On meditation and breathing

In college at the University of Wisconsin, I dated a gentleman who was following the Zen Buddhist tradition.

He meditated daily, for forty minutes, facing a wall.

I was quite intrigued. I did not think I could do that. I am a fidgety person and can’t sit still. I promptly tried it.

Forty minutes is a long time facing a wall at age 19.

I would fall asleep. I would start tilting to one side or the other on my zafu and jerk back up. I knew I was not supposed to follow thoughts, but I couldn’t not think. It is more subtle than that: I slowly figured out that I can let the thoughts pop up from the toaster brain, but try not to follow them. Wave at the thought. Let it go.

One day there was a small hole in the wall when I faced it. A tiny spider came out and went back in. I was very happy about the spider.

The next day the spider came out and waved one leg at me. Then it went back in the hole. The end of the 40 minutes is signaled by a chime. I got suspicious afterwards and went back to the wall. Not only was there no spider, but there was no hole, either. I did not see any more holes or spiders.

I meditated regularly daily for two years. After that I would return to practice intermittently. Meditation trained my breathing: my breathing slows way down during meditation.

I use that breathing when I have pneumonia. In the worst episode, I was in the hospital and disbelieved. I slowed my breath way way down to calm myself and so that I could think. Eight counts in, eight counts out. Then ten, then twelve. I needed to focus and figure out what was causing sepsis symptoms. And I did figure it out. The provider sent me home that morning, septic and 6 liters behind on fluid, but I was able to survive.

Now the pain clinics are teaching slow breathing. Five seconds in and five seconds out. Start with a few minutes and work up to twenty minutes. “Almost everyone goes from high sympathetic nervous system fight or flight state to the parasympathetic relaxed nervous system state.” I think we need more of that, don’t you? This is being taught for anxiety, for chronic pain, for fear and depression. I asked a veteran to try it. His response: “I hate to admit it but it works.” Also, “I’m not used to being relaxed. It feels weird.” I laughed and said, “I think it might be good if you get used to it.” He reluctantly agreed and continued the practice.

Peace you, peace me.

Vape

First, the definition of vapor:

noun

  1. The gaseous state of a substance that is liquid or solid at room temperature.
  2. A faintly visible suspension of fine particles of matter in the air, as mist, fumes, or smoke.
  3. A mixture of fine droplets of a substance and air, as the fuel mixture of an internal-combustion engine.

So vaping is smoking. It can be called vaping, but that is to trick us into thinking that it is not smoking, that we are not sucking chemicals into our delicate lung tissue. We only have one set of lungs. Lungs are like a tree, either the roots or the leaf parts upside down. Air is drawn in by our muscles expanding the chest and diaphragm, down the trachea, the bronchi, the bronchioles and at last to the alveoli, where tiny veins wrap each alveoli, trading carbon dioxide for oxygen.

I think of smoking as every cigarrette distroying an alveolus.

Vaping too, vaping is smoking. The nicotine is suspended in a solution and the vaporizer heats up until it is in vapor form. I started reading about vaporizers at least a decade ago. There were over 500 different types, mostly made in China, and there are all sorts of solutions. I was horrified to read that ethylene glycol was one of the solutions that held nicotine. When a dog drinks antifreeze, ethylene glycol, it is poisonous to the brain. Does anyone think that we should inhale smoke with antifreeze and nicotine in it? Really?

There is no control of what is put in the solutions. We don’t know what they will do long term but we know that nicotine is addictive and damages the lungs. Some of the vaporizers get so hot that the metal is also vaporized. Heavy metals are clearly bad for the lungs and poisonous as well.

Here is an article from the U of Colorado Medical Center with further reasons NEVER to start vaping. Because vaping is smoking: don’t let the term fool YOU. 4 reasons why you should stop vaping.

For the RDP: vapor.

Lung swelling and long covid

I wrote this in 2017, about influenza. However, I think covid-19 can do the same thing. Part of long covid is letting the lungs really heal, which means infuriating amounts of rest and learning to watch your own pulse. Watching the pulse is easier then messing around with a pulse oximeter. The very basics of pulse is that normal beats per minute is 60 to 100. If your pulse is 70 in bed and 120 after you do the dishes, you need to go back to bed or the couch and REST.

From 2017: Influenza is different from a cold virus and different from bacterial pneumonia, because it can cause lung tissue swelling.

Think of the lungs as having a certain amount of air space. Now, think of the walls between the air spaces getting swollen and inflamed: the air space can be cut in half. What is the result?

