half light

We had sun yesterday! But mostly, we have had rain rain rain and clouds on the Olympic Peninsula this spring.

With record breaking temperatures across the US, I can’t complain much about rain. I took today’s photograph a few days ago, in the early morning. We walk hoping the sun will peek through. It is peeking through but not on us. It is peeking far over the water in the distance.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: half light.

Robust healthful manhood

The photograph of “a healthy man” to go with my Ragtag Daily Prompt conflate post.

I LOVE the caption. “Robust healthful manhood is the source of mental and physical power.” How differently the author portrays health womanhood, as shown in the conflate post. The book is Macfadden’s Encyclopedia of Physical Culture, in three volumes, 1911. Volume I is 500 pages. It is easy to read but it’s a different style from now. Here:

As a rule, if you will simply retain the idea that food should be swallowed at all times without effort, that is, that never, by any means, wash it down with water, milk, tea or any other liquid, that you should masticate it until it seems to disappear without swallowing, you can rest assured that you are masticating sufficiently. p. 97, volume I.

I plan to read the entire set. I think I will find lots of wonderful words for the Ragtag Daily Prompt (hey, I don’t think we’ve used masticate yet!) and material to write about.

Are there still interesting medical ideas out there? Oh, yes. LOTS. Only now they use the internet. I have subscribed to some of the series of videos, telling people how bad and wrong minded allopathic doctors are. Sigh. We do our best. The scam is that they let folks watch one a day for a week, or let them watch one, and then want you to buy the series. “Only $349.99!” Nice scam that is proliferating rapidly. I have now gotten emails saying “Health coaches should make as much or more than physicians and we can teach you how to market and target people and make that money.” Ugh and ick. Really?

I have patients in clinic who present by saying, “I don’t usually go to MD doctors, I go to a naturopath, but I am here because I need an antibiotic.”

I learn to respond gently. “Oh. If you need an antibiotic, maybe you have signs of infection? What are your symptoms?” I have to get past their dislike of allopathic medicine and find out what the symptoms are. Usually if I can diffuse them by getting the story, we can work together. Once in a while it doesn’t work: I have people come in and give me orders. “Do these labs.”

“Uh. Where did this list come from?”

The answer could be a video (by a naturopath, a biochemist, a biologist, whatever. I have watched some of these series. They start by saying that doctors are wrong/stupid/stubborn/misguided/etc.) or a “cash only” doctor or a magazine.

“Why are you coming to me?”

“I want medicare/my insurance to pay for it. I have done my research.”

“Well, medicare does not work that way. I have to list a symptom or diagnosis code for every lab ordered.”

“WHAT?”

I try to be patient. “Every lab has to have an attached appropriate diagnosis code or medicare will not cover it. There is a place in town where you can order your own, but it does not take medicare. You pay for it.”

“Just order it!”

“No. I am a medicare/insurance provider, which means I have a contract with them. It would be fraud and illegal to make up codes. Does your cash only provider use diagnosis codes? Can your bring their clinic note to me?”

One person replies, “My provider doesn’t take notes.” Oh, how nice. That provider does a very expensive panel of labs three times a year that the person is paying for out of pocket. “My provider checks EVERYTHING.” Um, and makes a boatload of money off you too, I think. That patient is very angry that I won’t take her orders and switches clinics. Oddly enough, this does not break my heart.

Some days I hate Dr. Google. There are lots of websites and people on line swearing that they can improve your health. There are scientific looking papers that swear something has been tested, but read the fine print: if the sample is 8 people, how does that stack up against the Women’s Health Initiative, where one arm of the study had 27,000 people? The evidence is weighted. We get multiple articles in medical school and subsequently about how to read a paper, how to weigh the evidence, how to recognize fraud or a poorly designed study.

I do not object to people looking on the internet and I have had people who came in and said, “Is it possible that I have THIS?” and who are correct. However, I see more fraud, always.


Covid-19: Hope for Long Haul

I want to offer hope to the people with Long Covid-19. Having been through four bad pneumonias, with increasingly long recovery times, and now disabled for doing Family Medicine, I have experience to share. First I want to talk about chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia.

I am a piler, not a filer. Including in my brain. I have been adding to the chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia pile since I was in medical school.

In residency a new patient questions me. “Do you believe in chronic fatigue?” he says, nearly hostile.

“Yes,” I reply, “but I don’t know what it is or what causes it or how to fix it.”

For years different causes were suggested. Often infections: EBV, mononucleosis, lyme disease. Some people didn’t have any infection. I did note even in residency that my chronic fatigue patients all had one thing in common: they were exhausting.

Does that sound terrible? They were all type A, high achievers, often super high energy. Often they got sick or crashed when they were working three jobs, or working 20 hours a day on their own business, or doing something that sounded insanely exhausting and unsustainable. And most of them wanted that back. “Ok, wait. You were working 20 hours a day, seven days a week, got sick and THAT is what you want to get back to?”

