Adverse Childhood Experiences 9: crisis wiring

I spoke to a patient recently about ACE scores. A veteran. Who has had trouble sleeping since childhood.

“What was your childhood like?” I say. “Was sleeping safe?”

“No, it wasn’t. We were in (one of the major cities) in a very bad part of town.”

“So not sleeping well may have been appropriate. To keep you safe. To survive.”

We both think this veteran has PTSD.

“I think I had PTSD as a child. And then the military made it worse.”

I show the veteran the CDC website and ACE pyramid: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/about.html.

Adverse childhood experiences. Leading to disrupted neurodevelopment. Leading to a higher risk of mental health disorders, addiction, high risk behavior, medical disorders and early death.

Ugly, eh? Damaged children.

“But I don’t agree with it.” I say.

My veteran looks at me.

“Disrupted neurodevelopment.” I say. “I don’t agree with that. Different neurodevelopment. Crisis neurodevelopment. We have to have it as a species in order to survive. Think of the Syrian children escaping in boats, parents or sibling drowning. We have to have crisis wiring. It isn’t wrong, it’s different. The problem is really that our culture does not support this wiring.”

“You can say that again.”

“Our culture wants everyone to be raised by the Waltons. Or Leave it to Beaver. But the reality is that things can happen to any child. So we MUST have crisis wiring. Our culture needs to change to support and heal and not outcast those of us with high ACE Scores.”

My Veteran is quiet, thinking that over.

I say, “You may read more about ACE scores but you do not have to. And we can work more on the sleep. And we do believe more and more that the brain can heal and can rewire. But you were wired to survive your childhood and there is no shame in that.”

 

I took the picture in Wisconsin in August.

 

sleepy head

This is a story my mother told. When we were little, my sister and I lived with our parents in a small house near Ithaca, NY. We each had a bedroom downstairs. Our parents had their bedroom upstairs. We were not allowed up there, because the stairwell came to the middle of a hall and there was no railing at all. They were afraid that we would fall down.

I am three years older. I’m not sure I was always a good sister.

One weekend morning, my parents were lying in bed in their room, quite early. Suddenly a very round three year old face popped up at the end of the bed, with a wicked gleam, and spoke:

“Boodie with a yellow bill
hopped upon my windowsill
cocked his shining eye and said
“Ain’t you shamed, you sleepy head?”

And then my sister raced out of the room and down the stairs.

My mother said that when they got over their stunned laughter, they came downstairs to talk to us. I had coached my sister until she could recite perfectly, aside from the missing r. I think we got a mild scolding about the safety of the stairs, but since they were still laughing, I don’t think we took it seriously.

previously published on everything2.com, a slightly different version

prayers for children

This is my daughter, five years ago, at Lake Matinenda in Ontario. I cried when I read about the baby thrown from the London fire.

Prayers for the children in the London fire and their parents and grandparents. Prayers for the refugee’s children, that they are not lost and drowned. Prayers for the Congresspeople shot yesterday and their families and friends.

Prayers for all the children in the world.

damage

This is not about one patient. It is about many. I have permission from the person I gave a copy to: one of many.

what do you say
to the person
with the terrible childhood
with addiction and chaos
and suicide attempts and hospitals
and that was the parents
that they ran away from

and then numbed themselves
in addiction for years
multidrug and chaos
and now stable
working their 12 steps

and grieving
their lost years
and their behavior
unforgiven, it takes time
to build trust after
thirty years of damage

and grieving
the next generation
following the same
path and feeling helpless
to stop them
and guilt for their
contribution

it is not a matter
of a pill
of a diagnosis

the simplicity of stopping
of getting clean
joy and pride
yes

and then the hard work
of grieving
begins

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________

I took the photograph at the Renwick Gallery.

small mother

I was already a mother when I became a mother. Long before I had my son. I just didn’t know it.

I became a mother at three. My mother had tuberculosis when I was born. Luckily she coughed blood a month before, otherwise I would not be here. I was born in a tuberculosis sanatorium, the first baby there in 25 years. My mother said that the staff was hugely excited about a baby. She was drugged to the gills while reading about the French Revolution and hallucinated Marie-Antonette’s head on a pole and the guillotine. She joked that she could never read about the French Revolution again. I was born, she kissed me, and I was swept away so that I would not get tuberculosis.

I was with my father and father’s family and then with my maternal grandparents. I came home to my parents at nine months. Adults kept handing me to other adults. I concluded that they were loving but stupid and couldn’t be trusted for a moment.

My sister was born five days before I turned three. My mother said that I met guests at the door and said, “Come see my baby.” Mine, because these adults don’t understand the needs of a baby, and I want her to feel loved and safe. No one will give my baby away!

