The chances of a poet reaching us are slim

I wrote this after working at Madigan Army Hospital in 2009 for three months as a temporary doctor. I am posting it here because Shoreacres sent me this link about poetry and medicine.

____________________

I would pray if I could. It seems ludicrous to pray for a poet, but there it is.

It started with two soldiers. The Army was embedding a behavioral health specialists (the new politically correct term for mental health specialists) in units starting before 2010. Soldiers were trained in suicide prevention, instructed to stay with a buddy if they made any comments about suicide. A soldier was to walk his or her buddy directly to the behavioral health specialist or to to higher rank. As soldiers went on their fourth and fifth tours, post traumatic stress disorder, depression and traumatic brain injuries were rampant. Unfortunately, psychologists basically felt like they were putting Power Ranger band-aids on hemorrhaging brain arteries. It wasn’t working.

A soldier was accompanying a convoy in Iraq when an IED went off. Right through the bottom of a convoy truck. The driver died screaming from an arterial groin bleed. Two of the eight soldiers were killed. The truck was abandoned and the rest of the convoy got back to the safe (mostly) zone. That soldier had the glassed ghost look in her eyes and got quiet. The usual response was to avoid someone’s eyes and hope for the best, but another soldier wouldn’t let her alone. She kept asking, “Tell me. What happened?”

The first soldier finally snarled out part of the story.

The second soldier pinned a poem to her pillow, describing the event. Our first soldier came in screaming and threw the crumpled ball of paper at her chest. “That’s not what happened! That’s not how I felt! Not even close!”

“Well, what DID happen!” The rest of the unit tried to hide in plain sight or disappeared to the bathroom or got really interested in books or watching the same video over and over, but the two of them stood face to face and went at it. Words, not fists. The crumpled paper was retrieved, the poem rewritten. It took two weeks before soldier one suddenly said, “That’s it. That’s pretty good. For a poem.” But she was back, her gruff foul mouthed efficient self.

Of course it wouldn’t have gone anywhere if the behavioral health specialist hadn’t joked about it to his superiors. The Army was really desperate. In spite of all the work, the suicide rate was still challenging the combat death rate, and there just weren’t enough people to deploy.

The Army went looking for poets. Four were promptly deployed into units. Two of them turned out to be pretty useless, but the other two: the units thrived. Word started getting around. The poets were swamped with people from other units.

The recruiting campaign: “We want you, yes we do, poet show your heart so true!” was painful, but the Army did not care. And poets stepped forward from within the ranks! Don’t ask, don’t tell turned on it’s head. In spite of the medical community’s cries for waiting until more scientific studies were done, and the press and cartoonists drawing pictures recruiters welcoming wimpy pale asthenic writers with open arms, the Army embedded a poet in every unit, right beside the behavioral health specialist. Oh, of course they tried prose too. The academics had a field day fighting about why prose didn’t work. But it didn’t.

It’s the height of irony that we’re cut off with everything we need, except a poet. A water source, food, ammunition. We’re holding our position. Our back up poet is dead ten days ago, but our main poet got an IED blast. Traumatic brain injury, two weeks ago. We can’t get him out, of course. You would think someone would bleed if they were that bad, but he just can’t hold on to any memory. The soldiers tell him their stories, he struggles and tries, but he can barely hold on to one line. Can’t read, though he can write. Can’t see very well either.

The whole unit is starting to look glass-eyed and haunted. Smith asked to go in the jail yesterday and for the door to be closed. He promptly started screaming. It got quiet after a while so they went in. He was sitting on bunk. “Ok.” he said. “I might come back tomorrow.” Some soldiers are writing their own limericks or free verse. It’s ironic that it hurts morale so much, knowing there’s help available. Knowing the chances of a poet reaching us in time are very slim.

________________________

I will use this for the Ragtag Daily Prompt: comeback.

community health

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt #69: community.

The photograph is from 2010, when the mad as hell doctors toured California to talk about single payer health care, medicare for all.

