Why care for addicts?

I posted this in November, 2015. I am reposting it.

_________________

Why care for addicts?

Children. If we do addiction medicine and help and treat addicts, we are helping children and their parents and our elderly patients’ children. We are helping families, and that is why I chose Family Practice as my specialty.

Stop thinking of addiction as the evil person who chooses to buy drugs instead of paying their bills. Instead, think of it as a disease where the drug takes over. Essentially, we have trouble with addicts because they lie about using drugs. But I think of it as the drug takes over: when the addict is out of control, the drug has control. The drug is not just lying to the doctor, the spouse, the parents, the family, the police: the drug is lying to the patient too.

The drug says: just a little. You feel so sick. You will feel so much better. Just a tiny bit and you can stop then. No one will know. You are smart. You can do it. You have control. You can just use a tiny bit, just today and then you can stop. They say they are helping you, but they aren’t. Look how horrible you feel! And you need to get the shopping done and you can’t because you are so sick…. just a little. I won’t hurt you. I am your best friend.

I think of drug and alcohol addiction as a loss of boundaries and a loss of control. I treat opiate overuse patients and I explain: you are here to be treated because you have lost your boundaries with this drug. Therefore it is my job to help you rebuild those boundaries. We both know that if the drug takes control, it will lie. So I have to do urine drug tests and hold you to your appointments and refuse to alter MY boundaries to help keep you safe. If the drug is taking over, I will have you come for more frequent visits. You have to keep your part of the contract: going to AA, to NA, to your treatment group, giving urine specimens. These things rebuild your internal boundaries. Meanwhile you and I and drug treatment are the external boundaries. If that fails, I will offer to help you go to inpatient treatment. Some people refuse and go back to the drug. I feel sad but I hope that they will have another chance. Some people die from the drug and are lost.

Addiction is a family illness. The loved one is controlled by the drug and lies. The family WANTS to believe their loved one and often the family “enables” by helping the loved one cover up the illness. Telling the boss that the loved one is sick, procuring them alcohol or giving them their pills, telling the children and the grandparents that everything is ok. Everything is NOT ok and the children are frightened. One parent behaves horribly when they are high or drunk and the other parent is anxious, distracted, stressed and denies the problem. Or BOTH are using and imagine if you are a child in that. Terror and confusion.

Children from addiction homes are more likely to be addicts themselves or marry addicts. They have grown up in confusing lonely dysfunction and exactly how are they supposed to learn to act “normally” or to heal themselves? The parents may have covered well enough that the community tells them how wonderful their father was or how charming their mother was at the funeral. What does the adult child say to that, if they have memories of terror and horror? The children learn to numb the feelings in order to survive the household and they learn to keep their mouths shut: it’s safer. It is very hard to unlearn as an adult.

I have people with opiate overuse syndrome who come to see me with their children. I have drawings by children that have a doctor and a nurse and the words “heroes” underneath and “thank you”. I  have had a young pregnant patient thank me for doing a urine drug screen as routine early in pregnancy. “My friend used meth the whole pregnancy and they never checked,” she said, “Now her baby is messed up.”

Addiction medicine is complicated because we think people should tell the truth. But it is a disease precisely because it’s the loss of control and loss of boundaries that cause the lying. We should be angry at the drug, not the person: love the person and help them change their behavior. We need to stop stigmatizing and demeaning addiction and help people. For them, for their families, for their children and for ourselves.

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

released like stars

I have had strep A sepsis and pneumonia twice. It was terrifying and I ended up having to take care of myself. I would be dead if I was not a physician.

Everything2.com helped to sustain me, because it was a place I could go while I was alone, terrified and very very ill. The bout in 2014 took me out of clinic for six months and then I was barely able to work seeing half my usual number of patients. My local hospital refused to help me, but other people did. I am deeply deeply grateful to the people who did help me, including people on everything2.com that I have never met.

I wrote this in June 2014.

released like stars

________________

My sister used to tell me

“Everything2 is like a brain.

That’s what attracted me.

All the nodes, like neurons

Connected to each other more and more.”

