Fuzzy Poet Doctor and the small child

I think I finally understand what I have been doing in clinic all these years. And not just in clinic. As a theory it explains both why patients, nurses, hospital staff and specialists really really like me and my fellow Family Practice doctors, particularly the males, and the administrators, really really do NOT like me.

I am on a plane flying to Michigan a few weeks ago. Double masked. N95 with another mask over it. Sigh.

A friend keeps saying that he can see into me. He can, but he can see thoughts. Not feelings. I am wondering if I see feelings. But I see the stuffed feelings particularly, the ones that people keep hidden. They are like clouds.

And then I think, oh.

I automatically scan any new person for their small child. The inner small child, who is often damaged and hidden. The small child is hidden under those stuffed feelings, which I think of as monsters. In Ride Forth, I am writing about pulling every monster feeling that I can find stuffed out and letting myself feel them. And that people do not like seeing me like that. Their monsters attack me!

Except that the monsters don’t attack. The monsters come to me and say, “Please, please, help me. I want out. The small child needs to heal.” The monsters lie their monstrous heads in my lap and weep.

Now WHY would I develop this skill? That is weird.

I develop it because my parents both drink. The myth in the family is that it was my father. But my mother’s diaries and also her stories make it clear that she drank heavily too. I think they were both alcoholics. And she told two stories about me trying to get someone to get out of bed to give me food as a toddler. As jokes. But it is not a joke. I have food insecurity. At every meal, I think of the next one and whether there is food available. My daughter has it too….. epigenetics.

I think that the only way I could love my parents was to have compassion for them. Once you see another person’s damaged small child, then how can you not feel compassion for them?

With patients I learned to be very very delicate and gentle about asking about the cloud. Just gently. Sometimes people open up on the first visit. Sometimes they shut tight like a clam and I back off. Sometimes they return the next visit or the 3rd or the 8th or after a couple years… and say, “You asked me about this.”

It’s nonverbal communication. The reason why I take the WHOLE history MYSELF at the first visit is for the nonverbal communication. When the person doesn’t want to answer a question, veers away from a topic, switches subjects: there is my cloud. That is where the hurt is. That is where the pain is.

The first cracks in the United States medical system collapse are appearing. Not doctors quitting, not nurses, but medical assistants. Here is an article about how clinics all over can’t hire medical assistants. Because there are tons of jobs, employers are offering more money, why would you do a job where you may well be exposed to covid-19 if you can do something else? And make as much money or more….

The cracks will widen. Ironically doctors are doing what I have done for the last ten years: “rooming” the patients themselves. Ha, ha, good may come out of it, after the disaster. Which is getting worse fast. If people don’t put their masks on and don’t social distance and don’t get vaccinated, I predict more deaths in the US this winter then last winter. Sigh. And in the US we will run out of medical assistants, doctors and nurses.

It is ok to gently ask a patient about that cloud. It is not polite to “see” it in a Family Medicine colleague or and administrator. I can’t “not see” it. I can’t turn it off. However, on the plane my behavior changed even before I could put all of this into words. The words are that I have to be as gentle with everyone as I am with patients.

And the trip felt so odd. I was putting this into effect before I had words. That is how my intuition works. But everyone, absolutely everyone, was kind to me on the trip. A Chicago policeman helped me in the train station and was super kind. It was weird, weird, weird, with bells on. It took me a few more days to be able to put it into words.

Problem intuited, after 60 years of study. Implementation of solution proceeds immediately. Logical brain struggling to catch up, but results satisfactory long before logical brain gets a handle on it.

Pretty weird, eh? I think so. My doctor said that an episode of Big Bang Theory could be written just by following me around for a day. I think it was both saying that I am smart AND that I have no social skills. But I have implemented the social skills program already. She’s just upset that I gave her justifiable hell two visits ago and also…. I do hide my brain. Because sometimes colleagues are jealous.

But maybe they should not be jealous. Maybe they can learn it too. Maybe I can teach. Maybe….

Ride forth

I wrote this poem more then ten years ago, but since I want to reference it in an essay, I am putting it up here now.

