black on white

black on white

white on black

it doesn’t matter

angels falling
made to fall
at peace with falling

I let myself fall
at peace with falling

and wonder what that means?



though there are times I long
for the Beloved
for union with the Beloved
for all in one
and one all

let go

when an angel falls
they are at peace

they are at peace
with falling


see black and white


see good and evil



angels don’t

black on white
white on black

it doesn’t matter
there is no separation
we are one




This is for RonovanWrites Weekly Haiku Challenge #73, prompt words black and white. I was thinking of the shades in between and all of the stances on the internet: this is true, this is false, this is horrible, this is wonderful. We only seem to be able to agree about cute cat photos and videos. I keep hoping that the loss of privacy on the internet will teach us gentleness and peace and tolerance: entertain strangers for they might be angels. Peace, all, and work to end all discrimination.


white light darkening
hark angels black and white sing
black tract lightening


I took the picture at the start of a rain storm at Lake Matinenda, Ontario, Canada in August.

Why care for addicts?

Why care for addicts?

Children. If we do addiction medicine and help and treat addicts, we are helping children and their parents and our elderly patients’ children. We are helping families, and that is why I chose Family Practice as my specialty.

Stop thinking of addiction as the evil person who chooses to buy drugs instead of paying their bills. Instead, think of it as a disease where the drug takes over. Essentially, we have trouble with addicts because they lie about using drugs. But I think of it as the drug takes over: when the addict is out of control, the drug has control. The drug is not just lying to the doctor, the spouse, the parents, the family, the police: the drug is lying to the patient too.

The drug says: just a little. You feel so sick. You will feel so much better. Just a tiny bit and you can stop then. No one will know. You are smart. You can do it. You have control. You can just use a tiny bit, just today and then you can stop. They say they are helping you, but they aren’t. Look how horrible you feel! And you need to get the shopping done and you can’t because you are so sick…. just a little. I won’t hurt you. I am your best friend.

I think of drug and alcohol addiction as a loss of boundaries and a loss of control. I treat opiate overuse patients and I explain: you are here to be treated because you have lost your boundaries with this drug. Therefore it is my job to help you rebuild those boundaries. We both know that if the drug takes control, it will lie. So I have to do urine drug tests and hold you to your appointments and refuse to alter MY boundaries to help keep you safe. If the drug is taking over, I will have you come for more frequent visits. You have to keep your part of the contract: going to AA, to NA, to your treatment group, giving urine specimens. These things rebuild your internal boundaries. Meanwhile you and I and drug treatment are the external boundaries. If that fails, I will offer to help you go to inpatient treatment. Some people refuse and go back to the drug. I feel sad but I hope that they will have another chance. Some people die from the drug and are lost.

Addiction is a family illness. The loved one is controlled by the drug and lies. The family WANTS to believe their loved one and often the family “enables” by helping the loved one cover up the illness. Telling the boss that the loved one is sick, procuring them alcohol or giving them their pills, telling the children and the grandparents that everything is ok. Everything is NOT ok and the children are frightened. One parent behaves horribly when they are high or drunk and the other parent is anxious, distracted, stressed and denies the problem. Or BOTH are using and imagine if you are a child in that. Terror and confusion.

Children from addiction homes are more likely to be addicts themselves or marry addicts. They have grown up in confusing lonely dysfunction and exactly how are they supposed to learn to act “normally” or to heal themselves? The parents may have covered well enough that the community tells them how wonderful their father was or how charming their mother was at the funeral. What does the adult child say to that, if they have memories of terror and horror? The children learn to numb the feelings in order to survive the household and they learn to keep their mouths shut: it’s safer. It is very hard to unlearn as an adult.

I have people with opiate overuse syndrome who come to see me with their children. I have drawings by children that have a doctor and a nurse and the words “heroes” underneath and “thank you”. I  have had a young pregnant patient thank me for doing a urine drug screen as routine early in pregnancy. “My friend used meth the whole pregnancy and they never checked,” she said, “Now her baby is messed up.”

Addiction medicine is complicated because we think people should tell the truth. But it is a disease precisely because it’s the loss of control and loss of boundaries that cause the lying. We should be angry at the drug, not the person: love the person and help them change their behavior. We need to stop stigmatizing and demeaning addiction and help people. For them, for their families, for their children and for ourselves.

I took the photo of my daughter on Easter years ago.

Where oh where is love?

How could we have love without grief?

The US culture seems to suppress grief, take grief away, heal grief, get over grief, but think about love without grief.

Could we love someone if we didn’t grieve when they died?

No. We couldn’t. That wouldn’t be love. Or that would be the pale shadow of love, love without loss, love that turned from the grave and forgot.

We cannot love without grief, so we need to make room for grief. We need to stand by each other during grief. We need to help each other, be present, be there, say the wrong thing, say the right thing, say nothing and just give love.