Or something like that.


Isn’t it annoying?

Now that I’ve taken that memory out

Dusted it off

Embellished it

Who knows what she really said


Flashes of light now

And some where I blank out entirely

For just a moment

Only when I’ve eaten

I’m still avoiding carbs


Could be absence seizures

But she said seizures hurt

These do not hurt

And are accompanied by muscle twitches

Or muscles rolling gently across my frame


I am scared at first

Because I think they are neurons

Bursting into brain flame

And burning out

Brief candles


But I don’t think that’s right either

I think it is plaques

Deposits of antibody

Small pushpins in the wrong place

Being released like stars

Makeup

Poem: Makeup

For a fellow blogger and for the Ragtag Daily Prompt: Still. I am thinking of both stillness and of still photography. A photograph. For a still, I think that it is usually posed. I like taking portraits when people are not posed.

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.

broken three

I drop the fragment of rock with the seam a second time. Now I have three pieces. I stop there. When I climb back up the bank, I have an oxygen tank, a camera and rocks. It involves quite a bit of swearing and stopping to rest while I try to get enough oxygen.

Hopefully I will get better. I don’t know when or even if. My friend B says he wants to know what the pneumonia was, that triggered this round of pseudoautoimmune misery. I shrug. “We know some things it isn’t.” I say. “It isn’t covid-19, it isn’t influenza A or B, it isn’t respiratory syncytial virus, it probably is not strep A though I still haven’t had the second blood test. It isn’t pneumococcal pneumonia. It could have been mycoplasma pneumonia or pertussis or a very long list of viruses. Doctors are practical scientists, at least, I am. If the patient is getting better, don’t chase an answer that won’t add anything. I caught something, probably in the clinics where people kept taking off their masks when they were ‘alone’ in the room. They didn’t realize that they were breathing out viruses or bacteria that could take me out.” We aren’t exactly sure if the combined penicillin and clindamycin, high dose, helped or not. I think it did, but stress makes this worse too and it was a very very stressful time. Mean people, you know, and mean family. I just don’t understand what they are thinking.

I really think that post covid-19, we should wear a mask if we go out in public when we are sick. Because you don’t know which people are the vulnerable ones. I normally have lots of energy and I don’t think people would guess that I have had chronic fatigue and that I am terribly vulnerable to infection. In the clinic I owned, after I was sick in 2014, I asked any patient who was sniffling or coughing to wear a mask. “I get pneumonia easily,” I would explain. They had the right to refuse and then I would not see them. After I closed my clinic and went to work as a temp doc, I could not protect myself. I asked the nurses to ask people to PLEASE keep their masks on, but people are people. They didn’t. I had a bit of a PTSD reaction every time I walked into a patient room and they had masks off. I wanted to run out of the room screaming but I was more restrained and just said, “Please, please, PLEASE put your mask back on, other people have been in the room.” I didn’t add “And you might kill me.” because I only had 20 minutes for the visit…..

The pieces of rock are beautiful, aren’t they?

Here is a great song. Got it from this blog: https://reflectionsofanuntidymind.blog/2021/05/07/icky/

This is all for the Ragtag Daily Prompt: workshop. I like working with rocks. I have to decide what work to do next, since it’s no longer safe for me to do family medicine. It SUCKS. I really miss my peeps.

I have to get well first. If I do, what next?

chronic fatigue

I am realizing that I have had chronic fatigue since 2014. Or possibly 2012.

We know that chronic fatigue can be kicked off by infection. One in ten people with a severe infection is diagnosed with chronic fatigue. Severe stress can also kick it into gear or a combination of stress or grief or attack or assault and infection can kick it in to gear.

We don’t really understand it, though I am finding experience to be a very great teacher.

As far back as medical school and residency, I was curious about it. I love the edges of things: it is the things that we don’t understand that I study. I pick up bits of information like a crow or magpie. I add it to the pile of things related to it in my brain. Sometimes I will add just one more small piece and the entire pile of puzzle pieces with suddenly, in just a blink, rearrange itself into a picture.

