Covert covid conundrum

I had covid recently AND I have been very lucky with it.

WHAT?

Ok, so when the war started I had been talking to a friend in Europe about visiting. He said nice seasons were May and September, but he and his wife have a kitchen make over planned for September.

“My son is getting married at the end of April, after two year long postponements, and so May doesn’t seem feasible. Maybe next May.”

Then the war starts. And it is affecting gasoline and causing inflation. I call my friend. “Can I come in two weeks?” March to early April.

“Yes. We have other guests a week after that.”

“Ok.” I try to get a British Airways ticket to stop in London to see an old friend from high school. British Airways has a computer attack and three days go by. To heck with it. I buy a ticket to Paris and on to my friend’s country.

I spend an hour on the phone trying to change to a layover in Paris for three days. I manage that. I fly to Paris and then take the train to London. Three wonderful days with my friend in London. I mask on planes, metros and trains. I double mask on the airplane, with my oxygen, and use a ceramic straw to drink liquids.

After three days I take the train back to Paris, the local train to the airport, and fly to my old friend’s. I arrive at midnight and we take the metro.

We do lots of sightseeing and take a memory trip to his parents’ graves and the town we lived in when I was 17 and he was 18.5. I was an exchange student. The language comes back. I can read but listening is more difficult. My brain won’t process it fast enough.

Four days before I am due to fly back, I get an email from AirFrance. I need a negative PCR covid test within 24 hours of flying to return to the US.

Well. I have a mild headache and muscle aches. Probably not covid, BUT. I go online, register in the country for a test and go to the testing site. Positive. I read about covid. The muscle aches of this strain usually happen at day 4-5. I did notice that going from London to Paris to my destination four days earlier, I feel a little off balance. Not bad, not spinning, just slightly weird. So my guess is that I am at day 4 or 5 of covid.

My hosts have both had covid within the last month, so I am not confined to my room. I read the rules for being allowed on the airplane once you HAVE covid. I have to wait 11 days, have a certificate of the test and then the eleven day certificate saying cleared. I isolate for 5 days, spend about 8 hours rescheduling the flight with Air France and Delta, and contact my doctor. My doc wants me to take medicine, but the local medical people where I am say I am not sick enough. I agree with the local people. The headache is gone the next day, I have mild sniffles, and my lungs are fine. Well, at least, they are no worse.

When I am out of isolation, I take a train to another town masked and stay at a hotel for four days. In that country, 80% of the people are vaccinated and 80% have had covid. They are no longer masking, except a few. I am feeling good. I mask when I am around other people and in all public spaces in the hotel.

The trip home is rather more exciting than I would like. At the airport I am informed that I need a doctor clearance ALSO. They say retest. I say “I AM a doctor.” and pull out a copy of my license. I brought it just in case the war spread and I needed to help out. They let me on the plane. In Paris I nearly miss my connection, but am one of the last 8 people on the plane. I am very relieved once we take off.

The silver lining is that at my son’s wedding I am now very unlikely to get covid or give anyone covid and mine was very mild. The Omicron BA2.12.1 that is circulating in Europe is milder than the previous strains AND ten times more contagious or more. So the covid is morphing towards a cold, which is what coronaviruses used to do to us. There are some strains that I read about that are going in a more virulent direction, so I would prefer to have the mild one and be protected from the nasty ones.

Here is the CDC section about strains in the US:

https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#variant-proportions

I arrive home on April 12 and then am unsurprised to see covid cases starting to rise again in the US. Here is the CDC tracker: https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#datatracker-home

I am hoping that it’s more and more Omicron BA2.12.1, since it seems to be milder. I am reassured that covid did not make my lungs worse. Within a week I am better from covid and then get what seems like a normal cold. Covid testing negative. I am feeling well for the wedding and reassured that a normal cold does not force me on to continuous oxygen. I am feeling lucky about the version of covid that I have but I am NOT recommending that people get it on purpose, because even with mild covid, some people go on to develop long covid. Here is an article that I got yesterday through the American Academy of Family Practice:

https://www.healio.com/news/infectious-disease/20220425/global-prevalence-of-long-covid-substantial-researchers-say

Long covid is very worrisome and we don’t know what it will look like after a year or more. Many of the present studies are on unimmunized people, from the first year of covid, so the studies of immunized are still evolving. There is hope that there is less risk of long covid with immunization but there is still a risk.

Covid will continue to morph into different strains. We continue to get “colds” or “upper respiratory infections” because the viruses are very very good and fast at changing and avoiding our immune systems. Consider checking the CDC data tracker above regularly to see if your county or your destination has a high covid level and if so, mask back up.

One caveat: my local health department says we have a high level of transmission right now, here:

https://www.jeffersoncountypublichealth.org/1429/COVID-19

while the CDC says low, here:

Remember that all of these sites have to exchange data and update everything. My best guess is that the local has the best numbers, but that is a guess.

hope for good coming out of isolation

This video is from 2011. I was invited to be a speaker and had ten minutes to present the Mad as Hell Doctor program, talking about single payer healthcare, medicare for all.