Later my mother would tell a story about my sister worrying about Kindergarten. My mother could not reassure her. Neither could my father. I spoke up: “All you learn is colors, numbers and ABC and you already know those. I taught you.” My mother claimed that my sister was instantly reassured. I don’t remember: these are my mother’s stories and she is gone. But I have collected mother daughter pictures and small statues, just a few, all my life. And I wanted to have children. I liked surgery and obstetrics, but I chose family medicine, because I want to have children and to see them and be a mother too.

Health and joy and safety and comfort to all mothers and fathers and children everywhere.

 

In the warm

In the warm

I am here in the warm.
The thumper.
Sometimes it is fast.

I am in the warm.
The thumper.
The loud swish thing.
I kick it.
Loud place, I kick.
I am running out of room.
I push.

I push.
Thumper wild.
Thumper fast.
I have no room and now it is squeezing!
Stop squeezing! Pushing me! I want room! Room!

Ahhh! Bright!
Noisy! No warm! Cold!
Things touch me! Room! But no warm!

I am warm but not wet.
Bright. Wrapped.
Here is thumper.
I cough. No wet, something else. Air.
I want. Oh, thumper. Oh, mouth on warm, milk.

Here is room.
Thumper and others.
I know others. They are fast.
They are noisy.
That one is the one that held the swish thing. I kick.
Thumper and those are big.
These two are small, I am smaller.
Noisy! I like them.
I am getting used to light and dark.
More room. Milk. Air.

I know names. I have hands like others.
I can chew my hand.
My hands don’t work like theirs.
My noise doesn’t work either.
Not like brothers. Thumper is mom.
Other big is father.
Other bigs come and go.
I want my noise and hands to work!
I keep practicing.

I keep practicing
More!

I took the photograph of my daughter in 1998. This is scanned. I may try with another scanner….

 

At what age should we talk to our kids about drugs?

I am a rural family physician and my recommendation: before age 9. Before third grade.

WHY? Your eyes are popping out of your head in horror, but my recommendation comes from surveying my patients. For years.

The biggest drug killer is tobacco. However, it takes 30 years to kill people. It is very effective at taking twenty years off someone’s life, destroying their lungs, causing lung cancer, heart disease, mouth cancer, breast cancer, uterine cancer, stomach cancer, emphysema, heart disease….

I ask older smokers what age they started smoking. This is informal. This is not scientific. But most of my male older smokers say that they first tried cigarettes at age 9. I think parents need to be talking to their children about cigarettes by age 9.

And then start talking about alcohol and illegal drugs and the terrible dangers of pills.

“My innocent child would never….” Unfortunately my daughter said that as a senior in high school in our small town, there were 4-5 kids out of the 120+ that were not trying alcohol and marijuana. But there are kids trying far worse substances. We have methamphetamines here, and heroin, and pain pills sold on the street.

The perception that pills are safe is wrong too. Heroin is made from the opium poppy and it’s rather an expensive process, not to mention illegal and has to be imported from dangerous places. But teens take oxycodone and hydrocodone, bought on the street, to get high. And now drug sellers are making FAKE oxycodone and hydrocodone and selling that on the street. It contains fentanyl, which is much much stronger. If the dealer gets the mix wrong, the buyer can overdose and die.

Talk to your children young! NEVER take a pill from a friend, never take someone else’s medicine, never take a pill to party! YOU COULD DIE! And if you have a friend that is not making sense, that you can’t wake up, DON’T LEAVE THEM! Call an ambulance. Your friend may have used something illegal, and may not want you to call an ambulance. But if you think they are too sleepy….. don’t take a chance. People can get so sleepy, so sedated, that they stop breathing.

And parents, you are the ones that have to set a good example. Don’t drink alcohol every night. Don’t use pot every night. Take as few pills as possible. Pills aren’t necessarily safe because they are “supplements” or “natural” — hey, opium and heroin are plant based! Stop using tobacco and if you have a hard time doing it, tell your children you are struggling. It takes an average of eight tries to quit smoking. Get help.

Lastly, we talk about childhood innocence, but we let kids babysit at age 11. That is the Red Cross youngest age. My daughter took a babysitting course at age 11 and babysat. If we think they are responsible enough to do CPR, call 911 and do the heimlich maneuver, shouldn’t we also be talking to them about addictive substances by that age?

Talk to your children about addiction young… so that they can avoid it.

I am submitting this to the Daily Post Prompt: calm. I am not calm about this topic, but the photograph is calm…. and if we can help more children and families…..