The pieces won’t arrange themselves until I have a complete picture. Or, well, until something in my brain is satisfied that it is complete enough. Since nothing is every complete or completely understood, is it? Nothing fixed and we make up all the words.

Anyhow, chronic fatigue would explain why running my own clinic, I did not see more than ten patients a day. Also I do have some OCD, hidden under a messy packrat gene. You would NOT look at my house two months ago and think that I have some OCD. Messy and chaotic. But I am a precision demon about patient charts and I am always thorough. In 2009 our local hospital let me know that my reputation was of a brilliant diagnostician. Ironically, this was right before they fired me for arguing about the patient quota of 18 per day. I ran late because I could not stop being thorough. I cut my work from 4 days a week to 3.5 but that was still two hours of dictating and paperwork for every day of clinic. So clinic was 28 hours plus the dictating and paperwork and calling specialists and calling insurance and a one hour meeting at lunch with the administration EVERY DAY FOR MONTHS, so really clinic was 8 hours of patient contact plus the one hour lunch meeting. Redo the math: 28 hours plus 4 one hour lunch meetings plus 7 hours of the generated deal with stuff AND do not forget about call nights. 39 hours plus call. At least one call night a week, 6 pm to 8 am, so that is 51 hours or more. I felt that I was working flat out as fast as I could every single day in clinic and I still was not keeping up.

I also really really resented the one hour lunch meetings because I was only allowed 20 minutes for a patient and was to see them “for one thing”. Seeing people “for one thing” is unethical and dangerous because for example: a diabetic with a toe infection. That is already two things. But you’d better calculate the third: kidney function, because you have to dose the antibiotic for the toe based on the kidney function, and diabetes is the number one cause of adult kidney failure in the US. Oh, and you’d better check on the diabetes too, because if their blood sugar is whomping out of control, the toe won’t heal and that’s how they got infected in the first place. So I might have ranted a bit about seeing people “for one thing” because I think it is an UNETHICAL DANGEROUS LOAD OF CRAP. DO NOT PUT UP WITH IT, DOCTORS AND PATIENTS OF THE UNITED STATES. It is corporate trying to maximize profit and they can frankly go to hell and stay there. Single payer. ‘Nuf said.

Even more ironically is that two years after they fired me for vocally disagreeing with the quota (I would add that I was not diplomatic and I was vociferous), the hospital dropped the quota down. To what I had asked for, 16 patients a day. I actually had kept track through my career and knew that I averaged 16 patients a day. One partner usually saw 20 or 21, but the problem was that he kept the chart in his head. When I would get one of his patients, I’d have to say, “Um, you have some heart disease, right? You’ve had a heart attack or a bypass? What year was the bypass? How many vessels?” I’d be guessing from the medicines and clues… but the past history was not entered into the chart. So, yeah, I only saw 16 patients a day but my charts were solid and thorough and the charts on his patients were a lot more comprehensible every time I saw one of his patients and did the chart for him. He owes me. Pay up.

Anyhow, I have worked really hard for the last seven years, in spite of some chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. Which I rather refused to admit to myself. I thought I was “well”. I felt bad that I didn’t clean up my chaotic house.

Now I forgive myself for the house. Because the truth is I couldn’t clean up the house. Not after 7-10 patients and running my own clinic, CEO, chief cook and bottle washer, dealing with the covid changes, trying to figure out medicare’s arcane language, fielding malpractice insurance, business insurance, insurance insurance and phone company scam calls.

I have been sick at home for 6 weeks. I have been on oxygen for 4 days? 5 days? I would have felt a lot better and been able to think better if I had been on oxygen the whole time. Meanwhile, turns out I CAN clean up and organize in spite of being hypoxic. My house is now a very different place and the garden has changed enormously very quickly.

I am sending more money to India, via https://www.pratham.org/ . I can hardly bear to think about the people who cannot get oxygen. It feels terrible and terrifying to not be able to breathe. My chest hurt and lungs and heart when I even sat up, much less walked. If I walked slowly enough, it was bearable, just barely. I walked anyhow. Those edges, I am always there.