Small communities rolled out the welcome:

mad2synchro 006.JPG

In this community, every table was sponsored by local health groups: clinic, the health department, mental health, addiction treatment. In small communities everyone knows someone who has lost their health, their health insurance and/or their job and home.

Here we are setting up for another program:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

People asked questions:

mad2synchro 040.JPG

And they listened and responded:

mad2synchro 041.JPG

The health care industry has money. The insurance companies are for profit and make enormous profits. But in the end you and I have VOTES. When we stand up as a nation and say that we want medicare for all, Congress will listen. Stand up.

The mandate for health care already is a law: no one can be turned away from an emergency room. But as things stand, we do not take care that the person in the emergency room has care after the emergency room. The hospital may take the person’s house. We already have the government doing no profit care for over 50% of the care in the US: Medicare, Medicaid, active duty military and the Veterans Association. It is time to shut down the for profit insurance companies that refuse medicines, refuse care, refuse to answer their phones, tell me on the phone “we don’t have a fax”, the parent company tells me a medicine is covered and then the part D drug coverage still refuses: it is BEYOND TIME TO SHUT THEM DOWN.

Is the goal of health care profit? Or is it care for our citizens, support for families, works like the police and the fire station: we all support each other. Stand up, shout and VOTE.

 

 

Make America sick again: diabetes

The trend in diabetes treatment is clear: keep Americans sick.

The guidelines say that as soon as we diagnose type II diabetes, we should start a medicine. Usually metformin.

A recent study says that teaching patients to use a glucometer and to check home blood sugars is useless. The key word here is teach, because when I get a diabetic transferring into my clinic, the vast majority have not been taught much of anything.

What is the goal for your blood sugar? They don’t know.

What is normal fasting? What is normal after you eat? What is the difference between checking in the morning and when should you check it after a meal? What is a carbohydrate? What is basic carbohydrate counting?

I think that the real problem is that the US medical system assumes that patients are stupid and doesn’t even attempt to teach them. And patients just give up.

New patient recently, diabetes diagnosed four years ago, on metformin for two years, and has no idea what the normal ranges of fasting and postprandial (after eating) are. Has never had a glucometer.

When I have a new type II diabetic, I call them. I schedule a visit.

At the visit I draw a diagram. Normal fasting glucose is 70-100. Borderline 110 to 125. Two measurements fasting over 125 means diabetes.

After eating: normal is 70-140. Borderline 140-200. Over 200 means diabetes.

Some researchers are calling Alzheimer’s “Type IV diabetes”. The evidence is saying that a glucose over 155 causes damage: to eyes, brain, kidneys, small vessels and peripheral nerves.

Ok, so: what is the goal? To have blood sugars mostly under 155. That isn’t rocket science. People understand that.

Next I talk about carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are any food that isn’t fat or protein. Carbohydrates range from simple sugars: glucose and fructose, to long chain complicated sugars. Whole fruits and vegetables have longer chain carbohydrates, are absorbed slowly, the body breaks them down slowly and the blood sugar rises more slowly. Eat green, yellow, orange vegetables. A big apple is 30 grams of carbohydrate, a small one is 15, more or less. A tablespoon of sugar is 15 grams too. A coke has 30 grams and a Starbuck’s 12 ounce mocha has 62. DO NOT DRINK SWEETENED DRINKS THEY ARE EVIL AND TOOLS OF THE DEVIL. The evidence is saying that the fake sugars cause diabetes too.

Meals: half the small plate should be green, yellow or orange vegetables. A deck of card size “white” food: grains, potatoes, pasta, whole wheat bread, a roll, whatever. A deck of card size protein. Beans and rice, yes, but not too much rice.

For most diabetics, they get 3 meals and 3 snacks a day. A meal can have up to 30 grams of carbohydrate and the snacks, 15 grams.

