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…..


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

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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.

hypertension: The 2017 Clinical Guidelines

A visual guide to the new hypertension guidelines: https://www.medpagetoday.com/cardiology/hypertension/69399
In writing: http://www.acc.org/latest-in-cardiology/ten-points-to-remember/2017/11/09/11/41/2017-guideline-for-high-blood-pressure-in-adults
I don’t watch television news, so I always hear about these things from patients first. “What do you think of the new hypertension guidelines?”

“Haven’t heard about them yet, so I don’t know.” Seems pretty embarrassing really, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t I be alerted as a doctor before it hits the news?

First of all, these guidelines are NOT JNC 9.

What is JNC 9, you ask?

One of the messy complications of medicine for people in the US and in the world, is that there is not ONE set of guidelines. There are multiple sets of guidelines. Take mammograms, for example. The US Preventative Task Force* said that the evidence in their review could not differentiate between yearly and every other year mammograms. They said you could do it every other year. The American Cancer Society and the Susan Koman Foundation yapped and had different guidelines, do it yearly. So as a physician I have to not only pay attention to the guidelines but know who is putting them out. The radiologists wanted yearly mammograms too, surprise, surprise.

And do you think some of it is driven by money? Well, it’s the US.

JNC 8 is the Eighth Joint National Committee and put out guidelines in 2014. Their job is to review all of the big hypertension studies since JNC 7 and put out new guidelines. JNC 8 took over a year, was multidisciplinary, and the final document was 400+ pages.

They said that if a patient was over 60, their blood pressure should be taken standing up, and the goal was under 150/90. Under 60, sitting, goal under 140/90. Normal is 120/70 and below.

Then there are pages and pages of recommendations about which medicines to use and in special circumstances, that is: diabetes, kidney failure, heart disease, atrial fibrillation, etc, etc.

The cardiologists promptly started yelling about how JNC 8 is wrong and they put out a huge study saying that people have less heart attacks if their blood pressure is 125/80 or below.

But… the heart is not the only organ in the body. My patients are 77% over age 50 and 48% over 65. Once a person hits 80, their blood pressure may drop when they stand up. Most do. And low blood pressure, well, it’s bad for the over 80 crowd to get poor blood flow to the brain or to the kidneys or to faint and break things. That is why JNC 8 is multidisciplinary: because we need geriatrics and psychiatry and ortho and family medicine to be part of the guidelines.

So these NEW and IMPROVED guidelines. Well, who is putting them out? American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology, and a bunch of other mostly heart related organizations. And they are comparing it to JNC 7, not JNC 8. JNC 8 is being ignored. This document is a mere 192 pages, with the “short” version being 112 pages.

It says that blood pressure 130/80 to 140/90 is stage I hypertension, not prehypertension, and that we should treat it with lifestyle changes. Drugs are still to be recommended at anything over 140/90, though honestly, I start with lifestyle there too. Over 180/120 is now “hypertensive crisis”, consult your doctor immediately. 140-180/90-120 is stage II hypertension.

How will this change my practice? I am still thinking about the new guidelines and who has skin in the game. The AAFP (American Academy of Family Practice) put out a link to the guidelines and then a cautious comment to the effect of “We are studying how we should respond to this.”

Before this came out, I would tell people the JNC 8 goals. I do stand the people over 60 up, most of the time. I also tell people that the cardiologists want their blood pressure lower. And then that the cardiologists mostly ignore hypertension and cholesterol guidelines anyhow. If I follow the guidelines and then the patient sees a cardiologist, the cardiologist usually changes something. Guidelines be damned.

It comes down partly to a patient’s goal. I have people come in and say, “I don’t want to die of dementia!!” I see that as an opening. “What DO you want to die from?” People have different ideals. Some say, “I don’t want to die!” but then many do think about it. Sometimes this changes their ideas about what they want treated and what they don’t want treated.

Not everyone’s blood pressure drops in their 80s. Some people develop hypertension in their 90s. I tell them. They say, “I’m not taking a drug!”

I reply, “Let’s talk about strokes.”

