died screaming from an arterial groin bleed. Two of the eight soldiers were killed. The truck was abandoned and the rest of the convoy got back to the safe (mostly) zone. That soldier had the glassed ghost look in her eyes and got quiet. The usual response was to avoid someone’s eyes and hope for the best, but another soldier wouldn’t let her alone. She kept asking, “Tell me. What happened?”

The first soldier finally snarled out part of the story.

The second soldier pinned a poem to her pillow, describing the event. Our first soldier came in screaming and threw the crumpled ball of paper at her chest. “That’s not what happened! That’s not how I felt! Not even close!”

“Well, what DID happen!” The rest of the unit tried to hide in plain sight or disappeared to the bathroom or got really interested in books or watching the same video over and over, but the two of them stood face to face and went at it. Words, not fists. The crumpled paper was retrieved, the poem rewritten. It took two weeks before soldier one suddenly said, “That’s it. That’s pretty good. For a poem.” But she was back, her gruff foul mouthed efficient self.

Of course it wouldn’t have gone anywhere if the behavioral health specialist hadn’t joked about it to his superiors. The Army was really desperate. In spite of all the work, the suicide rate was still challenging the combat death rate, and there just weren’t enough people to deploy.

The Army went looking for poets. Four were promptly deployed into units. Two of them turned out to be pretty useless, but the other two: the units thrived. Word started getting around. The poets were swamped with people from other units.

The recruiting campaign: “We want you, yes we do, poet show your heart so true!” was painful, but the Army did not care. And poets stepped forward from within the ranks! Don’t ask, don’t tell turned on it’s head. In spite of the medical community’s cries for waiting until more scientific studies were done, and the press and cartoonists drawing pictures recruiters welcoming wimpy pale asthenic writers with open arms, the Army embedded a poet in every unit, right beside the behavioral health specialist. Oh, of course they tried prose too. The academics had a field day fighting about why prose didn’t work. But it didn’t.

It’s the height of irony that we’re cut off with everything we need, except a poet. A water source, food, ammunition. We’re holding our position. Our back up poet is dead ten days ago, but our main poet got an IED blast. Traumatic brain injury, two weeks ago. We can’t get him out, of course. You would think someone would bleed if they were that bad, but he just can’t hold on to any memory. The soldiers tell him their stories, he struggles and tries, but he can barely hold on to one line. Can’t read, though he can write. Can’t see very well either.

The whole unit is starting to look glass-eyed and haunted. Smith asked to go in the jail yesterday and for the door to be closed. He promptly started screaming. It got quiet after a while so they went in. He was sitting on bunk. “Ok.” he said. “I might come back tomorrow.” Some soldiers are writing their own limericks or free verse. It’s ironic that it hurts morale so much, knowing there’s help available. Knowing the chances of a poet reaching us in time are very slim.

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I will use this for the Ragtag Daily Prompt: comeback.

Speaking up

For yesterday’s Ragtag Daily Prompt: justice.

I keep hearing “Why didn’t she speak up sooner?”

I spoke up. I was 7. The abuser was a neighbor. Nothing was done. I thought it was my fault, that I was not a virgin, and that at age 7 I was pregnant. I did not understand puberty. I spoke up to my mother, who dismissed it.

So I did the only thing I could: I tried to protect myself and my four year old sister. I told her never ever to go near that neighbor. And I never went near him again.

I was taken for a well child check a month or two later. I didn’t say anything but I thought that surely the doctor would have noticed if I was pregnant, so I must not be.

I grieved on the school bus, thinking that I was the only girl who was not a virgin. I was wrong about the not a virgin, but I also was probably wrong about being the only girl.

I didn’t even realize that hello, I was seven, it was not my fault, I didn’t even understand what was happening. I didn’t understand until I was in college and heard a radio program about how women who are raped feel guilty. Here is a poem about that realization: The bacon burning.

So do you think I spoke up after that? Why would I? No one helped me and I was silenced. I learned this lesson: no one will help and I am on my own. I did speak up in medical school: Make a difference.

Where is justice? And do you really want us ALL to speak up now? About ALL of it?

When I was in my early teens, a friend of my parents french kissed me. He said, “I wanted to be your first french kiss.” Hello, I avoided him after that and did I want a french kiss from an old friend of my parents? He had a PhD but no boundaries, no emotional intelligence and poor ethics.

Shall I go on? In college I worked in two labs: both fruit fly labs. In one the graduate student was professional, courteous and quickly gave me a raise. In the other, I never saw the professor again and I was ignored. I went to resign from the second. The PhD professor said, “What do you plan to do after college?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Do you plan to get married and become some man’s cow?”

Oh, really? Do you Mr. PhD professor refer to all married women as men’s cows? Would you have the same conversation with a male student? I quit. I don’t like you or your lab and that sort of comment reinforces my dislike.

In medical school we had two female physicians on the faculty. One was married but no children. Residents joked about her, that she had the balls in the family, because they were both physicians. The other was not married, an OB-gyn. We asked her to speak to our Women in Medicine group about children and career.

“If you want to be taken seriously as a physician, you should not have children.” she said.

I asked, “What if we have a house husband?”

“No man’s ego could stand up to that,” she replied.

I have children and a career.

I had worked in a clinic for a year and another provider talked to me. “Do you know that they are paying the other physician (male) twice what they are paying you?”

Oh, really? I set up a meeting with the administration.

“Oh, the male physician is the clinic director, that’s why we pay him more.”

This was a lie. I had been in the clinic for a year and there had never been one word that he was clinic director. The next year they standardized paying us by RVUs: his salary went down and mine went up. And so justice was done, right? No, the male physicians are given jobs such as head of hospice or medical director and extra money. Do they work harder? The jobs are not offered to the women physicians.

A male physician at the hospital was made chief of staff. He asks me in the hall, “Do women physicians just quit because they want to stay at home with children?”

“Do you want a serious answer?” I said. He looked surprised. We went to an office and I discussed that almost all the hospital staff were women at that time and that they have a different relationship with female physicians than male physicians. Most of the administrators were male, white males.

So really, do you want all the women in the US to speak up? Maybe we all should. The above is not anywhere near an exhaustive list, it is a start. This is just from thinking about it for two days. I can fill pages…..