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.

broken three

I drop the fragment of rock with the seam a second time. Now I have three pieces. I stop there. When I climb back up the bank, I have an oxygen tank, a camera and rocks. It involves quite a bit of swearing and stopping to rest while I try to get enough oxygen.

Hopefully I will get better. I don’t know when or even if. My friend B says he wants to know what the pneumonia was, that triggered this round of pseudoautoimmune misery. I shrug. “We know some things it isn’t.” I say. “It isn’t covid-19, it isn’t influenza A or B, it isn’t respiratory syncytial virus, it probably is not strep A though I still haven’t had the second blood test. It isn’t pneumococcal pneumonia. It could have been mycoplasma pneumonia or pertussis or a very long list of viruses. Doctors are practical scientists, at least, I am. If the patient is getting better, don’t chase an answer that won’t add anything. I caught something, probably in the clinics where people kept taking off their masks when they were ‘alone’ in the room. They didn’t realize that they were breathing out viruses or bacteria that could take me out.” We aren’t exactly sure if the combined penicillin and clindamycin, high dose, helped or not. I think it did, but stress makes this worse too and it was a very very stressful time. Mean people, you know, and mean family. I just don’t understand what they are thinking.

I really think that post covid-19, we should wear a mask if we go out in public when we are sick. Because you don’t know which people are the vulnerable ones. I normally have lots of energy and I don’t think people would guess that I have had chronic fatigue and that I am terribly vulnerable to infection. In the clinic I owned, after I was sick in 2014, I asked any patient who was sniffling or coughing to wear a mask. “I get pneumonia easily,” I would explain. They had the right to refuse and then I would not see them. After I closed my clinic and went to work as a temp doc, I could not protect myself. I asked the nurses to ask people to PLEASE keep their masks on, but people are people. They didn’t. I had a bit of a PTSD reaction every time I walked into a patient room and they had masks off. I wanted to run out of the room screaming but I was more restrained and just said, “Please, please, PLEASE put your mask back on, other people have been in the room.” I didn’t add “And you might kill me.” because I only had 20 minutes for the visit…..

The pieces of rock are beautiful, aren’t they?

Here is a great song. Got it from this blog: https://reflectionsofanuntidymind.blog/2021/05/07/icky/

This is all for the Ragtag Daily Prompt: workshop. I like working with rocks. I have to decide what work to do next, since it’s no longer safe for me to do family medicine. It SUCKS. I really miss my peeps.

I have to get well first. If I do, what next?

Choosing love

My sister and another writer posted essays under the title Choosing Love here: http://everything2.com/title/Choosing+Love. My sister’s was written in 2002. I posted mine there last November.

Choosing Love

I choose love
I have no enemies
I hold you close in my heart
and hug you close if I can
and if you hurt me over and over
I can still love you
I choose love
I have no enemies
I hold you close in my heart
from far far extremely far away
I choose love
I have no enemies
I hold you close in my heart
I hug you from a safe distance
I choose love
I have no enemies
I hold you close in my heart
even if I will not allow contact again
I choose love

The photograph was on the beach. The gull and the crow were interacting. After I watched for a while it was clear that the gull was following the crow and trying to take things from the crow. They were not friends.