They usually are not afraid of sudden death, but they don’t want the disability of a stroke. Many choose medicine after all.

One of the issues with guidelines is complexity. I could spend 20 minutes with a patient just talking about hypertension guidelines and choices of drugs and side effects and why they should be on an ace inhibitor or ARB if they have diabetes…. and there are guidelines for EVERYTHING. Sometimes conferences feel like all the specialists yelling: only half of diabetics are controlled, only one third of hypertensives are controlled, family doctors aren’t screening for urinary incontinence enough, osteoporosis, lung cancer, stop smoking! And then what my patient really needs is to talk about their adult child, in jail for addiction, and how frightened they are about overdose and the grandchild and the future…..

JNC-8 flowchart: http://www.nmhs.net/documents/27JNC8HTNGuidelinesBookBooklet.pdf
JNC-8: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1791497
*lots of guidelines: https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/

Causes of Death in the United States in 2012

When I first started doing annual physicals I sat down and looked at the top causes of death and then organized the counseling part of the physical around them: starting with heart disease and working down the list. I think of the annual physical as my opportunity to “MOM” patients and say “STOP DRINKING LIKE A FISH OR YOU GONNA DIE EARLY,” though perhaps with a little more diplomacy. Sometimes without much diplomacy at all.

The top ten causes of death in the United States in 2012 were heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, unintentional injuries, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease, and suicide.

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db168.htm#which_population

This is 2,543,279 deaths in 2012.

Let’s take the causes one by one.

Heart disease: This is number one. 599,711 deaths. 23.6% of total deaths all ages both sexes in the US in 2012. So that is where I start when I do the counseling part of a physical.

Let’s review heart disease risk factors:
hypertension
high cholesterol
family history
diabetes
kidney failure
lack of exercise
tobacco
alcohol
smoking other things…
illegal drugs
stress
obeisity
As you might guess, this part of the discussion can use up a lot of the visit….

Cancer: All the cancer deaths together are 22.9% of the 2012 total.
We can screen for a few cancers: lung cancer is now the number one killer for both sexes. A chest xray is useless for screening. There is a certain population of current or former heavy smokers where a screening CT is useful. No, I do not recommend a “screening full body CT”, that is crap. Yes, lung cancers do get picked up randomly when we do a chest film for some other reason.
We can screen for breast cancer, colon cancers, look for skin cancers, the prostate cancer screen is a counseling nightmare and I don’t recommend a PSA but will do one if the person wants and other cancers pretty much we have to watch for symptoms….stop smoking, ok? That’s what causes 70% of the lung cancer and breast cancer used to be number one in women but smoking made lung cancer beat it out….
If you want details about any screening test, go to the US Preventative Task Force site:
http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/Page/Name/tools-and-resources-for-better-preventive-care

Chronic lower respiratory diseases at 5.6%: ok, smoking again. Emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, AKA COPD. Asthma too. This article is fascinating, that third generation children of smokers in a polluted part of California are worse and have inherited genetic modifications than third generation children of non-smokers who live in a less polluted part of California. Lovely. I grew up in a two pack a day camel household and no wonder my lungs are tricky.

Stroke, also called CVA, cerebrovascular accident, at 5.1% and then there are TIAs, transient ischemic accidents, the stroke warning symptom.

What are the risk factors for stroke?
Oh, smoking of course
hypertension
high cholesterol
stress
lack of exercise
obeisity
blocked carotid arteries
blood clots
atrial fibrillation

Unintentional injuries at 5.3%, also known as accidents.

Deaths from prescription medicines taken correctly outstripped deaths by MVAs, motor vehicle accidents and guns in 2007. The CDC declared an epidemic of overdose deaths, but it’s just starting to creep into newspapers and public consciousness.

