what would YOU choose?

Here is a story of a choice about an abortion, a theraputic abortion, where a mother has to make a difficult choice. I have seen Family Medicine patients since 1991, so this will not identify a particular person. No HIPAA problem.

I see a new patient in clinic, a woman, who already has children. She has back pain. All is routine until she says, “Sometimes my leg goes numb from the knee down.” I stop. This is NOT normal. “Completely numb?” I say. “Not patchy?” “Yes.” “How often?” I ask. She shrugs. “Not very.” “If it happens again, call me and I want to see you right away.”

Why? This is unusual because most numbness follows dermatomes if it is from back pain. The dermatomes on the skin wrap from the back down the leg all the way to the toes. When someone describes numbness or the pain of shingles in that distribution, we know which nerve is affected. Numbness from the knee down can come from diabetes and other causes, but it is not on one side and it doesn’t come and go. So the unusual stands out for me.

“Anything else weird?”

“I had vision problems in my last pregnancy. They sent me to specialists, even a neuro opthamologist. He couldn’t find anything.”

“Ok.” I shrug. We move on.

She calls two days later. “Both legs are numb from the knee down.”

“Come in today,” I say.

Both legs ARE numb from the knee down. She also can’t lift her feet. The muscles from the knees down are weak. I get neurology on the phone. “MRI her from the top of her head to the base of her spine.” I call the hospital and set it up. That day.

She has seven brain lesions suspicious for multiple sclerosis. She did have an MRI in the previous pregnancy, which was negative. I do not remember how old the child was, 2-4 years or more when I saw mother.

I call her back in for results, we talk about specialists, and I call a neurologist in the nearest big city, three hours by car from where she lives. We start medications and my patient is scheduled.

She has multiple sclerosis. The flare improves. The visual symptoms were MS in the previous pregnancy, but it was not yet visible on brain MRI.

Then she gets pregnant again. Her symptoms immediately flare. She comes to me and I call the neurologist.

The symptoms are not a little worse. Much worse. “I suggest she terminate the pregnancy.”

My patient is horrified. Until the neurologist’s next words. “She needs to terminate if she wants to be able to walk for the children she has.”

My patient chooses an abortion, to terminate the pregnancy. Because she has a bad version of MS*, she remembers the symptoms in the last pregnancy, she is young, she is clearly progressing and she wants to take care of the children she already has.

What would YOU choose? For yourself, for your sister, for your wife. If you are male, do you have any right to make that choice? Now picture yourself pregnant with that choice. And thank you for reading this.

*Addendum: present evidence says that multiple sclerosis does NOT worsen with pregnancy. However, another illness, NMO (neuromyelitis optica) instead tends to become more active in pregnancy. It previously was lumped in with MS until the antibodies (anti-NMO) were identified and it was realized it’s a different subtype of demyelination disease, with its own treatment options. Medicine changes over time and the woman, the neurologist and I were working with the information available at that time.

speaking up

A friend says he does whatever he wants. He refuses to answer questions about how he makes his money. He doesn’t care if this annoys people. I suspect he may enjoy it.

I have one of those public jobs. Well, had. I have now been disabled from Family Medicine for a year. My lungs are much better than a year ago but they are not normal. And I have now seen 17 specialists and 3 primary care doctors since 2012. The consensus is “We don’t know.” Though many specialists are not willing to say that. What they say instead is, MY testing is NORMAL, go to someone else. My lungs are not normal, but I am on my fourth pulmonologist. I saw a cardiologist this year and the first thing he says is, “It’s your lungs, not your heart.” Well, yeah, I know that.

I miss my patients, but there is something freeing about not working. Ok, more money would be nice, but I am doing ok. Meanwhile, I am thinking about what to do now. I can write full time. Write, make music, travel (on a budget) and sing. And speak up.

Doctors have interesting portrayals on television. We went from Dr. Kildare to Dr. House, working our way through the shows with an emergency room and medical residents. ER drove me nuts. No one EVER dictated a chart so at the end of each show I hyperventilated at the hours of paperwork/computer/dictating they had left. House interests me because it’s always the thing that the patient is hiding or lying about that is the key. “Go search his apartment.” says House. I have figured out cases by getting permission to call family or a group home. More than once.

But a physician is a public figure. I had been here for less than a year when a woman comes up to me in the grocery store and says “What are my lab results?” I look at her blankly. I can’t remember if I really did the snappy comeback that comes to mind: “Take off your clothes and I will see if I remember.” I respond politely and she says, “Oh. I should call the office, right?” “Yes, I try to leave the work there,” I say. If a particularly difficult person was bearing down on me, I would whisper “cry” to my kids. That worked. They would act out on cue and I would be the harassed mother. The person would back off.

I am in a small town. We have three grocery stores. I see patients everywhere, now that it has been 22 years. If I remember every detail, that means they are or were really sick. And we have the layers of relationships: someone might have kids the same age or work with boats or be in chorus with me. Once I take my daughter to a party. The mom introduces me to two other mothers. “She’s my doctor,” says the introducing mom. “Well, me too.” says the second. “And me,” says the third. We all laugh.