None of the chronic fatigue people seemed to be type B.

Eventually I read that one in ten people with ANY severe infection can get chronic fatigue.

Then I work with the U of Washington Telepain Clinic, on zoom. They start studying functional MRIs of the brains of people with fibromyalgia.

They use a thumbscrew. They put a measurable amount of pressure on a person with no fibromyalgia. The person reports 3-4 out of 10 pain. The brain lights up a certain amount in the pain centers on the MRI. The doctors can SEE it. Then they test the fibromyalgia people with the same amount of thumbscrew pressure. The fibromyalgia people report 8-9/10 pressure and they are not lying. The pain centers in the brain light up correspondingly more. So they ARE feeling 8-9/10 pain.

Is this a muscle problem? A brain problem? Or both?

It appears to be both. Chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia and other disorders with pain out of proportion to the physical findings were being called “central pain processing disorders”.

I thought of chronic fatigue as a sort of switch. As if at a certain level of stress or exhaustion or infection the body would throw a switch. And force the person to rest.

I wondered if the type B people just rested and got over it, while the type A people fought it like tigers. Which seemed to make it worse.

And now we have Covid-19. The study getting my attention is saying that 20%, or 1 in five people age 18-64, have Long Haul symptoms. Over 65 it is 25%, one in four. And it can happen in people with no preexisting conditions. Preexisting conditions or not, this sucks. The two biggest complaints are lung related and muscle related.

I have chronic fatigue following my third pneumonia in 2014. I might be just a little type A. I went back to work too soon (6 months after the pneumonia) and after a half day would crash asleep at 3 pm. For another 6 months. Now that I have had the fourth pneumonia and have been off for a year and been on oxygen, I feel better than I have since before 2014, even though I still need oxygen part time. Guess I was in denial about the chronic fatigue. NOT ME!

So, dear reader, learn from me and don’t be like me. The biggest thing that I have had to get through my thick type A skull is that when my body wants rest, I need to rest. This can be hella annoying, as my son would say. I have to pay attention to my energy level and decide what to do. And some of my precious energy has to go to things like laundry and paying bills! How very frustrating. My markers are energy level and also pulse. My pulse tells me when I need oxygen and when I am really sick. With the first pneumonia back in 2003, influenza, my resting pulse stayed at 100. My normal then was about 65. When I stood up, my pulse went to 135. It was EXHAUSTING to stand up. I had to rest half way up one flight of stairs. It was hard to walk two blocks to pick my daughter up from primary school. And I looked fine. Neither my doctor nor I could figure it out. I finally guessed that it was lung tissue swelling and hoped it would go down eventually. It did, but it was a full two months and my doctor partners thought I was malingering. I tried not to wish it on them. It sucked and I felt awful back at work, but my pulse had finally come down. We even did a heart ultrasound, but all it showed was a fast heart rate. My chest film looked “normal”, because the tissue swelling is throughout the lungs, so it cannot be seen on a chest xray. It was very weird, but I recovered. And all the descriptions of Long Covid sound like my lung swelling. Fast heart rate, difficulty breathing, muscle pain and terrible fatigue. Go back to the couch.

Go back to the couch and wait. Do what you have to but if your heart rate is over 100 when you get up, you have to rest. Otherwise you will prolong it. Seriously.

More later. Peace me and sending love and peace.

Anna’s hummingbirds can survive below freezing temperatures by slowing their metabolism at night, until it warms up in the morning. Talk about resting!

how doctors think, a dual pathway

A friend calls today and says that another person is bleeding and yet they have been set up to be seen Monday. Why isn’t this an emergency?

Based on the limited information the friend tells me, I agree with the doctors. It is NOT an emergency and I explain why. It is uncomfortable for the person because it may be cancer. Why is that not an emergency?

Let’s use chest pain in the emergency room as an example. Doctors have two brain tracks that are triggered simultaneously by every patient. The first one is “What could kill this person in the next five minutes?” The second is “What is common?” Common things are common and more likely. In medical school the really rare things are nicknamed zebras. You know there are a lot of horses but you can’t miss the zebra. I suppose that in Africa the common things are zebras and the rare ones are orcas or something like that.

Anyhow, the killers for chest pain are heart attacks, sudden death. But there could also be a dissecting aortic aneurysm, where the largest artery in the body is tearing. That person can bleed to death really really fast and that is a surgical emergency. No doctor wants to miss it. There could be a pulmonary embolism, a clot blocking the lung. Chest pain could be from a cancer. A very rare chest pain is from the valve leaflets in the heart tearing so that the person goes in to flash pulmonary edema. And there is Takayasu’s Arteritis, “broken heart syndrome”, where the heart suddenly balloons in size and again, heart failure ensues. Heart failure is actually pump failure, so fluid backs up in the lungs or the legs or both. It is usually slow but rarely very fast and dramatic. A collapsed lung can also cause a lot of pain. And my list is still not complete, I haven’t mentioned pericarditis or myocarditis or a compression fracture.