Next I tell them to get a glucometer. Check with their pharmacy first. The expensive part is the testing strips, so find the cheapest brand. We have a pharmacy that will give the person a glucometer and the strips for it are around 4 for a dollar. Many machines have strips that cost over a dollar each.

I set the patient up with the diabetic educator. The insurance will usually cover classes with the educator and the nutritionist but only in the first year after diagnosis. So don’t put it off.

For type II diabetes, the insurance will usually only cover once a day glucose testing. So alternate. Test 3 days fasting. Test 1-2 hours after a meal on the other days. Test after a meal that you think is “good”. Also after a meal that you think is “bad”. I have had long term diabetics come in and say gleefully “I found a dessert that I can eat!” The numbers are not always what people expect. And there are sneaky sources of carbohydrate. Coffeemate and the coffee flavorings, oooo, those are REALLY BAD.

For most of my patients, the motivated ones, they have played with the glucometer for at least a week by the time they see the diabetic educator. I have had a person whose glucose was at 350 in the glucose testing. The diabetic educator called and scolded me for not starting metformin yet. The diabetic educator called me again a week later. “The patient brought their blood sugars down!” she said. “She’s under 200 after eating now! Maybe she doesn’t need the metformin, not yet!” Ah, that is my thought. If we don’t give people information and a tool to track themselves, then why would they bother? They eat the dessert and figure that the medicine will fix it or they can always get more medicine.

Type I diabetes has to have insulin. If a type II diabetic is out of control, high sugars, for long enough, they too will need insulin. The cells in the pancreas that make insulin are killed by prolonged high blood sugars.

I went to a lunch conference, paid for by a pharmaceutical company, at the AAFP conference in September. The drug company said start people on metformin at diagnosis and if they are not in control in 3 months, start a second medicine, the drug company’s new and improved and better and beastly expensive medicine!!!

Yeah, I don’t think so. All of my patients are smart and they all can figure it out. Some get discouraged and some are already on insulin, but they are still all smart.

Fight back against the moronization of US citizens. Keep America healthy, wealthy and wise.

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/

cancer pen

A patient told me about the “cancer pen” yesterday. I promptly pictured  Star Trek’s Bones holding his device over patients, but no, this has to touch tissue…aka a piece of you…and do a chemical evaluation. It is to be used during surgery.

Here: http://www.bbc.com/news/health-41162994

This is neat new technology… but. I can hear my sister saying, “Uh, so what about PREVENTION?”

This is technology to remove cancer after it’s already grown. And presumably metastasized. So this is stage II, stage III, stage IV cancer.

Cancer deaths are the second biggest cause of death in the US. Around 23% of yearly deaths and that does not count the people who survive cancer. At present we do not have many screening tests for cancer: pap smears continue to evolve, and now the recommendation is an HPV test or pap smear every five years AND we have a vaccine for the high risk HPV.
We can screen for colon cancer.
Mammograms for breast cancer.
The screen for prostate cancer sucks.
We can do skin checks.
The screen for lung cancer is now a low dose CT in a certain population that is high risk, that is, smokers. The recommendations have not addressed smoking marijuana.
Recommendations in the US are here: https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/.

There are lots of cancers that we don’t have screens for…. yet.

Proteomics is on the horizon. Genomics is looking at the genes, but it turns out that lots of cancers and infections and other illnesses have particular protein patterns. There is TONS of research in this area. Someday we may have protein tests: put a drop of blood or urine on it and say, “Hmmm. Looks like you have a positive test, probable lung cancer.”

That in turn creates problems. Initially we may be able to diagnose a cancer but not FIND it. Also not know how to treat it. The first big study trying to set up lung cancer screening had over 600 worrisome CT scans out of 1000. How many lung cancers did they find? Nine. And half of the nine had symptoms and could be found on chest xray by the time they did repeat CTs. Think of the anxiety of the 600 people who might have cancer and “We will repeat the CT scan in four months. Don’t worry too much.” Also there were complications from biopsying the lungs, like bleeding and pneumonia….

