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.

Oxygen testing

“If oxygen might help with chronic fatigue, as it has helped you,” a friend asks, “how do I get on oxygen?”

Complicated answer.

First of all, one of the things that is not clear, is what recovery looks like. I think I’ve had low grade chronic fatigue for the last 7 years compared to my “normal”. Now, will I get off oxygen? I don’t know. I am hoping for September but it may be that 7 years of low grade hypoxia means I have lung damage and no, I won’t get totally off oxygen.

They have apparently recently made the guidelines for oxygen more stringent. I sort of missed that update, even though I just recertified in Advanced Cardiac Life Support. You now have to have an oxygen saturation that goes to 87% or below. It used to be 88.

Now, you can test this at home with a pulse oximeter. In 2005 after the influenza, I held my saturations but my heart rate would go up to 135. Which means that I walked across the room very very slowly because a heart rate of 135 sustained does not feel good at all. Normal is 70-100 beats per minute. You can measure pulse with just a second hand, number of beats in a minute. For oxygen saturation, you need the pulse ox and it will measure both heart rate and oxygen saturation.

So: measure pulse and saturation at rest first. Write them down.
Then walk. I usually send patients up and down the hall three times then sit them down and watch the pulse ox. In some, the heart rate jumps up. If it’s over 100 and they are getting over pneumonia, I don’t want them back at work until it is staying under 100. Or if sitting they are at a pulse of 60 and then walking it’s 95, well, I think that person needs to convalesce for a while yet. They can test at home.

As the heart rate returns to the baseline, the oxygen level will often start to drop. Does it drop to 87? Describe the test to the doctor and make sure the respiratory technician does it that way and also they should do pulmonary function tests. Mine were not normal.

Now, what if the oxygen doesn’t drop to 87? We are not done yet. What does the person do for work or do they have a toddler? If they have a toddler do the same test carrying the toddler: they sit down, exhausted and grey and this time the oxygen level drops below 87. If they do not have a toddler, do the test with two bags of groceries. Or four bricks.

When I did the formal test, the respiratory therapist said, “Let’s have you put your things down so you don’t have to carry so much.”

“I’d rather not.” I said, “I want to be able to walk on the beach, so I need the two small oxygen tanks, my bird book, camera, binoculars and something to eat.”

“Oh, ok,” she said.

So I did the test with two full tanks of oxygen, small ones, and my bird book and etc. I dropped like a rock loaded. I think I would have dropped not loaded but perhaps not as definitively. Still hurts to carry anything, even one tank of oxygen.

We are making a mistake medically when we test people without having them carry the groceries, the toddler, the oxygen tank. My father’s concentrator is pre 2013. It weighs nearly 30 pounds. Now they make ones that weight 5 pounds. Huge massive difference.

Good luck.

Fierce woman

Ok, who is this fierce woman?

It is not me.

It is not my daughter.

It is a relative.

It is not my mother.

It is not my grandmother.

I have pictures of all of these women with that expression.

This is Mary Robbins White, my grandmother’s mother.

This is the line of women: mother to daughter all the way down.

What is passed from mother to daughter and mother to son? Besides the fierce expression?

Mitochondria. The mitochondria are only in the egg, not in the sperm. My grandparents, had three children, two boys and my mother. My mother passed the mitochondria to me and my sister, but the men would not contribute mitochondria to their sons or daughters. It is amazing to look at that serious face with intensity and concentration and see that passed down to my daughter, my son and my niece….

Guess who is who in the following photographs. I took two of them.

get real girl

While I organize, I find things. Most of the barbies apparently got blown up with firecrackers one time when I was not home. Both of my children were involved with this. “Not the babies,” says my daughter. “Also not the Get Real Girl, since she is yours.”

Well, the Get Real Girl is the camping one, with backpack, GPS, camping stove, frying pan and fried eggs. Apparently she is not a vegan. She acquired the diving equipment from a barbie set and was all ready to go in the water (no wet suit though) when one of the barbie babies landed in her lap. Gosh, now what! As you can see, they seem to be bonding even though Get Real is not going diving today. I will have to see if there is another Action Figure around the house that could hold the baby while Get Real dives….

We had another Get Real Girl, one who plays basketball. I have found a lower leg and foot. I suspect that she met her fate with the barbies, poor thing. Maybe my kids will give me another Get Real Girl for Christmas…..

Game ball

Warning: this post contains some time out words.

How do I process the game you played?

I am the subject of the game.

Or the victim.

Or no, I refuse. It is your game. I was not playing. I am the honey badger, metabolism so fast that I have to run from one meal to the next or else I will starve. I eat whatever I can find: cobras, bees, anything. I eat or I die.

You have tethered a honey badger to oxygen by playing a game.

