behavioral health, cancer, and the immune system

There are more and more articles about immune causes of “behavioral health” diagnoses.

The latest I’ve read is about schizophrenia:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-63776-0

Auto-antibodies are antibodies that we make against something else that then attack a part of ourselves. The most well know version of an auto-antibody is Rheumatic Fever, where an antibody to streptococcus A attacks the joints or skin or heart. I had a patient in Colorado who needed a new heart valve at age 10 or 11 because of Rheumatic Fever.

I have written a lot about PANDAS and PANS (respectively Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Strep A and Pediatric Acute Neuropsychiatric Syndrome) because an older psychiatrist was suspicious that I have PANS. I have had pneumonia four times and it is accompanied by anxiety and fear, part of which turns out to be hypoxia and tachycardia. I think a heart rate of 135 makes just about ANYONE feel anxious. It feels awful.

But what about other Behavioral Health Diagnoses? Remember, we are on the DSM V, the fifth manual of psychiatric diagnoses. We have not had markers or a clear cause. That is, we are aware that serotonin is low in the intracellular spaces in the brain with depression but we don’t know what the mechanism is, what the cause is and what exactly is happening in the neuron or brain cells. A paper on a particular rat neuron said that there were 300 different types of serotonin receptors on that neuron. Blocking one type caused rats to act in an obsessive compulsive manner. But there are 299 others and then combinations. Whew, there is a lot to be learned about the brain.

Fibromyalgia can be caused by autoantibodies, at least some of the cases: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/07/210701120703.htm

Chronic fatigue: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34441971/

Lupus and fibromyalgia overlap: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9207710/

Autoimmune disorders are more common in women. We think this is because of pregnancy. The woman’s immune system has to tolerate a pregnancy where half the genetic material is from the father. Yet the immune system also has to recognize “not me, infection” and be able to distinguish that from the pregnancy. This is tricky. The most common autoimmune disorder currently is believed to be Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, where there are self antibodies to the thyroid. Post covid could potentially beat this out.

Chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia have been orphan diseases in that we do not have an inflammation marker that defines them. The ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate) and CRP (um) are usually normal. These are often elevated in rheumatological disorders. Not having a marker doesn’t mean that the muscles are not painful and doesn’t mean that the fatigue is not real.

I am hopeful that we are on the cusp of a true revolution in medicine, with more understanding of the immune system and behavioral health disorders, as well as post covid, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. I worked at the National Cancer Institute in the 1980s before medical school, with Steve Rosenberg, MD. He was trying to get the immune system to fight cancer.

Now there has been a cancer treatment with 100% success: an immune treatment for people with rectal cancer with a particular immune profile. This is AMAZING! https://www.zmescience.com/science/experimental-trial-cancer-complete-remission-02725735/

Only 18 patients, but 100% success! No surgery.

The patch for the National Cancer Institute shows a man fighting a crab: Cancer, the crab. Dr. Rosenberg talked about Sysiphus, who was rolling a stone up a mountain eternally while it rolled back on him. From here: Later legend related that when Death came to fetch him, Sisyphus chained Death up so that no one died. Finally, Ares came to aid Death, and Sisyphus had to submit. In the meantime, Sisyphus had told his wife, Merope, not to perform the usual sacrifices and to leave his body unburied. Thus, when he reached the underworld, he was permitted to return to punish her for the omission. Once back at home, Sisyphus continued to live to a ripe old age before dying a second time.

Maybe the stone has reached a resting place. Blessings and peace you. Please peace me.

Covid-19: Hope for Long Haul

I want to offer hope to the people with Long Covid-19. Having been through four bad pneumonias, with increasingly long recovery times, and now disabled for doing Family Medicine, I have experience to share. First I want to talk about chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia.

I am a piler, not a filer. Including in my brain. I have been adding to the chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia pile since I was in medical school.

In residency a new patient questions me. “Do you believe in chronic fatigue?” he says, nearly hostile.

“Yes,” I reply, “but I don’t know what it is or what causes it or how to fix it.”

For years different causes were suggested. Often infections: EBV, mononucleosis, lyme disease. Some people didn’t have any infection. I did note even in residency that my chronic fatigue patients all had one thing in common: they were exhausting.