The best bet to avoid cancer is still living in a healthy way: don’t smoke anything, avoid addictive substances, eat good food, exercise, have friends and loved ones, work for yourself and your community, do some things you love…..

 

I took the photograph of my sister in 2011. She died of breast cancer in 2012. Her blog is here: butterfly soup.

For the Daily Prompt: strut. Struts support things: airplane wings, cars, things that move. How do we as a culture support people to live healthy lives?

My clinic and the state of medicine

January has been the busiest month in clinic since I returned to work in April of 2015 after the ten month systemic strep A hiatus. It took another ten months for my fast twitch muscles to start working again. I was working “half time” for the first ten months after I returned.

Right now, though, my receptionist and I are about maxed out. We saw 4-8 people a day in January, averaging 6.5, and with Martin Luther King’s birthday off. I see patients five days a week, try to stop by 2 pm and then do paperwork until 4 or 5. Lately I have been going in at 7 am, because I am feeling behind. Three very sick patients, one who has been sick and hospitalized nearly weekly since October, are each taking 1-2 hours a week and I can’t get to the routine paperwork. Labs, referral letters that need to go out, reading referral letters that come back and updating the med list, xrays, pathology reports….

Yes, we could hire someone to scan it all faster, but scanning it does not mean it has been read. And it is me that has to read it. One of the complex patients has five specialists and four different electronic medical records are involved. I had to call the rheumatologist, because the doc was not responding to the patient’s calls. I had sent the rheumatologist letters and updates: turned out the doc didn’t read any of them until the patient missed a visit because their car broke down. And another of the specialists said they “didn’t have the notes” from the other hospital. I wrote a letter to ALL of the specialists and said, the notes are in there because I faxed them to our hospital myself. Unfortunately scanned notes are difficult to find in the EPIC electronic medical record. Ironically both hospitals use EPIC but the two versions do not share their information. This is REALLY REALLY BAD. It is bad for patient care and bad for this specific patient. Not only that, but when one of the specialists orders something, the report doesn’t get sent to me as well as them. I tracked down labs and I tracked down an xray report and sent him back to the hospital at that visit. I do not know if the hospitalization could have been averted, but….I’ve told the patient and spouse that if ANYONE orders a test, call me. So I can track down the results.

So it looks like five clinic days a week, seeing up to eight patients a day, will take forty hours or more. This is a rural family practice clinic. I cannot see any way to see more and actually keep up with the information coming in with my patient population, half of whom are over 65. And an additional one is in hospice and another on palliative care.

A fellow doc has retired from medicine, in her 50s. She is “med-peds”: internal medicine-pediatrics, which is sort of like family practice except they don’t do obstetrics, less gynecology and less orthopedics. I hear that she is retiring because every 20 minute clinic visit generates an hour of paperwork. The hospital considers 4 days a week, 18 patients a day, full time. Ok, that is 72 patients a week, seen in four 8 hour shifts. 32 hours plus 72 hours of paperwork. One hundred and four hours. Can’t be done.

I dropped to 3.5 days in 2009 when the hospital said we had to see 18 a day. So 28 hours, 63 patients. 28 hours plus 63 hours. That is 91 hours a week. I still could not keep up with the information coming back from specialists, labs, xrays, pathology reports, medicine refill requests, requests for those evil ride on carts, spurious nonsense from insurance companies, and families calling about their loved ones. All ten fingers in holes in the dyke and 90 other holes spouting water.

Something has to give and something IS giving. Care is falling through the cracks and providers are quitting. I am not quitting, I just am not making anything anywhere near to the “average family practice salary” in the US. And we hear that burnout is now at 54% of primary care doctors. Hello, US. If we don’t go to single payer, you might have to ask your naturopath to take out your appendix. And good luck with that.