Love builds the Taj Mahal. Love writes Rumi’s poems. Love is the memories of the person we loved, we tell our children about them, we hold them in our hearts.

Love loves without logic, without sense. Love in spite of alcohol, addiction, lies, how can a person love an abuser? They love the person, not the abuse. They love the person, not the actions, not when the alcohol takes over, when the meth takes over, when the oxycontin takes over. Love loves the whole person and grieves the damage.

Love and grief are intertwined, a rosebush with thorns, there is no one without the other. No joy without despair, no light without dark, no you without me, no joining without separation.

I enter grief as I enter love, whole heartedly, oh, I may be afraid of the dark but I go there anyhow, I know as the waves close over my head and I sink into the depths:

There is no love without grief.


The picture is my mother, Helen Burling Ottaway, in high school. She died of cancer in 2000 and I still miss her terribly.

Adverse Childhood Experiences 7 : Revisiting Erikson

Welcome back, to Adverse Childhood Experiences, and I have been thinking about Erikson’s Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development.

These were mentioned in medical school and in residency. I was in medical school from 1989 to 1993 and in Family Practice Residency from 1993 to 1996. Family Practice is at least half psychiatry, if you have time. We are losing the time with patients in order to achieve “production”. I complained about the 20 minutes I was allotted per patient and was told that I should spend 8 minutes with the patient and 12 minutes doing paperwork and labs and calling specialists. This is why I now have my own practice. A new patient under 65 gets 45 minutes and over 65 gets an hour and my “short” visits are 25 minutes. I am a happy doctor. And on the Boards last year I scored highest in psychiatry….

So, back to Erikson. The first stage, at birth to one year is Basic Trust vs Mistrust. “From warm, responsive care infants gain trust or confidence that the world is good.”

I was taught that people would have to “redo” the stage if they “failed”. Let’s look at that a little more closely.

Take an infant in a meth house. No, really, there are babies and small toddlers that have addict parents, alcohol, opiates, methamphetamines. We do not like to think about this.

A social worker told me that the toddlers from a meth house were really difficult to deal with. They do not trust adults. The first thing they do in foster care is hide food.

Hide food? Well, adults on meth are not hungry, sometimes for 24 hours or more, and they are high. So they may not feed the child.

Now, should this child trust the adult? No. No, no, no. This child is adaptable and would like to survive. So even under three they will learn to hide food. In more than one place. This is upsetting to foster care parents, but perfectly understandable from the perspective of the child.

So has the child “failed” the first stage? Well, I would say absolutely not. The child looked at the situation, decided not to starve and learned not to trust adults and hid food. Very sensible. Adaptive.

Is the child “damaged”? That is a very interesting question. After 25 years of family practice medicine I would say that no, the child is not damaged. However, the child has started out with a “crisis” brain. The brain is plastic, all our life, and so this child did what was needed to survive.

Is the child “sick”? Again, I would argue no, though our society often treats the child as sick. We think everyone should be “nice” and “warm” and “why isn’t he/she friendly?” Well, if you started in an addiction household or a crazy household or a war zone, it would not be a good adaptation to be warm and fuzzy to everyone.

How do we treat the adult? In a warm fuzzy nice world the child would have a foster parent who adored them, was patient with them, healed them and they would be a nice adult. I have a friend who said that foster care was so bad that he chose to live in an abandoned car his senior year rather than stay in foster care. He couldn’t play football because he had to get back to the car and under the layer of newspapers before it got too cold. I am sure that most foster parents are total wonders and angels. But some aren’t.

I have a person who says that he lived on the streets from age 8. He did get picked up and put into foster care. He kept running away. “The miliary loved me because I could go from zero to 60 in 60 seconds.” That is, he has crisis wiring. He is great in a crisis. The military is a sort of a safe place, because it has rules and a hierarchy and stands in for the failed parenting. Expect that then you get blown up by an AED in Afganistan and hello, that makes the crisis wiring worse.

How DO we treat the adult? We treat them horribly. We say why can’t this person be nice. We diagnose them we drug them we shun them we isolate them we as a society discriminate against them deny them and we are a horror.

I get so angry when I see the Facebook posts where people say “surround yourself with only nice people”. Ok, how dare you judge someone? You don’t know that person’s history. You don’t know what they grew up with. How dare they say that everyone should be NICE.

I am a Veteran’s Choice provider. I have 6 new veterans in the last 3 months. I suspect I will get more. They are not “NICE”. They come in suspicious, hurt, wary, cadgy. And I don’t care, because I am not “NICE” either. We get along just fine.

When I run into someone who isn’t “NICE”, I think, oh, what has happened to this person? What happened to them when they were little? What happened to them as an adult? How have they been hurt?

Pema Chodron writes about sending love: to your loved ones, to a friend, to an acquaintance, to a stranger, to a difficult person and to an “enemy”.