Does that sound terrible? They were all type A, high achievers, often super high energy. Often they got sick or crashed when they were working three jobs, or working 20 hours a day on their own business, or doing something that sounded insanely exhausting and unsustainable. And most of them wanted that back. “Ok, wait. You were working 20 hours a day, seven days a week, got sick and THAT is what you want to get back to?”

None of the chronic fatigue people seemed to be type B.

Eventually I read that one in ten people with ANY severe infection can get chronic fatigue.

Then I work with the U of Washington Telepain Clinic, on zoom. They start studying functional MRIs of the brains of people with fibromyalgia.

They use a thumbscrew. They put a measurable amount of pressure on a person with no fibromyalgia. The person reports 3-4 out of 10 pain. The brain lights up a certain amount in the pain centers on the MRI. The doctors can SEE it. Then they test the fibromyalgia people with the same amount of thumbscrew pressure. The fibromyalgia people report 8-9/10 pressure and they are not lying. The pain centers in the brain light up correspondingly more. So they ARE feeling 8-9/10 pain.

Is this a muscle problem? A brain problem? Or both?

It appears to be both. Chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia and other disorders with pain out of proportion to the physical findings were being called “central pain processing disorders”.

I thought of chronic fatigue as a sort of switch. As if at a certain level of stress or exhaustion or infection the body would throw a switch. And force the person to rest.

I wondered if the type B people just rested and got over it, while the type A people fought it like tigers. Which seemed to make it worse.

And now we have Covid-19. The study getting my attention is saying that 20%, or 1 in five people age 18-64, have Long Haul symptoms. Over 65 it is 25%, one in four. And it can happen in people with no preexisting conditions. Preexisting conditions or not, this sucks. The two biggest complaints are lung related and muscle related.

I have chronic fatigue following my third pneumonia in 2014. I might be just a little type A. I went back to work too soon (6 months after the pneumonia) and after a half day would crash asleep at 3 pm. For another 6 months. Now that I have had the fourth pneumonia and have been off for a year and been on oxygen, I feel better than I have since before 2014, even though I still need oxygen part time. Guess I was in denial about the chronic fatigue. NOT ME!

So, dear reader, learn from me and don’t be like me. The biggest thing that I have had to get through my thick type A skull is that when my body wants rest, I need to rest. This can be hella annoying, as my son would say. I have to pay attention to my energy level and decide what to do. And some of my precious energy has to go to things like laundry and paying bills! How very frustrating. My markers are energy level and also pulse. My pulse tells me when I need oxygen and when I am really sick. With the first pneumonia back in 2003, influenza, my resting pulse stayed at 100. My normal then was about 65. When I stood up, my pulse went to 135. It was EXHAUSTING to stand up. I had to rest half way up one flight of stairs. It was hard to walk two blocks to pick my daughter up from primary school. And I looked fine. Neither my doctor nor I could figure it out. I finally guessed that it was lung tissue swelling and hoped it would go down eventually. It did, but it was a full two months and my doctor partners thought I was malingering. I tried not to wish it on them. It sucked and I felt awful back at work, but my pulse had finally come down. We even did a heart ultrasound, but all it showed was a fast heart rate. My chest film looked “normal”, because the tissue swelling is throughout the lungs, so it cannot be seen on a chest xray. It was very weird, but I recovered. And all the descriptions of Long Covid sound like my lung swelling. Fast heart rate, difficulty breathing, muscle pain and terrible fatigue. Go back to the couch.

Go back to the couch and wait. Do what you have to but if your heart rate is over 100 when you get up, you have to rest. Otherwise you will prolong it. Seriously.

More later. Peace me and sending love and peace.

Anna’s hummingbirds can survive below freezing temperatures by slowing their metabolism at night, until it warms up in the morning. Talk about resting!

how to use a specialist

I am a rural Family Medicine doctor, board certified and board eligible. I have used the Telemedicine groups in the nearest big University Hospital since 2010.

Initially I started with the Addiction Telemedicine. I accidentally became the only physician in my county prescribing buprenorphine for opioid overuse in 2010. I panicked when I started getting calls. Dr. Merrill from UW had taught the course and gave me his pager number. I acquired 30 patients in three weeks, because the only other provider was suddenly unavailable. Dr. Merrill talked me through that 21 day trial by fire.