Here: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6101a3.htm

The unintentional injury counseling list includes:
wear your seatbelt
don’t drive inebriated
don’t get in the car with inebriated drivers
check your smoke alarms
in the elderly, decrease fall risk. don’t stack stuff on the stairs.
wear a helmet if you bicycle motorcycle ATV rollarblade ski or invent some new way of getting on the Darwin list. Base jump, for example.
don’t take a lot of controlled prescription medicines or combine them with each other or combine them with alcohol: opiates with benzodiazepines with alcohol with ambien or sonata with barbituates and hello, the drug dealer is not your friend and tells lies: they are cutting the methamphetamines here with tricyclic antidepressants and barbituates and my long term cocaine addict patient was getting methamphetamines with benzodiazepines when he was paying for cocaine. Really.

Alzheimer’s at 3%

This is moving up the list. Fast. Everyone dies of something. Alzheimer’s patients live an average of seven years from diagnosis….And the recent article about Human Growth Hormone transmitting not only prions but Alzheimer’s is really interesting, implies an infectious cause.

Here: http://www.nature.com/news/autopsies-reveal-signs-of-alzheimer-s-in-growth-hormone-patients-1.18331

That was HGH from cadavers. I still would not take HGH made in a lab for “anti-aging” either. Nope, nope, nope.

We don’t know how to prevent Alzheimer’s but that is not the only cause of dementia and we’re still naming different kinds. Very frequently a brain CT or MRI says “decreased white matter” or “small vessel disease”, so there is a contribution from all of the heart and stroke risk factors that can do bad things to the brain with the top ones being: tobacco, alcohol, hypertension, high cholesterol, stress, lack of exercise, diabetes, illegal drugs, and so forth. Keep your brain active and busy.

Diabetes at 2.9%
Ok, it can make you more likely to have a heart attack. Also the biggest cause of blindness in US adults and the biggest cause of lower limb, yes, foot or leg amputation and the biggest cause of kidney failure in adults. Also if your legs are numb from uncontrolled diabetes, you don’t feel injuries and are less able to heal infections. And if blood sugar is high, there are lots of bacteria and especially staph and strep that LIKE high sugar.

influenza and pneumonia at 2.1%

Get Your Flu Shot. Really. And if you are 65 or older or you have tricky lungs or you have a tricky heart, get the pneumovax shot. The pneumovax protects against pneumococcal pneumonia ONLY, not all the colds or influenza or hemophilus influenza. And get your Tdap, because that stands for Tetnus, Diptheria, acellular Pertussis. Pertussis is whooping cough. It’s back. We’ve had three outbreaks in our county in five years. It kills babies under six months. They don’t whoop, they just stop breathing, apnea. Other people whoop, but even with antibiotics, they can cough for MONTHS. The flu shot usually gives 80% protection by two weeks after the shot. Only 80%, people say? Well, are you perfect?

Kidney disease at 1.8%

Causes: kidneys get worse as we age, for one thing.
diabetes
supplements and drugs: kidney failure is on the rise! Everything that we absorb and metabolize is metabolized by either the liver or the kidneys. Liver function can be perfect at age 100: that is, if it has not been trashed by alcohol, hepatitis B or C, drugs, supplements, mushrooms, whatever. Kidney function usually drops by age 80 and I am there calculating the function before I choose an antibiotic because you have to use lower doses in the over 80 crowd and the early kidney failure crowd. If you take ANY PILLS you should have a yearly test of your kidneys and liver function.
infection can hurt kidneys
inherited disorders

Suicide at 1.6%
40,600 deaths in the United States in 2013

Risk Factors http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/riskprotectivefactors.html

Family history of suicide
Family history of child maltreatment
Previous suicide attempt(s)
History of mental disorders, particularly clinical depression
History of alcohol and substance abuse
Feelings of hopelessness
Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
Cultural and religious beliefs (e.g., belief that suicide is noble resolution of a personal dilemma)
Local epidemics of suicide
Isolation, a feeling of being cut off from other people
Barriers to accessing mental health treatment
Loss (relational, social, work, or financial)
Physical illness
Easy access to lethal methods
Unwillingness to seek help because of the stigma attached to mental health and substance abuse disorders or to suicidal thoughts

And for those who want in depth information, 15 leading causes of death by state:
http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/mortality/lcwk9.htm