Adverse Childhood Experiences 13: on gratitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

portrait

Sol Duc loves the neighbor’s back steps. I have permission to walk her in their yard. Walking cats is quite different from walking a dog. It’s more following the cat around. Elwha is quite scared of being outside in the day, partly because we live on a busy street and there are all those NOISES. Sol Duc is braver, but tends to stay away from the roads in the daytime. Cats like edges and shadow, except when sunning.

When I walk them in the early dark, they are both much braver. Sol Duc has gone around the whole block. She is annoyed when I won’t let her go under a house or way into a yard where I do not have permission. And she has seen birds and deer and another cat and dogs and other humans! Whew!

hot weather flower

Yesterday the downtown bank recorded a temperature of 87! And this is after six months of seeing the sun about once every two weeks, and temperatures mostly in the 40s and 50s.

The beaches have been EMPTY. The delightful Salish Sea gets to a high of 55 degrees, so anyone who swims is brave. But yesterday the beaches were FULL again! Tourists and locals, summer is here! The water temperature yesterday was 9 degrees C, which is 48 F. Cold for swimming.

For Cee’s Flower of the Day.

Is this a tree?

Is this a tree?

I would not call this a tree. I would call it a cone. It contains seeds. It is not a tree.

A pregnancy is called an embryo until 8 weeks after conception and then a fetus until birth. It is not a baby, any more than a seed is a tree. Here is a link to a picture of the embryo developing:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_embryonic_development#/media/File:HumanEmbryogenesis.svg

It’s a bit difficult to call the embryo a baby.

After 8 weeks (10 weeks from the last menstrual period) the developing pregnancy is called a fetus. It cannot survive outside the womb. A term pregnancy is 37 weeks, and the due date is at 40 weeks. The earliest survival, certainly not natural, is around 24 weeks. This takes heavy intervention and technology, a premature infant on a ventilator for months. There is risk of damage to the eyes from high oxygen and risk of spontaneous brain bleed and cerebral palsy, because the newborn can weigh half a pound. Once born, the fetus is termed a baby.

This is important from a medical standpoint and pounded into us as physicians. WHY? Because in a trauma situation, the life of the mother comes first. In Obstetrics and Family Medicine, the life of the mother comes first. In Oncology, the life of the mother comes first. My sister was diagnosed with stage IIIB ductal breast cancer at age 41. She was engaged and it turned out that she was pregnant. She wrote this essay on her blog, Butterfly Soup:

The hardest loss of breast cancer.

She had an abortion and chose chemotherapy, because it was her or the fetus. If she had chemotherapy pregnant, at that time she was told that it would probably kill the fetus or cause terrible birth defects. If she held off on chemotherapy for seven months, her oncologist thought she would die. She had a very very aggressive cancer and she already had a daughter who needed her.

She lived until age 49, with multiple rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, gamma knife radiation, whole brain radiation. And she lived until her daughter was 13. Without the abortion, her physicians thought she would have died when her daughter was 7.

My ethics in medicine are that patients have autonomy. I would NOT have wanted my sister to choose to refuse chemo and try to bring a baby to term while dying of breast cancer. However, it was HER CHOICE, not mine. It was private and no one else’s business and how dare people make moral judgements about another person’s medical choices. I give my patients CHOICES. They can choose not to treat cancer and go into hospice. They can choose surgery or refuse it. They can choose to treat opioid addiction or refuse. They may die of a heroin overdose and I grieve. I try to convince them to go to treatment and I give them nalaxone to try to reverse overdoses. I refuse a medication or treatment that I think will harm my patients, but my patients have autonomy and choices. That extends to women and pregnancy as well.

It is NOT a baby in the womb, however emotionally attached people are to this image. It is an embryo first and then a fetus. And in a car wreck, the woman comes first and the fetus second.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: explain.

sand pattern

I took this photograph yesterday on East Beach in glorious sun.

I left the house to hike at 5:30 am. I didn’t hear about Roe v Wade being overturned until later in the day. I am grieving and will fight for women’s right to determine their own health. Each sperm is alive and each egg too. Don’t tell me they should all be saved, because then we would all starve. Life doesn’t start at conception. I think that some men wanting to control women starts with conception. They certainly don’t want their sperm controlled.

In the photograph are great blue heron tracks. I saw at least three great blue herons. At least four eagles, sitting in the tops of trees along the cliffs enjoying the sun.

The beach changes daily. We go to North Beach and one day it is long stretches of sand and the next it is covered with rocks of all sizes. We have been hiking so regularly that it is really clear that the beach changes as much as human moods! Every tide is different.

Here are chalcedony nodules found yesterday. We still call them agates, but since we are getting fussier and want the clear ones, they are more correctly called chalcedony nodules.

The beach changes like US politics. The water rushes in like a new administration, removes small and large boulders and rushes out again. A new Supreme Court Judge, a new person in this appointed position or that, change, change, change, a new pattern. I am grieving about Roe v Wade, but contributing to the fight for women’s rights and for women’s health. I wish that as a country we were less dramatic and nicer and did not need to have an enemy to shout at all the time.

Maybe that change is coming, but slowly. We might learn from social media and from all sorts of lessons. I have some hope.

Meanwhile I’d rather be with the great blue herons and the eagles.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: patterns.