When the air space is cut down, in half or more, the heart has to work harder. The person may be ok when they are sitting at rest, but when they get up to walk, they cannot take a deeper breath. Their heart rate will rise to make up the difference, to try to get enough oxygen from the decreased lung space to give to the active muscles.

For example, I saw a person last week who had been sick for 5 days. No fever. Her heart rate at rest was 111. Normal is 60 to 100. Her oxygen level was fine at rest. Her oxygen level would start dropping as soon as she stood up. She had also dropped 9 pounds since I had seen her last and she couldn’t afford that. I sent her to the emergency room and she was admitted, with influenza A.

I have seen more people since and taken two off work. Why? Their heart rate, the number of beats in one minute, was under 100 and their oxygen level was fine. But when I had them walk up and down a short hall three times, their heart rates jumped: to 110, 120. Tachycardia. I put them off from work, to return in a week. If they rest, the lung swelling will have a chance to go down. If they return to work and activity, it’s like running a marathon all day, heart rate of 120. The lungs won’t heal and they are liable to get a bacterial infection or another viral infection and be hospitalized or die.

I had influenza in the early 2000s. My resting heart rate went from the 60s to 100. When I returned to clinic after a week, I felt like I was dying. I put the pulse ox on my finger. My heart rate standing was 130! I had seen my physician in the hospital that morning and he’d gotten a prescription pad and wrote: GO TO BED! He said I was too sick to work and he was right. I went home. It took two months for the swelling to go down and I worried for a while that it never would. I dropped 10 pounds the first week I was sick and it stayed down for six months.

Since the problem in influenza is tissue swelling, albuterol doesn’t work. Albuterol relaxes bronchospasm, lung muscle tightness. Cough medicine doesn’t work very well either: there is not fluid to cough up. The lungs are like road rash, bruised, swollen, air spaces smaller. Steroids and prednisone don’t work. Antiviral flu medicine helps if you get it within the first 72 hours!

You can check your pulse at home. Count the number of beats in one minute. That is your heart rate. Then get up and walk until you are a little short of breath (or a lot) or your heart is going fast. Then count the rate again. If your heart rate is jumping 20-30 beats faster per minute or if it’s over 100, you need to rest until it is better. Hopefully it will only be a week, and not two months like me!


Feel free to take this to your doctor. I was not taught this: I learned it on the job.

I took the photograph, a stealthie, in June 2021, when I was still on oxygen continuously.

from blue to breathe

I attended a medical conference on line yesterday and today and it made me very blue. At first it just frustrated me, because it is about increasing behavioral health access. Isn’t that a good thing? Yes, but they completely missed the biggest barrier for primary care: TIME.

With the current US medical corporate money extracting insurance non-caring system, primary care is increasingly forced into 20 or 15 or 10 minute visits. I fought my hospital district when they said “See patients for one thing only.” I replied “That is unethical and dangerous: if it is a diabetic with an infected toe, I HAVE to check their kidney function, because antibiotic dose must be adjusted if their kidney function is reduced.” And there are at least two and maybe three problems there: infection, and if the diabetes is out of control that worsens the infection, and then kidney function. And actually I have to be sure anyone going on antibiotics has good kidney function or adjust my dose. I am very very good at this, but it takes time. I can work with complex patients, with veterans, with opiate overuse, with depression: but none of this is a simple template slam dunk. A study more than a decade ago says that the “average” primary care patient had 5 chronic illnesses. My patients don’t want to come in for each one separately and anyhow, if they have kidney problems I have to pay attention when I pick medicines for their high blood pressure. None of it can be separated out. That is why medicine is complicated.

Someone asked why can’t I just post the price of a “simple” visit for a sore throat. But a sore throat can be viral, can be strep A, can be a paralyzed vocal cord, can be a throat abscess, can be vocal cord cancer. I can’t tell ahead of time. I can’t. Early on during covid, a patient called and wanted a Zoom visit for abdominal pain that he said was constipation. I said “No, I can’t do abdominal pain over Zoom safely.” I can’t ASSUME it is constipation. It was appendicitis and he had his appendix out that evening. He called from his hospital bed the next day to thank me for making him come in.

The conference made me blue because they ignored my questions about why they were not advocating for primary care to have more time with patients. They claim to be all about change, but changing the US medical system? Nope. Do not want to talk about that. But I do want to talk about it. You can help by letting Congress know: single payer or medicare for all. That insurance company gets 20 cents of every dollar to profit and wastes tons of money forcing doctors’ offices to call for prior authorization. And if we have single payer, think of all the small businesses that will start because the terror about health insurance will disappear! I think it would reduce everyone’s stress, except the insurance CEOs. And they have earned more than enough, goodbye greed.