Once I am visiting my brother outlaw’s bicycle shop. He has a customer. The customer starts talking to me too. Brother outlaw says, “Do you two know each other?” The customer eyes me. I have my neutral doc face on. “She’s seen me NAKED!” says the customer and I howl with laughter. What a great reply. And my brother outlaw gets it.

Docs have to pay attention to HIPAA. When three women say that I am their doctor, I reply, “Yeah and I left my brain at work, so I can’t remember a thing.” Those three were healthy, so I really do not remember labs or the results of a pap smear. Once I was in cut off shorts and waved at an older woman who was at the ophthalmologist’s. She sniffs and looks away. I get the giggles: I think she did not recognize me. My town is only 10,000 people, so after 22 years I have taken care of many of them. Though sometimes people thank me for taking care of their mother, and after it sounds unfamiliar I ask if they mean Dr. Parkman? Oh. Yes. People get me mixed up with two other small Caucasian woman doctors.

I started the “outfits inappropriate for work” category last year when I was still very sick and short of breath and on oxygen. I did not go out much, partly to avoid covid. My pneumonia was something other than covid and it was my fourth pneumonia and I should not need oxygen. Now I’ve had mild covid and the oxygen is only part time. I sang at my son’s wedding, off oxygen, so I can sing off oxygen for a short time. I danced off oxygen too and did get QUITE short of breath. Since I am no longer a public figure, I can speak out and speak up more. I am thinking about that, particularly with the recent Supreme Court news. I do not agree with what they seem to be planning.

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.

more grief and loss

Well, that’s the way it is.

The picture is from Lake Matinenda in Ontario.

tubing

The oxygen tubing follows me everywhere.

I have a large concentrator for inside the house. There is long green tubing that I plug into the pale tubing that goes to my nose.

When I go upstairs, it’s a bit complicated. I have to unplug the pale tubing and plug the upstairs long green tubing into the downstairs long green tubing and the other end into the pale tubing. Then untangle it and I can walk around upstairs and still breathe.

To go outside, I have small cannisters. Unplug from the big concentrator, plug into the small cannister, turn the concentrator off, turn the small cannister on. Get purse and whatever the heck else I am carrying. Try to remember if the small tank is close to empty. I am carrying an extra small tank in the car. I have to turn the tank off to change the respirator, then bleed the remaining pressure, then take the respirator off. Yesterday I put the respirator on upside down. The tank hissed at me like a terrifying snake. I have warning signs in my front and back windows now: do not smoke, oxygen in use.

I took care of a man in the hospital overnight once who HAD smoked on oxygen. The ER doc called me to admit him. “He lit his oxygen on fire with a cigarrette.” “And how bad is he?” “We need to monitor his lungs.” “IF HE HAS LUNG BURNS SHIP HIM TO SEATTLE, HELLO!!!” “Well,” says the ER doc, “Ok, he’s probably fine, just burned his nose. But I am not quite comfortable sending him home.” “Oh, well, then, geez. Okay, whatever.” Wimpy ER doc. I didn’t mind once he was honest. The patient admitted that he did not want to do THAT again and yes, his nose felt pretty burned.

No smoking at my house. I am not tempted to smoke ANYTHING. When I was twelve, I smoked pretzels with my cousins and sister. They do not stay lit well but we laughed a lot. It was really fun.

I don’t have enough green tubing for the basement. So there are monsters and I don’t go there any more. No, I can use one of the portable cannisters to start a load of laundry. I am supposed to only use the portable cannisters when I leave the house. Used one yesterday to go in the front yard and garden. Stomped the spade in, levered up the grass. Wait and breathe. Wait. Ok, stomp the spade in the next place. Wait and breathe. Wait.

I get more oxygen on Wednesdays. Tomorrow. If I BEHAVE then after a month, I will get a small concentrator that I can walk around with. Then I won’t have the bloody tubing tail. I am seriously looking forward to that. I still will have the tail some of the time because the concentrator will have charging and a battery life and AUGH MY OXYGEN RAN OUT WATCH OUT WORLD I AM HYPOXIC AND DANGEROUS!

I trip over the tubing and it gets tangled and I get caught on things and it yanks at my head. My dance skills and balance are way better right now ON oxygen than OFF it. I am not nearly as neurologically whacked out when I have the oxygen. Makes me wonder… I don’t feel nearly as much OCD/ADHD/oppositional defiant. Well, ok, the oppositional defiance is rather baseline for me.

Makes me impatient, but then, whatever. I will still get stuff done. You are only as disabled as you decide to be and this will barely slow me down. Hope I get off oxygen eventually, but that is not clear. With repeat infections your lungs can scar. Hope not. Time will tell.

And donate to something to get oxygen to India. I can hardly bear to look at the news about it. I felt so awful with just mild hypoxic, that went undiagnosed for 5 weeks. Dying of suffocation is not fun. Donate.