It is very weird being on oxygen. I have told people in the past when I had pneumonia. I’ve almost died from it four times. Heart rate of 135 holding oxygen level, but it doesn’t feel good. I am confident that I do not have coronary artery disease, because if I did, I would have had a heart attack the first week. A heart rate of 135 is running a marathon. It is exhausting. Right now on oxygen, my heart rate is 86 and oxygen at 98%. My normal heart rate is more like low 70s. Normal is 60-100, you knew that, right?

It is very weird being on oxygen. Because now I have a visible signal that I have been/am sick. Somehow this is making people more kind, more concerned. I keep thinking, but I told you I was ill before. Why does being on oxygen make people kinder?

I think that is the difference between having an illness where there is not much comprehension and one that we think we understand. So chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia are dismissed, disrespected and discriminated against, while cancer and sepsis and covid-19 and massive trauma in the military are supported. People send gifts.

In the past, tuberculosis was thought to be an illness of sensitive poets. Then the tuberculosis bacillius was discovered and it morphed into a disease of the poor dirty overcrowded low scum of humanity. My mother had tuberculosis, but luckily it was when we’d moved on to sanitoriums, because it is airborne, so stop the spread and take care of people. There was also medicine. My mother had to take 36 pills a day. At one point in the hospital, someone brought her a medicine.

“What is it?” asked my mother.

“Don’t worry about it.” said the nurse.

“No,” said my mother. “I want to know what it is.”

The nurse got the doctor. He came in and said, “Take the pill.”

“What is it?” said my mother. She was 22, 8 months pregnant, very poor, and a student at the University of Tennessee.

“Don’t worry about it.” said the doctor.

My mother threw it at his head. Because not only was she 22, 8 months pregnant, very poor and a student at the University of Tennessee, but she was also the daughter of F. Temple Burling MD, a psychiatrist, physician and professor at Cornell University.

And he had told her, don’t take anything unless you know what it is…..


________________________________________________________________

The picture is of my mother, Helen Burling Ottaway, in 1945. Helen Temple Burling II at the time of the picture.

________________________________________________________________

I think the final straw that made the hospital fire me was me singing “The 18 Patient Blues” which I’d made up, to the tune of 16 Tons, into the Chief Financial Officer’s voicemail and at the open mike at the Upstage, here in town. I admit, it was not diplomatic.

questions for equality

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: book. My second entry for the prompt today.

Skimming the reader’s guide at the back of a book today, I read one question and halt. Here:

“You’ve managed such an extraordinarily successful writing career along with being a full-time father. What has it been like to juggle the two?”

Yes, what has it been like? Because I changed the gender. I can’t imagine this question being posted to a male author. The layers and the sexism in this question are spectacular.

First of all, what is a full-time mother? Does it mean one who is “home” with the kids? Not working “outside” the house. Maybe we should call it at work with the kids if it’s full-time. If she is a writer is that work but it’s not work if she is a housewife? Is she a “full-time” mother with a writing hobby unless it’s successful and then she’s a “full-time” mother with a successful career? How are they defining success?

What is a full-time father? Does it mean the same thing?

Are there part-time mothers? Is a mother who goes to work outside the house a part-time mother? I work. My husband was the househusband. We also had some daycare. Was he a full-time father? Was he a slacker because he took care of the house and the kids and played golf? Our son was six months old when I started my family practice residency. Was I a part-time mother?

The question feels to me like more of the same gender discrimination and devaluation of both genders. A woman who is a “full-time” mother AND a successful writer, wow, that is made noble. But I have never heard a man called a “full-time” father or any questions of a successful man about how he juggled his fatherhood and his career.

It remains infuriating.

The book is Anna Quindlan’s every last one, Random House, 2011 and the Random House Reader’s Circle asks the questions.

Well, gentle readers? Are you a full-time or a part-time parent? Why? Was your father a full or a part time father and was your mother full or part time? And do they mean the same thing?



dream about privilege, access, and water

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: dream.

I dream in technicolor with smells, sensations, sounds, all senses. So much so that sometimes I worry about what is happening in the dream and what I should do about it. Then I realize it is a dream.