Ride Forth


My grandmother
Packed all her troubles in her saddlebags
And rode forth singing

My mother
Packed all her troubles in her saddlebags
And rode forth singing

My father
Was the only one
Who ever saw the contents
He tried to drown them

My mother was loved
For her charm

I ride forth
Sometimes I sing
Sometimes I weep

My saddlebags are empty

Prayer flags flutter
Slowly shred
In the wind

I write my troubles
And my joys
On cloth
And thank the Beloved
For each

My horse is white
When I sing
Black
When I cry
A rainbow of colors
In between
The whole spectrum
That the Beloved allows

After I emptied
My saddlebags
I tried to leave them
But the people I meet
Most, most, most
Are frightened

A naked woman
On a naked horse

I had to leave my village
When I learned to ride her
Made friends with her
Beloved
My village does not allow tears
When she turns black
Their saddlebags squirm and fight
The people try to throw them on my horse

In other places
The horses are all black
The white aspect of the Beloved
Frightens them
And they attack

I carry saddlebags
And Beloved is a gentle dapple gray
And the illusion of clothes surrounds me
When we meet new people
Until we know
It is safe to shine
Bright
And dark

I hope that others ride with the Beloved
In full rainbow

I ride forth
Sometimes I sing
Sometimes I weep

Even the color lonely
Is a part of the Beloved

Pull saw work

I need to work on my tree house.

The tree has grown. The walls of the treehouse are digging in to the bark in places.

I looked for my pull saw, but haven’t found it yet. I did find three saws. I did some trimming last night, but I was pretty tired and up a tree and didn’t take my oxygen up. I would saw a little bit then get short of breath and stop. The pull saw would be a much better tool for the job than the crosscut.

I have a swiss army knife with a saw and one of those emergency kit saw wires, that probably would make me swear if I tried to use it.

Now, where did I put the pull saw?

Letter to a younger friend

After my mother died I really struggled, partly because I was in the midst of a divorce and felt like a massive failure. I did not like myself. But I kept thinking about my mother and how much she hid: and eventually I thought, you know, I love all of my mother. Even the stuff she hid. If she is lovable then so am I.

What is lovable in your parent? And would you miss her/him if she/he were truly gone?

That is the hard thing for me, that I couldn’t think about that until she was dead. With my sister, I thought about it before she died and changed how I behaved and let her know when I disagreed with her. Even though she had cancer.

Isn’t the greatest gift we can give each other loving honesty? I love you and I disagree with you and I am not going to do what you want just because you (are my mother/are my father/have cancer/have emphysema/want it/are dying). Isn’t the greatest gift to be ourselves and take the flack for it?

Cucumber love is a poem I wrote more then ten years ago about dropping the exoskeleton that we wear for society’s and our family’s approval. It takes courage. You can drop a little piece at a time and let them get used to it. And yes, some people may reject you for good. That is their choice. But you have to ask yourself then, did they ever really love you or did they only love to control you?

Cucumber love

They say they love you
And they do

Sort of

One day you find yourself
Wearing a construct
An exoskeleton
Awkward
You can move
See out

You built it slowly over years
Because that’s what you were told to do
You wanted to be loved
It made you feel safe

There is praise
Or at least pressure to keep it on
You may not have known it was there
And slowly begin to feel
Who you really are
Awaken to the shell

One day you slip out

They are still saying how much they love you
To the empty construct

You watch bemused
For a while

You say “That isn’t me.”
“Of course it is,” they say

“I’m over here,” you say

Shock and outrage
“That’s not you!
You’ve changed, you’re depressed
Confused, manic, gone out of your mind!”
Off the deep end

You might even go back in to
the construct for a little while

But now you’ve tasted freedom
You won’t be able to stand it for long
You will be out soon

Some people will see you as you really are

Some people will tell you they still love you
But as they say it to the construct
They act as if you’re still wearing it
They still think you love cucumbers
Though you ate that dish once to be polite
They hold the construct in their minds
Even after you’ve destroyed it
And behave the same as they ever did

As you walk away
You will wonder who they loved

He just left his body

This is about memory loss.

One of my patients eventually had to have her husband admitted to memory care. He was falling, he was angry, he outweighed her by 50 pounds and he was incontinent. When he fell, she could not get him up.

She went to our hospital Grief Group and came to see me, angry.

“They said he’s still alive!” she snarls. “I got mad and said, no, my husband is gone! He just left his body!”

“I’m so sorry.” I say. “I am sorry that they don’t understand.”

“I’m selling his stuff.” she says. “I don’t have any use for Ham Radio equipment. And HE doesn’t EITHER, now.”

She stomps out. I am sure she cried too.

That is how I think of Alzheimer’s. Neurons burning out from the present to the past. When the person can no longer talk, they are close. Then they are in the womb and stop eating.

Let them go, let them go, god bless them. Where ever they may be. You may search the wide world over but your memory person is free….