Send love. And do something about it. Help at your local school, help families on the edge, help single parents, sponsor a child to a sport if their parents can’t afford it, pay for musical instrument lessons, do Big Brother/Big Sister, become a “grandparent” to a child at risk, be a good foster parent, donate to addiction care….

The photo is from 2007, when my children and I visited their father in Colorado. A stranger in the parking lot took it at our request…..

Cat Collapse Disorder

Boa cat is 11. We got her and Princess Mittens when my daughter was 7.

Last summer Princess Mittens was killed by a car in front of our house. We were looking for her the day after she went missing. A neighbor said, “There is a cat dead across the street. I’m sorry.” Yes, it was Princess, all stiff. We put her in a box and brought her in the living room. Boa came in, and went stiff legged, arched and fur on end and backed out of the room. She had been crying and looking for Princess and she stopped then.

The next morning we dug a hole and buried Princess in the back yard. Boa joined us and watched. She avoided the living room for 24 hours and then was ok.

Without her companion, she is more social. Princess was the one who would come into the middle of a party and lie down as equidistant from all the people as possible. Boa would rarely venture out in company but now she is social.

In January she started dropping weight. She didn’t look right. By March I worried. I changed her food first, to an all protein, no corn, no GMO one. In May she went to the vet. She is an indoor outdoor cat. I let her out for a while when I am up writing in the hour of stupid early and the hour of insomnia and the hour of convalescence. Both cats would return when I clapped, because that meant I was locking the door and might not open it again until I returned from work. No cat door. We have a family of raccoons and they can get a bit exciting in the house.

The vet said fleas and parasites and maybe we should do a whole bunch of things including antibiotics. I negotiated by phone from Portland. My daughter promised to pat Boa while I was gone. She’s a bit cat allergic, so usually she doesn’t. She said, “Can I wear your clothes if I am going to pat Boa?” Well, good idea. She wore a cat-patting outfit and then promptly changed.

Anyhow, Boa is still thin but better. And so why would she have fleas and parasites and general awfulness after we’ve pretty much managed her the same way for 11 years? Grief, I think. I got terribly ill after my sister died and then after my father died. I think that grief lowered her immune mechanisms and she was just prone to everything. And why did I switch her food? I don’t think that cats normally eat corn or much vegetable filler, and so I wanted her nutrition to be as normally cat like as possible. Also, this spring she caught and ate 7 mice and two birds and she has never done that before. I think she had realized that the cat food I had for her was not ok. Since I switched foods, she has not brought in any catches. She also thinks I’m a bit dense, but you know….

I used to think those people who bought organic for their pets were nuts. But I can change my mind.

But reading about honeybee collapse disorder, it’s not one mechanism: It looks like it’s multifactorial. Do GMOs bother honeybees enough that then they are more likely to get parasites and mites and whatever? Or maybe the bees are grieving…..

The picture is from 2005. Boa is the black one and Princess Mittens is the black and white tabby.

Causes of Death in the United States in 2012

When I first started doing annual physicals I sat down and looked at the top causes of death and then organized the counseling part of the physical around them: starting with heart disease and working down the list. I think of the annual physical as my opportunity to “MOM” patients and say “STOP DRINKING LIKE A FISH OR YOU GONNA DIE EARLY,” though perhaps with a little more diplomacy. Sometimes without much diplomacy at all.

The top ten causes of death in the United States in 2012 were heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, unintentional injuries, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease, and suicide.

This is 2,543,279 deaths in 2012.

Let’s take the causes one by one.

Heart disease: This is number one. 599,711 deaths. 23.6% of total deaths all ages both sexes in the US in 2012. So that is where I start when I do the counseling part of a physical.

Let’s review heart disease risk factors:
high cholesterol
family history
kidney failure
lack of exercise
smoking other things…
illegal drugs
As you might guess, this part of the discussion can use up a lot of the visit….

Cancer: All the cancer deaths together are 22.9% of the 2012 total.
We can screen for a few cancers: lung cancer is now the number one killer for both sexes. A chest xray is useless for screening. There is a certain population of current or former heavy smokers where a screening CT is useful. No, I do not recommend a “screening full body CT”, that is crap. Yes, lung cancers do get picked up randomly when we do a chest film for some other reason.
We can screen for breast cancer, colon cancers, look for skin cancers, the prostate cancer screen is a counseling nightmare and I don’t recommend a PSA but will do one if the person wants and other cancers pretty much we have to watch for symptoms….stop smoking, ok? That’s what causes 70% of the lung cancer and breast cancer used to be number one in women but smoking made lung cancer beat it out….
If you want details about any screening test, go to the US Preventative Task Force site:

Chronic lower respiratory diseases at 5.6%: ok, smoking again. Emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, AKA COPD. Asthma too. This article is fascinating, that third generation children of smokers in a polluted part of California are worse and have inherited genetic modifications than third generation children of non-smokers who live in a less polluted part of California. Lovely. I grew up in a two pack a day camel household and no wonder my lungs are tricky.