Other times I know right away that it’s a dream. This one I knew was a dream and it’s closely connected to our reality.

This dream is from August 2018.

I am in a library. There is an archive. I am not allowed in the archive.

There is a man. He listens to me sometimes, but mostly he prefers that I listen to him. He listens less and less as time goes on. He is interested in certain topics, but he likes to do the talking. He doesn’t like or agree with my opinions and prefers that I am silent.

A woman arrives. She is very powerful. Dressed in white, robes, goddess like. She is as tall as the man. They talk and he goes into the archives with her. I am jealous and resigned. Not sexually, but I am just resigned to males coming first, more of them have access to the archives, they expect the attention first, they are rewarded for speaking up where I would be punished for the same behavior. I am sick of it.

I have a question for the woman. I wait. I am sitting on a tall stool with a long desk. There are two chairs to my left, empty, and people in the chairs to my right. There is a carved wooden screen walling the other side of the desk off: on the other side are the archives.

I have water. The water is in a bowl. It is to drink and is nourishing and refreshing and it is beautiful too, with herbs and an island of moss in the center. I have drunk enough, and wash my hands in the remaining water.

They come out of the archive. The woman sits by me and the man next to her. I ask my question when there is an opening. She is interested and will take me into the archives. The man is not interested in my questions, as usual, and he leaves. The woman asks for some of the water. I explain that I have washed my hands in it. More people are coming to talk to her. She pours some into her bowl. I am afraid she will be distracted by the people and drink it. I go to get her clean water. I need a pitcher. There is a wall of glass front cupboards with many sizes and shapes of glasses. I get down a large one, but it is very ornate and delicate. I want a plain pitcher but I also want to bring her the water right away. I hesitate, looking for something large and plain.

I wake up.




speaking up 4

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: sequelae. We don’t know what the sequelae to the Supreme Court vote is yet. But I am not going to stop speaking up and I hope more women speak up. And girls. So here are two experiences when I was a girl.

I start grade school in upstate New York. I am at the Northeast School. I don’t remember tons about it, except that it has ramps instead of stairs. I am failing to learn to read with phonics, which make no sense to me.

In first grade, I need to go to the bathroom. My teacher gives me a hall pass. This is not a kindergarten privilege.

Outside the girls’ bathroom are two boys. They are older than me. I don’t know them.

“You can’t go in unless you show us your underwear.”

I am wearing a dress. I stare at them.

“Show us your underwear.”

I go back around the corner and wait. Hoping they will leave. They don’t.

I need to go. I go and lift my skirt for a second, humiliation as they laugh. I hurry in to the bathroom.

I go back to the classroom.

I never go to the bathroom during class again. I am careful. I go before class starts and at lunch.

And I’ve never told anyone until now. And this was a grade school. How were the boys acculturated to behave this way already in grade school? And does this still go on? All the girls in my daughter’s school quit wearing skirts by second grade. Jeans only.

We move before fourth grade to another town.

The boundaries for the school districts change before sixth grade and I am bussed to a new grade school.

On the bus, a boy starts harassing me. I don’t know him.

“Show me your underwear.” he says. The other kids are watching.

I don’t answer, glare at him with scorn.

Each day he escalates.

“Show me your underwear.”

I pull a pair out of my bag the fourth day. “There. Now you’ve seen some.”

The other kids laugh, but it’s not enough. He keeps hassling me.

He starts reaching for my skirt from the seat in front of me.

I’ve had it. I play flute. But I also play piccolo.

The next day he starts up, “Show me your underwear.” He reaches towards my skirt from the seat in front. I have my hard piccolo case in both hands. I smash his hand as hard as I can, against the bus seat.

He screams and pulls his hand away, clutching it.

The bus driver looks in the mirror. He doesn’t slow down or stop.

The boy never bothers me again. And neither does anyone else on that bus.

____________________________________

I took the photograph when school started this year. This is our “city” bus. The Redhawks are our football team. I can’t think that football is good for us, but I thank the adults for this support for the high school students…..

Music gives me hope: this.