Painting angels

You were an artist
You are an artist
You said that you’d have to live to 120 to finish all your projects
And died at 61
I keep wondering
what the art supplies are like
and if you work on sunsets
or mountains
or lakes

Trey, 9
made a clay fish last summer that I admire
He said grumpily “It’s too bad Grandma Helen died before I could do clay with her.”
He tells me he’s ready to make raku pots to fire in your ashes as you wished
I ask what he’d make
He considers and says, “What was Grandma Helen’s favorite food?”
I can’t think and say that she liked lots of foods
At the same time wondering squeamishly if maybe
he should make a vase and then being surprised
that I am squeamish and thinking of blood and wine,
too, I wonder if my dad would know. “Maybe guacamole.”
I need to find a potter to apprentice him to.

Camille, 4.
asks how old Grandma Helen was when she died.
I explain that she died at 61 but her mother died at 92.
Camille asks how old I am.
40.
When are you going to die?
I say I don’t know, none of us do, but I hope it’s more towards 90.

Camille studies me and is satisfied for now.
She goes off.
I think of you.

I perpetuate
the Christmas cards you did with us
upon my children.
They each draw a card.
We photocopy them and hand paint with watercolors.
Camille wants to draw an angel
and says she can’t.
I draw a simple angel
and have her trace it.
She has your fierce concentration
bent over tracing through the thick paper
She wants it right.
The angel is transformed.

My kids resist the painting after a few cards as I did too.
Each time I paint the angel
to send to someone I love
I think of Camille
and you
and genes
and Heaven
I see you everywhere


January 19, 2002

published in Mama Stew: An Anthology: Reflections and Observations on Mothering, edited by Elisabeth Rotchford Haight and Sylvia Platt c. 2002

For the RDP: another day.

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.

for a while

I am as happy as I am going to be
for a while

missing you

I’ve let you go
you know

I resisted
disbelief for a day
two days
three days

you were so loving
acted loving
more loving than anyone ever before

and gone
angel to demon
fallen
daily talk
to none

you have decided
to be a hermit
free
to do what you want

I let you go
and with my blessings

I want you to be happy

I am as happy as I am going to be
for a while

missing you

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.