I think that I presented at least 20 patients to telemedicine the first year. The telemedicine took an hour and a half. First was a continuing medical education talk on some aspect of “overuse”, aka addiction, and then different doctors would present cases. We had to fill out a form and send it in. It had the gender and year of birth, but was not otherwise supposed to identify the person. TeleAddiction had a panel, consisting of Dr. Merrill (addiction), a psychiatrist, the moderator/pain doctor, and a physiatrist. Physiatrists are the doctor version of a physical therapist. They are the experts in trying to get people the best equipment and function after being blown up in the military or after a terrible car wreck or with multiple sclerosis. There would usually be a fifth guest specialist, often the presenter.

After a while, TeleAddiction got rolled into Telepain and changed days. They added other groups: one for psychiatry, one for HIV and one for hepatitis C. These can all overlap. I mostly attend TelePain and TelePsychiatry.

After a while, I pretty much know what the Telepain specialists are going to advise. So why would I present a patient at that point? Ah, good question. I use Telepain for the weight of authority. I would present a patient when the patient was refusing to follow my recommendations. I would present to Telepain, usually with a very good idea of what the recommendations would be. The team would each speak and fax me a hard copy. I would present this to the patient. Not one physician, and a rural primary care doctor, but five: I was backed up by four specialists. My patients still have a choice. They can negotiate and they always have the right to switch to another doctor. Some do, some don’t.

I am a specialist too. Family Practice is a specialty requiring a three year residency. The general practitioners used to go into practice after one year of internship. My residency was at OHSU in Portland, with rotations through multiple other specialties. We rotated through the high risk obstetrics group, alternating call with the obstetrics residents, which gave me excellent training for doing rural obstetrics and knowing when to call the high risk perinatologist. In my first job I was four hours by fixed wing from the nearest more comprehensive obstetrics, so we really had to think ahead. No helicopter, the distance was too far and over a 9000 foot pass, in all four directions. That was rather exciting as well.

werewolf

Time out word warning, in this poem. This poem is about discrimination. Substitute practically anything for werewolf…. disabled, bipolar, depressed, autistic, substance abuser. I am sick of discrimination. For human, substitute “normal”.

You know I’ve been a werewolf my whole life

Started in the womb
triggered by antibodies
to tuberculosis

And I am tired

of people telling me

I’m a werewolf.

Ok? I fucking know that.
I have known it since Kindergarten
where I arrived full of joy
ready to sing

and was shunned

we didn’t have a television

but I knew that wasn’t really it
I was different
I am different

and fuck you humans
different is ok.

I am a werewolf
and I am fucking proud
of all I have accomplished
in the teeth of humans hating me
and trying to shut me down
and shunning me
and reporting me
and doing everything short of shooting me
with real guns

I’ve been told to sit down
shut up
stop arguing
be nice
be good
go away
die
don’t read my writeups
don’t C! my work
don’t talk to me
stop making waves
been fired
been reported
been shunned
been alone

and fuck you humans

get ready
because I am middle aged now
for a werewolf
and I am ready

to be one all the timee

damn the torpedoes
full speed ahead
fuck you humans
for how you’ve treated me

I’ve turned the other cheek
for sixty years

and now
I
will
fight

No pandas

Today is PANS/PANDAS awareness day. I wrote this a couple weeks ago.

PANDAS PHYSICIANS NETWORK: PANS/PANDAS AWARENESS DAY

___________________________________

No pandas

I don’t have PANDAS because in the United States we barely believe in it in children and we don’t at all in adults.

I don’t have PANDAS because even though one psychiatrist said I did, he retired, and the next one says I don’t. Then not sure then no. They don’t agree.

I don’t have PANDAS because my primary care doctor won’t read the guidelines even after I have been her patient for seven years.

I don’t have PANDAS because my pulmonologist has never heard of it.

I don’t have PANDAS because it would be a lot easier to put me on a mood stabilizer to shut me up than listen to me.

I don’t have PANDAS because I am labelled difficult because I am afraid to take a mood stabilizer because I do not get a fever or a white count so my main symptom of infection is that other doctors think that I am manic though I am hypoxic and short of breath. They want to fix my mood while I want to not die of pneumonia, so our goals are at odds.

I don’t have PANDAS because I am a doctor and if I had PANDAS my fellow local doctors would feel guilty that they have told each other that I am bipolar and manic for the last 18 years and have shunned me at the county medical meetings and won’t even send me the invitations, except for the one that forwards them. He says he has given them my email and he doesn’t understand why they don’t send me the invitations.

I don’t have PANDAS because Seattle Children’s doesn’t allow the Cunningham Panel to be drawn and they say there is not enough evidence yet.

I don’t have PANDAS because I can’t afford to pay $925 on my own for the Cunningham Panel and anyhow my antibody level is back to whatever is my new baseline, higher than before no doubt.

I don’t have PANDAS because the other doctors are frightened: if I have PANDAS then who else does and if I have chronic fatigue caused by hypoxia and fibromyalgia and it’s related to PANDAS then who else would they have to test and neuropsychiatric is a whole different thing from psychiatric and we swear that we don’t know what causes chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia.

I don’t have PANDAS because I am an adult who lives in the US though if I was in Canada or Europe I could in fact have PANDAS.

I don’t have PANDAS because in the United States we barely believe in it in children and we don’t at all in adults.

heart of clay

I look for a broken heart on the beach. I nearly miss it, but here it is. I nearly miss it because it is so large. A clay heart, broken all the way through.

Here is a stealthie with my foot for scale.

Shoe selfie for scale, at the base of the broken clay heart.

Part of the cliff has recently collapsed. The heart must have broken during the slide. It will wash away in pieces now. Here is the cliff and you can see the scar of the slide. And the broken heart.

broken clay heart in the wall of the cliff, with the scar of a slide collapse

I tried walking the beach without oxygen. I did pick up rocks. I took a pulse oximeter with me. Carrying maybe three pounds of rocks, my oxygen saturations drop. Not well yet. 87 or below is not ok. It feels awful and exhausting too. Like being at a high altitude and not used to it. A pulse of 130 also does not feel great, normal being 70-100.

Pulse oximeter, with pulse 130 and oxygen saturation 87.

Thank goodness for the oxygen and the tanks that let me be mobile. Blessings and take care of your heart.

Songs to raise girls: Bessie the Drunkard’s own child

I am posting this from another site, originally posted November 2016. I am posting it because of a comment on a paper in my town about “homeless drug dealers”. It’s not the drug dealers that are homeless, it’s the addict. Ok, you can definitely have an addict dealer… But I worked hard to treat any kind of addiction, not only because of the patient, but also the family and especially the children. And every patient was a child once….

This is another temperance song that my mother taught me, learned from her father. Both of my mother’s grandfathers were Congregationalist Ministers in Iowa.

Out on the stormy night sadly I roam.
No one to love me, no dear pleasant home.
Dark is the night and the storm rages wild.
God pity Bessie, the drunkard’s own child.

Chorus:
Mother, O why did you leave me alone,
No one to love me, no dear pleasant home.
Dark is the night and the storm rages wild
God pity Bessie, the drunkard’s own child

We was so happy til father drinked rum.
Then all our trials and troubles begun.
Mother grew weary and wept every day.
Brother and I were too hungry to play.

Barefoot and hungry we wander all day
Looking for work, but “too small” they all say
On the damp ground to lay my head
Father’s a drunkard and Mother is dead.

Thus the two wandered, ’til one stormy night
Brother and sister both faded from sight
Then gazing at them, sadly I said
“Father’s a drunkard and Mother is dead.”

Cheerful, right? Again, I know the tune and only have the chorus memorized. My parents quit singing it in front of me so that I wouldn’t sing it at Show and Tell.

And small children shouldn’t hear this sort of thing, right? I don’t know. I learned an awful lot about the dark side of the world and danger from these songs. I found them helpful. I think they influenced me to be careful….

And think of the refugee children and children everywhere. This is still happening.

here: http://www.pdmusic.org/1800s/66fadamid.txt
and here: http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=57166
The tune I learned is slightly different and darker than this: http://mudcat.org/@displaysong.cfm?SongID=6196
And some overlapping words with a different tune: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ooDfYaH08E and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KGiFkcxOus

The photograph is my maternal grandfather, F. Temple Burling, sitting on his grandfather’s lap. His grandfather was Morris Temple. My grandfather taught my mother this song and she taught me.