If I see 7 per day, five days a week: that is 35 patients. I do longer visits and more paperwork in the room, so call it 45 minutes of paperwork per patient. I see patients from 8:30 to 12 and 1 to 2. 4.5 hours five days = 22.5 hours plus (35 patients x 45 minutes)= 26 hours and now I am at 48.5 hours a week. And then if I have three really sick ones: more.

If we hire help, they have to be paid. Then I need to see more patients in order to generate that pay. Then there is more paperwork that I can’t keep up with. An infinite loop.

Let’s look at my clinic population verses county and state.
Clinic: 2.4% under age 18
20.7% age 19-50
28% age 50 to 64
48.9% over 65
Jefferson county (2014): 16.7% under age 19
51.5 age 19-65
31.8% over age 65
Washington state (2014): 29% under age 19
56.9% age 19-65
14.1% over age 65

We have an older county and nearly half my patients are over 65, and 77.9% of my clinic patients are over age 50.

And I should be reading all the new guidelines as they come out. The newest hypertension guidelines say that the blood pressure should be taken standing in all patients over age 60. Those guidelines are now a couple of years old. My patients tell me that I am the ONLY doctor that they have taking their blood pressure standing. The cardiologists aren’t doing it either. Just this week there are articles in the AAFP journal explaining the blood pressure guidelines. But the doctors need time to READ the articles. The guidelines themselves tend to be 400 pages of recommendations and explanations and a list of hundreds of studies reviewed since the last guidelines. And ok, there are also hundreds of guidelines. On blood pressure, who should be on aspirin, what to do for heart pump failure, urinary incontinence, osteoporosis, toenail fungus.

https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/
guidelines: https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/BrowseRec/Index
Ok, that is a list of 96 guidelines, which doesn’t even include the hypertension ones. The hypertension guidelines are called JNC 8, for the eighth version:
http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1791497
Here is the two page hypertension JNC 8 algorithm: http://www.nmhs.net/documents/27JNC8HTNGuidelinesBookBooklet.pdf. Memorize it and the other guidelines, ok?
And here is the Guideline Clearing House: https://www.guideline.gov/

This week another clinic suddenly closed and we have gotten walk in patients and calls. About eight so far. We are booked for new patients out to April…..

I took this photograph from the beach as the sun set, camera zoomed. Different mountains were lit up while others were in shadow as the sun went down. This is Mount Baker and friends….

Prior authorization: call for comments

The Washington State Medical Association has called for comments on prior authorization rule making for insurance companies. https://wafp.net/prior-authorization-rulemaking-oic-call-for-comment/

Here is my reply:

I have a small solo family practice clinic. My business plan was arranged to spend more time with patients. I have an office manager and no nurse, no back office.

Thus all prior authorizations are done by me, with the patient in the room. Often patients have talked to their insurance company the day before and have been told “your doctor’s office needs to call us”. More than half the time, when I call, we are told that the patient’s insurance company does not cover that service. The patient says, “But I talked to your company yesterday.” The insurance representative responds: “I only talk to physician’s offices, that is another part of the company that speaks to patients.”

This is triangulation, where in the “standard” office, the patient has called their insurance. They call the doctor’s office as instructed by the insurance. The doctor’s office requests prior authorization. The insurance says it is not covered. The doctor’s office notifies the patient, who then assumes that the doctor’s office did something wrong, not that it’s not covered.

This is unacceptable.

I have stopped telling insurance companies that I am face to face with the patient, because some representatives say “I am not allowed to talk to patients, take me off speaker phone.” I document the name of the insurance person in the chart, the length of time for the phone call and I bill for time: counseling and coordination of care. Review by coders say that this is legal.

I suggest that every WSMA physician pick one day to call a prior authorization themselves with the patient present. This would reduce the insurance company triangulation.

I think that insurance companies should be required to tell a patient if a service is not covered, and not be allowed to say, “have your doctor’s office call us” for a service that is not covered.


Feel free to send YOUR comments to the WSMA! https://www.insurance.wa.gov/secure-forms/rules-coordinator/

I like slugs better than health insurance companies.