Stroke, also called CVA, cerebrovascular accident, at 5.1% and then there are TIAs, transient ischemic accidents, the stroke warning symptom.

What are the risk factors for stroke?
Oh, smoking of course
high cholesterol
lack of exercise
blocked carotid arteries
blood clots
atrial fibrillation

Unintentional injuries at 5.3%, also known as accidents.

Deaths from prescription medicines taken correctly outstripped deaths by MVAs, motor vehicle accidents and guns in 2007. The CDC declared an epidemic of overdose deaths, but it’s just starting to creep into newspapers and public consciousness.


The unintentional injury counseling list includes:
wear your seatbelt
don’t drive inebriated
don’t get in the car with inebriated drivers
check your smoke alarms
in the elderly, decrease fall risk. don’t stack stuff on the stairs.
wear a helmet if you bicycle motorcycle ATV rollarblade ski or invent some new way of getting on the Darwin list. Base jump, for example.
don’t take a lot of controlled prescription medicines or combine them with each other or combine them with alcohol: opiates with benzodiazepines with alcohol with ambien or sonata with barbituates and hello, the drug dealer is not your friend and tells lies: they are cutting the methamphetamines here with tricyclic antidepressants and barbituates and my long term cocaine addict patient was getting methamphetamines with benzodiazepines when he was paying for cocaine. Really.

Alzheimer’s at 3%

This is moving up the list. Fast. Everyone dies of something. Alzheimer’s patients live an average of seven years from diagnosis….And the recent article about Human Growth Hormone transmitting not only prions but Alzheimer’s is really interesting, implies an infectious cause.


That was HGH from cadavers. I still would not take HGH made in a lab for “anti-aging” either. Nope, nope, nope.

We don’t know how to prevent Alzheimer’s but that is not the only cause of dementia and we’re still naming different kinds. Very frequently a brain CT or MRI says “decreased white matter” or “small vessel disease”, so there is a contribution from all of the heart and stroke risk factors that can do bad things to the brain with the top ones being: tobacco, alcohol, hypertension, high cholesterol, stress, lack of exercise, diabetes, illegal drugs, and so forth. Keep your brain active and busy.

Diabetes at 2.9%
Ok, it can make you more likely to have a heart attack. Also the biggest cause of blindness in US adults and the biggest cause of lower limb, yes, foot or leg amputation and the biggest cause of kidney failure in adults. Also if your legs are numb from uncontrolled diabetes, you don’t feel injuries and are less able to heal infections. And if blood sugar is high, there are lots of bacteria and especially staph and strep that LIKE high sugar.

influenza and pneumonia at 2.1%

Get Your Flu Shot. Really. And if you are 65 or older or you have tricky lungs or you have a tricky heart, get the pneumovax shot. The pneumovax protects against pneumococcal pneumonia ONLY, not all the colds or influenza or hemophilus influenza. And get your Tdap, because that stands for Tetnus, Diptheria, acellular Pertussis. Pertussis is whooping cough. It’s back. We’ve had three outbreaks in our county in five years. It kills babies under six months. They don’t whoop, they just stop breathing, apnea. Other people whoop, but even with antibiotics, they can cough for MONTHS. The flu shot usually gives 80% protection by two weeks after the shot. Only 80%, people say? Well, are you perfect?

Kidney disease at 1.8%

Causes: kidneys get worse as we age, for one thing.
supplements and drugs: kidney failure is on the rise! Everything that we absorb and metabolize is metabolized by either the liver or the kidneys. Liver function can be perfect at age 100: that is, if it has not been trashed by alcohol, hepatitis B or C, drugs, supplements, mushrooms, whatever. Kidney function usually drops by age 80 and I am there calculating the function before I choose an antibiotic because you have to use lower doses in the over 80 crowd and the early kidney failure crowd. If you take ANY PILLS you should have a yearly test of your kidneys and liver function.
infection can hurt kidneys
inherited disorders

Suicide at 1.6%
40,600 deaths in the United States in 2013

Risk Factors

Family history of suicide
Family history of child maltreatment
Previous suicide attempt(s)
History of mental disorders, particularly clinical depression
History of alcohol and substance abuse
Feelings of hopelessness
Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
Cultural and religious beliefs (e.g., belief that suicide is noble resolution of a personal dilemma)
Local epidemics of suicide
Isolation, a feeling of being cut off from other people
Barriers to accessing mental health treatment
Loss (relational, social, work, or financial)
Physical illness
Easy access to lethal methods
Unwillingness to seek help because of the stigma attached to mental health and substance abuse disorders or to suicidal thoughts

And for those who want in depth information, 15 leading causes of death by state: