Eat food not pills

As a United States board certified, board eligible rural Family Physician, I am continually mystified by many of my patients preferring pills to food.

I don’t get it.

Today I will discuss probiotics. I have tons of patients taking probiotic pills. I ask all patients to bring in all pills, prescribed or not, fda approved or “natural”, when they come for their first visit. Many people arrive with a shopping bag. People say, “I am not on any medicines.” Then they pull seven “herbal” medicines out of the bag. A pill is a pill to me. I have never seen one growing on a tree. It’s as natural as a shoe, in my opinion. Shoes don’t grow on my feet, but sometimes I wear them. I feel the same about pills.

I hold up the probiotic bottle. “How long have you been taking this?” I ask.

“For a year,” says my patient.

I then get this internal vision. The probiotic leader in my patient’s stomach speaks, “Another load of refugees. I just don’t know where we’ll put them. Everyone is starving as it is. And dehydrated and dessicated with many dead again. Call the burial team and the grief counselors. I swear, it’s like clockwork. We had a forty eight hour break last Saturday, remember? But then we had to handle all that alcohol….”

“Have you thought of stopping it?” I ask.

“Probiotics are good for the digestion,” says my patient.

“Ok,” I say and try to gently introduce the idea of as few pills as possible. Also if they are taking four preparations with vitamin A, I total it up and ask them to consider lowering their dose a bit……

Why don’t people eat their probiotics as food? I am not talking about the expensive advertised yogurt. Live culture yogurt has always had probiotics, but now they’ve standardized, advertised and raised the price. All of the pickled things are sources of probiotics: Kimchi, dill pickles, sauerkraut and all of those interesting pickles that one gets with sushi. I am not so sure about the sweetened pickles, though my mother used to make watermelon rind pickles in a crock, and I am sure there were very many interesting organisms in them. Delicious, too. A friend said that he first got interested in fungi perusing leftovers in my parents’ refrigerator, and he ended up with a PhD. My digestion has been really really healthy, though my recent strep A was hard on it.

I got live kimchi at the Farmer’s Market recently, and hard cider. Both contain love, I mean live cultures. If you make your own beer, that has live cultures when it’s brewing.

The best thing you can do for your intestinal health is stop. eating. sugar. Quit all the junk food and anything with sugar or corn syrup and make your own food. I have some really dark chocolate or two table spoons of really good ice cream most days. I did eat one donut in the last five months. Perfection is silly, boring and stifling.

Another overlooked cheap source of probiotics that anyone can find: dirt. Yes. Dirt from your yard. It contains all manner of live microscopic things and you are focusing on local bacteria. Don’t wash that carrot quite so carefully and you will be adding to the probiotic culture in your body. If you are in a CSA (community supported agriculture) and get a box from a local farmer once a week, you are getting local probiotics. Do be sure to get your tetnus vaccine updated every ten years, too.

Lastly, think about your food. Would you rather have local probiotics from a local farm or attempt to wash the pesticides off of vegetables that have had pesticide genes added to their genome?

Don’t panic, prepare

We need to help people with ebola in other countries: or else we won’t deserve and won’t get help when the United States is the center of an epidemic.

I am a member of a doctor website called Sermo. I rarely write there, especially after I found advertisements to medical equipment and drug companies saying that they could pay to put announcements and articles on the site and “reach doctors”. Also, apparently some doctors on the site think that it is “safe” to write things. Ha. It’s the internet, silly, the opposite of safe. Your words could get back to your patient, ok?

Anyhow, there was a survey and 75% of the doctors on the site who took the survey (I didn’t)  said we should stop flights from Liberia. I think they are wrong, are not compassionate, and I would cross them off my referral list as discriminatory “I’ve got mine, everyone else can go to hell.” selfish gits. I disagreed and said that the United States could be the center of an epidemic, easily. Could be. Will, some day. We need to treat our international neighbors as we want to be treated.

That being said, I am pleased to see the CDC and United States hospitals now stepping up and getting their hazmat suits on. The rest of us need to NOT PANIC.

If you want to do something, think about your communities emergency preparedness. Are you prepared?

1. Do you have a weeks worth of food, water, medicines, supplies? Do you update the supplies (ok, I have food from 2009. Time to update.)

2.Do you have a weather radio? (

3. Do you have a family meeting point? Do you have an out of state person that the family is to call to check in? That everyone knows about?

4. Have you subscribed to emergency notifications? (

5. Consider buying your community a shelter box. Or teaming with friends to buy one for the community and another for a disaster area. Our Rotary group buys at least one a year for international disaster relief. (   and

6. Do you have skills? Can you set up a tent, cook food, do medical care, start a fire, build shelter? What skills could stand brushing up? Have you taken a first aid class recently? Have you taught your children these skills? Do you have neighbors that would need help? You would want someone to help your grandmother, who lives four states away. Adopt a local elderly person or couple that you would help……

The picture is my daughter and niece in 2009 in a 19 pound canoe that is very tippy. They only tipped it over on purpose. They both have a lot of skills, some learned at cabins in Ontario, Canada. The cabins are one room and could also be described as shacks: but the kids get to use tools, paddle canoes, start fires, sleep in a tent……

My parents taught care of the tent so well that I have a kelty tent that my sister and I set up, took down and used, and it still does not leak. It is more than 40 years old! Aluminum poles, no shock cords and a fly. Excellent.

Step off the chain

There is a giant chain, with links about two feet long each. A ship’s chain. It is lying curved along the ground. On each link is the statue of a god or goddess.

There is one empty link. I am walking towards the link. I am dressed in flowing white robes, off the shoulder, Greek. I am not a goddess.

Something hits me. It is a small square pillow, four by four inches. I made a set of small pillows when I was first married. My husband and I would throw them at each other when we were upset. They would make us laugh. They were so light that they would bounce off anything and not hurt. They also would not break lamps and decorations. I still have this small square one. It does not hurt.

There are other pillows. Larger, couch and bed size pillows. They have ornate covers, with beads, tassels, rhinestones, gems and sequins. I know that when I step up on to the chain, the pillows will be thrown at me. They will hurt, because of the ornate decorations. They won’t kill me.

I stop. All of the other gods and goddesses on the chain are represented by statues, stone. I am the only living representation. I am not going to get on the chain. I am going to make a statue to the goddess and place it on the chain. It will not be harmed by the pillows. I will make it quickly with wood, and then replace it with stone when I am able.

I wake. I think, who is the goddess?

Artemis. It is Artemis, greek goddess of the hunt, archer, sister to Apollo, midwife, protector of young virgins.

I wake and read about Artemis.

If you have to cry, do it on the boyfriend who wants you to be angry instead of sad

I used to have a temper that could be set off really really easily.

I had a boyfriend right out of college that said that I didn’t get angry “right”. He had a PhD and I was a mere done with undergraduate person, so what did I know? I went into counseling for a year.

Finally I said to him, “The counselor and I have tried presenting anger to you in every possible form and none of it is acceptable. So now she says you need to come to counseling too.”

His response: “What I want is for you to never get angry at me again.”

Mine: “You are dreaming.”

And so he broke up with me. Immediately. And said I was an ogre when I was angry.

I went back to counseling and was depressed for a year. Then I cheered up, met a boyfriend and went to medical school. I worked on my temper, remembering the ogre comment. I did not want to be an ogre. My boyfriend became my husband and he really liked my dark side and my silly side.

My sister was the person who could set me off angry the most easily. She and I fought like pitbulls, like honey badgers. Once we were in Colorado with my husband, her first husband and my parents. The two husbands had an imitation pretend fight acting as me and my sister. They were vicious. It was horribly embarassing and also funny, because they nailed us both.

In residency in Portland, I had a breakthrough. My sister was divorced from the first husband by then, and with the no meat, no dairy, really pain in the butt boyfriend. We were having a big party, lots of people, grilling salmon and cooking in a group. My sister walked in.

“Oh.” I said, “You didn’t RSVP.”

She fired up instantly. “What? Why does that matter? Do you want me to leave?”

I did not fire up. I held my breath and then said, “No. But if you are here with No Meat No Milk, I didn’t make any food for him, because I did not know you were coming. There is lots of food. You are both welcome to stay, but he will have to figure out his own food.” Then I held my breath again.

There was a long pause. My sister had her breath drawn in and held. She looked like she was going to explode. But I had answered quietly. She really had nothing to explode at.

“We will stay then,” she said, grudgingly. And there was No Meat No Milk. I was pretty happy when she ditched him. But I was also happy that I had not exploded back at her.

That was when I really got control of my temper. Not that I never lost it again, but I was no longer an ogre. I could hold it with my sister. My husband could set me off, but when I stepped back and started recording what he said and my responses, I could hold it there too.

After we divorced, I had one boyfriend who moved in. I had joked to a friend that my family had a lot of enablers and enablees, but that the latter lived longer. I said if I had to be one or the other, the latter seemed better for longevity.

And that boyfriend showed up immediately. I had just been “strongly encouraged” by my employer local hospital to open my own private practice. That is, I was not seeing patients. I was writing a business plan. I met him in a bar, salsa dancing. He said I was cute and I said, “No, I’m prickly.” I swear, it was that sentence and my dancing that attracted him. I always grin like a fool when I’m dancing. I love it. It lights me up.

Anyhow, I got mad at him exactly twice before he moved in. Boy did he come down on me for getting mad and punished me very thoroughly. By now you are wondering why I let him move in and frankly I was too. But my intuition was running the show and I just let it.

Well, he had kissed me like crazy at the start of the relationship. He stopped kissing me, almost as he moved in. He had insomnia. He’d fixed up one of the two upstairs bedrooms. He started sleeping with me less and less and sleeping in the other room, on cushions.

I would wake, worry. I started moving too. I moved to the guest room. I moved to the couch. Once I was out of the theoretically shared bed, I could go back to sleep. He protested that I shouldn’t move. Why not? I was getting insomnia from worrying about him leaving more and more.

He said we’d need couples counseling eventually. I said, ok, and scheduled it. He said, “I didn’t mean now!” I said, “Well, seemed like we might as well get it out of the way.”

He told the counselor I needed to either cut my sister off or do what she said, but instead, I was present and disobeidient. My sister had metastatic breast cancer and we came from an alcohol addiction family. Can you say complicated relationship?

I explained to the counselor that I thought many patients with cancer end up in a “cancer bubble”. Everyone tries to do what they say because they have cancer. This isolates them and does damage to the relationship. I was trying to stay present and real. That is, I did not obey. I was getting pressure from other people to obey, because my sister would complain about me. Whatever.

The counselor thought I was reasonable. I brought up the sleep issues. The boyfriend cancelled the counseling, saying that he needed a break.

At six months living together, he was saying that he might need to go back to the city to work. Two hours away. And I still was not doing what he wanted re my sister.

Counseling again. Again my behavior to my sister was examined. Same story. I turned to him. “I hear you saying you may need to return to the city for work. I hear you saying you may need to move there. What I don’t hear you saying is darling, we will get through a long distance relationship. Are you breaking up with me and not telling me?”

Long silence.

The counselor said, “You need to answer her.”

He finally said, “I wasn’t going to tell you until after I moved.”

I cried. We left. I kept crying.

He said, “You are angry and you are going to throw me out on the street.”

“No!” I said, “I am sad! You move out when you are ready! We will remain friends!”

So then I cried buckets. I cried on him, buckets. I cried every time I saw him, I cried daily, I cried about him, about my sister, about alcoholism, about the hospital getting rid of me. I cried about everything. I cried on him daily.

For six months. He kept saying “You are angry. You are throwing me out.” But I didn’t. I just cried more.

He moved out on the weekend I returned from seeing my sister in hospice for the last time. Her birthday was March 23. I saw her last on March 22. My birthday was March 28. She died March 29. He moved out on the 26th and 27th. I was not mad, I just cried and cried and cried.

I think that he was looking for an angry girlfriend. He thought he’d found her when I said I was prickly. He would have been the enabler and I would have been the angry dysfunctional enablee. It turns out that I was not really interested in being an enablee. Now I want a healthy relationship.

So that is my recommendation. If you have to cry, do it on the boyfriend who wants you to be angry instead of sad.

In preparation

I wrote this on 9/26/14 in the midst of much frustration and my lungs still hurting three and a half months after I got sick. I am off from taking care of patients, but still have to try to get my business covered and my patients taken care of. I think there is a component of my vocal cords not working because I am told that I am wrong and to shut up so often.

Favorite example is a Seattle Infectious Disease doctor that I called to ask for help with an infection in our town. He said, “You are a rural Family Practice Doctor. Why would I listen to you?”

I said, “I’m a girl too.” and hung up in frustration. That attitude will not win him any referrals from me. On my permanent stupid moron list, along with an amazing number of specialists. They are either respectful or they aren’t.

Currently I am on no alcohol at all, because I have to do a special diet before a 24 hour urine test. Means no caffeine either, ouch, headache.

In preparation

Today I will start drinking
even though it’s only 9:40
in the am

I will stretch two beers
through the long hours
as the alcohol
blocks the receptors
and numbs my aching heart
and lungs

and I will stay home alone
so that I won’t talk

to rest my voice

in preparation
for the next round
of talk

where I am told
in no uncertain terms
to sit down
and to shut up

Cucumber love

Cucumber love

They say they love you

And they do

Sort of

One day you find yourself
Wearing a construct
An exoskeleton
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
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

first published on everything2 on June 9, 2009