I am also tired of specialists telling me that primary care needs to do MORE. When I get told that I am not doing enough about hypertension, bladder leakage, depression and stopping smoking, and then 20 other specialists lecture me. Ok, so one minute per topic to fulfill what all of them think I should do? I want a primary care conference where primary care doctors are celebrated: cases are presented where the specialist says what a brilliant job the primary care doctor did.

I received a consult letter from a cancer doctor a few years ago. He wrote that I had diagnosed the earliest case of chronic leukemia that he had ever seen and that he was impressed and the patient would do fine. That’s the conference that I want to go to: where primary care and specialists talk about that and we inspire more doctors to do primary care.

You can learn more and how to talk to your congressperson here: HealthCare Now: https://www.healthcare-now.org/

or at Physicians for a National Healthcare Program: https://pnhp.org

And put your vote and your money towards healthcare, not health insurance.

stranded mermaid, cilia and tubulin

I took this photograph last summer at North Beach. I thought she looks like a stranded mermaid, thrown up on shore. I couldn’t move her, she was twice my length. The rock attachment had come too, up from our sea beds.

Happy solstice. Today marks the one year day from when I realized that I was having my fourth round of pneumonia, with hypoxia, agitation, fast twitch muscle dysfuntion and felt sick as could be. I am way better but not well. That is, I still need oxygen to play flute, to sing, to do heavy exercise and to carry anything heavy. Which is WAY better then having to wear oxygen all the time. Today I find a connection between the lungs and the brain, in quanta magazine. This video talks about a new found connection between cilia and the brain. We were taught that cilia and flagella are for locomotion, powered by tubulin. However, this shows that cilia behave like neurons and there is a connection. Since my peculiar illness seems to involve cilia dysfunction in my muscles and lungs, so that I get pneumonia, and the brain, because I am wired when it hits, this is a fascinating connection. If neurons developed from cilia, the dual illness makes a lot more sense. Hooray for quantum mechanics! We use it in medicine every single day.

Happy solstice! Here comes the sun!

Covid-19: masks work, we figured that out YEARS ago

I was thinking about masks and the whole “masks don’t work” or “masks are unproven*” thing. That is complete and utter crap. We proved masks work YEARS ago.

If they don’t work, do you mind if your surgeon don’t wear one? What about your nurse with a cough when you are in the ICU? I think we have proved quite definitively in the operating room that masks work.

Also, your family doc and OBgyn ain’t gonna NOT wear a mask when delivering baby because it can be REALLY SPLASHY. And some patients who are delivering a baby have hepatitis B or HIV or hepatitis C or whatever. WE DO NOT WANT TO CATCH IT SO WE WEAR MASKS. MASKS WORK.

And take tuberculosis. Tuberculosis bacillus is tiny and can be air borne, if you have active tuberculosis and cough. We use reverse flow rooms in the hospital with an airlock: a door to a small entry room, that has to close before you enter the inner patient room. And the air is slightly lower pressure so that air comes in from the airlock but doesn’t flow out. All the air out of the room is filtered to catch and kill the tuberculosis bacillus. We go in the airlock and put on nearly full gear: gown, gloves, mask, hair covers, shoe covers. When we come out, we take it all off in the airlock. We also keep a stethoscope in the room so that we don’t carry infection from patient to patient.

So the whole anti mask thing seems categorically insane to me.

Like, didn’t we figure out masks work back before the civil war? Or thereabouts. No, maybe later than that. Without masks and gloves we had all the women with post baby fever, who died like flies and most people died of infection after surgery. Until that coke addict at Johns Hopkins made people wear clean clothes and wash their damn hands before each surgery and wear gloves. Suddenly people survived post surgery at a much higher rate. Everyone came to train with him to imitate him. By 1897 everyone was wearing gloves to prevent infection. And so a brilliant coke addict invented medical residency, which is why residents are not allowed to sleep. We’ve gotten over that a bit.

Anyhow: masks work. Think, people, think.

*Usually the unnews qualifies this as “masks are not PROVEN to work with Covid-19”. What, you want a ten year clinical trial first? Are you crazy? And the resounding answer is “YES! We are crazy!”

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: December. Because everyone should have figured out masks by now.