The common things do include heart attacks, but also anxiety, musculoskeletal problems, inflamed cartilage of the chest wall, fibromyalgia flares, broken ribs, trauma and other things. I was very puzzled in clinic by a woman with pain on both sides of her lower chest wall. In front but cutting through her chest. I ruled out many things. I thought that it was her diaphragm. I sent her to a rehab doctor for help. The rehab doctor sent her to radiology. She had a compression fracture of her spine and the nerves were sending pain messages on both sides. That was not even on my “differential diagnosis” list, because she had no back pain at all. My list changed that day.

Physicians and nurse practitioners and physicians assistants and registered nurses and licensed practical nurses and medical assistants are all trained to think of this differential diagnosis. We are alerted by the history and have to think down both pathways. Last year working as a temporary doctor, the medical assistant came to me saying, “This patient’s blood pressure is 80/60.” “Is he conscious?” I asked, as I went straight for the room. “Yes, he’s talking.” He WAS talking, which means that he’s gotten to 80/60 slowly or is used to it. His heart rate was fast, up near 120. I immediately had him drink water and keep drinking, as soon as he denied chest pain. The problem was dehydration: he was developmentally delayed and had only had one cup of fluid that day and it was now midafternoon. I spent time explaining that he needed 8 cups each day. Not more than that, because if he had too much fluid, it would lower his sodium and make his muscles weak. Most days he drank 3-4 cups. His chart graphed the problem: some days he had normal blood pressure and a normal heart rate. Other days his blood pressure was below normal and his heart rate was fast, his heart trying to make up for the low level of fluid. Cars don’t do so well when there is almost no oil, do they? His kidneys were affected as well. I asked him to drink the 8 cups a day, discussed the size of the cup (not 8 gallons, please) and then recheck labs in 2 weeks. If his kidneys did not improve, he would need a kidney specialist. It turned out that he had nearly fainted that morning in the waiting room. His group home person admitted that no one had noticed that he really was not drinking fluid. I thought that the patient understood and would try to drink a better amount of fluid.

So back to the person I was called about. Infection has been ruled out. This is blood in the urine. A kidney stone has been ruled out, but there is something in the kidney. This is urgent, but if the person is not bleeding hard, it is not emergent. When there is blood in the urine it does not take very much to turn it red. If there is a lot of blood, that can be an emergency, but from the story I got third person, it’s not very much. The emergency things are ruled out but there is still not a clear diagnosis. Yes, cancer is one of the possibilities but it could also be benign. Now a specialist is needed to figure out the next step and the differential diagnosis, the list of things it could be. They will order tests in the same dual order: what could kill this person quickly and what do we need to rule out as common? People often can be very anxious during this period, which is normal. The person says, “I don’t care what it ISN’T, I want to know what it IS.” But sometimes it is a zebra and it takes a while to get to that specific test.

Another example is a woman that I sent to the eye doctor. The optometrist thought it was something rare and bad. He sent her to the opthamologist, who ruled out the first thing, but thought it was something else rare and bad. He sent her to a retinal specialist. The retinal specialist ruled out the second rare and bad thing and said, “No, you have something very rare that is benign.” My patient said, “I have three diagnoses. Who do I believe?” I replied, “No, you have one. The optometrist knew it was unusual and sent you to an eye doctor. The eye doctor know it was unusual and sent you to an even more specialized eye doctor (a “sub specialist”. We keep them in basements.) Now you have a diagnosis. It was a scary process, but I think you should focus on the third opinion because hey, she said it’s benign and it won’t hurt you! That is the best outcome!” She thought about it and agreed. The process was frightening but the conclusion could not have been better.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: disquieting.

stone shaped heart

your heart is an agate
clear stone

you have won
sort of
you think

but I am water
I am waves
I will smash you against the other rocks
and wear you down

I am water
I carve you like a laser
you wear my name
carved in your stone shaped heart

it is already written there
on your stone shaped heart
faint, because water wears slowly

water wearing stone
over time

_________________

April 21, 2022

Agates

This is a song that needs a tune. Message me if you have one for it…. and thank you

Let’s go to the beach and take a walk
Wander down the sand and share a talk
You have your life and I have mine
Meet for a little while, that suits us fine

We’re searching for agates
You show me how
I’ve lost interest in beach glass now
The clear ones let the light shine through
Like a friend that is always true

Short walks, long walks, walks for miles
Talk wanders, past, present, sorrows and smiles
You show me how agates catch the sun
You find three and I find one

We’re searching for agates
You show me how
I’ve lost interest in beach glass now
The clear ones let the light shine through
Like a heart that is always true

You say in the winter the agates hide
With rain and dark you say we’ll go inside
Make music and sing and learn new songs
And see what else comes along

We’re searching for agates
you show me how
I’m getting pretty decent at finding them now
The clear ones let the light shine through
They almost shine as much as you


written 10/9/20