I am the football and you have been kicking me, throwing me, catching me, slamming me to the ground as hard as you can in the end zone.

And now that I am worn and damaged and torn, you’ll toss me away, not even notice me, and find a new ball.

You will need a new football. To play with.

I don’t envy that person.

The truth is, it will be one of you. The group will rest on their laurels, oh, we nearly killed her, wasn’t it great? We showed her. She is so stupid, took her what, 21 years to fucking figure it out? And she thinks she’s so smart.

I was looking for food because I am always hungry. The food insecurity goes back to infancy. Maybe to the womb: my mother says she was not to gain weight and spent the entire pregnancy longing for a gigantic ice cream Sunday. Think of being in a womb, attacked by antibodies to tuberculosis, and starving all the time. Might be a little bit worried when birth happens. Fuck, I am going through a tunnel, what horrors await me here? But maybe there will be more food.

Maybe someone will love me. Maybe there will be someone for me to love. And feed. We can give each other food.

My advice to you is don’t be the ball. I was the ball for 21 years. I was so hungry the whole time, for food and for love, that I kind of noticed but dismissed it as unimportant. Food and love were more important. Work and my patients were more important. You don’t matter and your games are trivial.

It will be the weakest one who will be the ball. You worry that you are the one. You should worry. You had better look strong right away. Post some horror. Write something really tough. Don’t show anyone any niggling doubts. Um, the ball is wearing oxygen. I am feeling a little bad about this. Are you feeling bad about this? The ball isn’t just crazy, it’s hurt. Actually crazy is an illness too: I know that you discriminate and think that cancer is a legitimate illness and that mania isn’t, but you are assholes. No, you’re too small and pathetic to be an asshole. You are a one celled animal that is clinging to a hair on an asshole and you get shat on daily. And you know, deep deep in your tiny shrunken heart, that you deserve it.

I am so glad I am not you.

I am tethered to oxygen. But I am healing. I don’t think you can. You are locked in your small sick pathetic triangulation competition and pretending that it’s a game that it’s ok that you are just playing.

Ick.

Meanwhile, the oxygen is portable.

I have food and I have love and I have work to do that lifts me on wings. I will go too near the sun and light on fire and fall burning, but that’s ok. I’ve done it before. The ocean heals me, always. It is so much fun to fly!

This is in memory of my mother, my father and my sister. I miss all three and I love them and they love me. Today is the day my mother died. The longer we live, the more days are days when someone that we love died. But they are still here. They are in the rocks and the sky and the trees and the coffee cup. They are not in sugary donuts or foods that cause heart attacks. But they are all around us, cradle us, still love us. Joy to you and the memories of your loved ones who have gone on. Blessings.

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?

broken two

I pick the rock up and drop it on another rock. Inside there is a vein of quartz. And what looks like a heart, made of quartz. Beautiful. I hope the rock does not mind being broken. I am questioning myself. The rock would break eventually but I have speeded that up. Sometimes we do some really questionable things out of curiosity.

The rock did not break along the seam that I expected it to. There is still that seam. Should I drop it again?

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: workshop.

broken 1

I was playing along a stream on Tuesday. It was darn hard to climb down to with my oxygen tank and camera. It made me very short of breath. But I love water and running water is joyous.

I was picking up rocks and looking at rocks. This rock really interested me. Look at all the cracks. When the river is higher it would wear the rock down. In the winter the cracks might freeze. I thought this rock might be ready to break. What is inside?

This is for the Ragtag Daily Prompt: workshop.

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.

broken

I wrote this poem in 2014. Sometimes you know things without knowing them. Or you know them before you are ready to know them and so…. you forget.

broken

I think you said
“Break her.”

And you told them how.

You told them my weaknesses
and my strengths.

You told them that I twisted your words.

You said, “You twist my words.”
K said, “You twist my words.”
S said, “You twist my words.”
Ko said, “You twist my words.”

and on everything2
they, too, twist my words.

Twist
twisted
fisted.

When the outer is charming and perfect
the damage is inside.

I wear my spikes on the outside.


No one, to date, has been allowed more then
visitation rights
inside.

No one except
you
and my children
and all children.

Only they are allowed inside.

Twist
twisted
fisted.

I am broken.

But I was always broken and knew it.

I hope that no one cut their hands
when they tried to smash me.

Pretty on the outside
deadly on the inside.

Yet I think a spark in you said,
“Break her.”

What you didn’t tell them
is that I don’t bother to lie
because no one listens anyhow
no one ever listened
and so I can always tell the truth
until they stop listening.

because they don’t believe me

but you knew

I tell the truth

And I was already broken.

8/22/14

And this should connect to this: https://drkottaway.com/2014/11/