If there is a good thing to get from Covid-19, for me it is single payer healthcare. Because doctors and nurses and staff are worn out, sick, quitting, dying. We need people to take out sick appendixes. We need people to work in nursing homes. We need to support our medical people and I am NOT talking about insurance corporations. They are making more profit than ever. Twenty percent of every dollar paid to them or more.

People say, but it’s socialized medicine, to have medicare for all. Well, no. The only socialized medicine in the US currently is the Veterans Administration. No one that I talk to wants to take away Veterans benefits. Or any of the other government programs: medicare, medicaid, active duty military. The oldest, the poorest and disabled and the people defending our country.

But physicians can do a better job if they are not worrying about prior authorization from 500 + companies, each with multiple different insurance contracts, and who can change what they cover at any time. I get emails all the time: we have changed what we cover. Great. Like I have time to read and learn 500+ insurance contracts. I memorize medicare rules and they change too. Medicare for all, one set of rules and then if you ask if something is covered, we will know.

I am not the only physician who wants single payer: Physicians for a National Healthcare Program.

I find this on line: https://www.quora.com/Could-Medicare-or-Medicaid-be-expanded-to-the-general-population-to-create-single-payer-healthcare-Would-it-be-more-efficient-than-an-entirely-new-program?share=1

The answer is yes, yes, yes. And there would be a continuous ongoing battle about what is covered and what isn’t but that already happens. For two reasons: medicine changes continuously as the science changes and there is a vocal strong fringe, which is occasionally correct. I don’t trust the fringe, but then I don’t trust insurance companies, herbal medicine makers or politicians either.

_____________________________

I can’t credit the videographer because I did not know that the video was being taken or that it was posted. I found out when a new patient said she was seeing me because of my video. I had to look it up.

Covid-19: aftermath

I am thinking about the roaring twenties a lot. I think people went a little nuts, not because of the war, but because they had difficulty being emotionally honest about the influenza pandemic. I think we humans will do it again to forget the deaths, to go into denial, to refuse to grieve.

Yes, that is my prediction.

Be very quiet, I am hunting wabbits.

Be careful in our future roaring twenties. Money will flow like honey and people will go nuts. Hold fast, hunker down, don’t go out without your macintosh, wear clean underwear. Remember what your mother told you, remember what your father tells you. Because that was followed by the Depression and that is one risk.

I don’t know if it will start this spring or next spring. Ok, I AM hoping that my son and future daughter-in-law can get married in early May, since they’ve put it off for two years. But. The 1918-19 influenza was really three years, not two. It tailed off. Half the people in the world got it. In Samoa, half the adults died, or was it 70%? They had little exposure to infection but a ship brought it. They KNEW they were high risk, but a sailor didn’t know he was sick yet.

Why a roaring twenties? Because we want to forget this pandemic, as the last one was forgotten. Our history books say that the Roaring Twenties was about the end of World War I. We teach lots about that. We barely mention the influenza world pandemic. I am reading a book about the 1918-19 influenza pandemic published in 2018. The author says that it is only now, 100 years later, that we are starting to really tell the stories of that pandemic. She gathers stories from all over the world, including stores of different infection control strategies in two cities. One guessed right and one guessed wrong, and in the wrong one, way more people died.

I read about that 1918-19 pandemic after influenza nearly killed me in 2003. I was 42, healthy, a physician, a mother, an athlete. I had NO risk factors except stress. Now it looks like it was a PANS reaction, but at the time, neither my doctor nor I could figure out why I was short of breath and tachycardic walking across a room for two months. Fatigue, chest pain, tachycardia, shortness of breath. Hmmm, what does that sound like? My partners thought I was faking and I was so sick that I could barely communicate. The stresses were my mother dying of ovarian cancer in May 2000 and my marriage being pretty on the rocks and me working way too hard. My psychiatrist said I should take time off. I said, I can’t. He said, you’d better. Then I got flu. “See?” he said. The body decides, not the conscious brain. He was correct, damn him.

The book I read in 2004 looked dry and medical from the outside. It had pages and pages of footnotes. It had photographs of Los Angeles. They knew the influenza was coming towards them like a wave and they tried to get ready. Bodies under sheets were stacked five deep in the hallways of the hospitals. It hit that fast. People, usually age 20-50, turned blue and fell over dead. WHY? It was the immune response. The 20-50 year olds had a better immune response than the 50 and older and their lungs would swell until there was no airspace left. Even then, that pandemic death rate was only 1-2 % in the US. But it was so fast and spread so quickly that everything was disrupted because it was the workers that were deathly ill and at home and there was no one to work.

People wore masks in public, except for the mask refusers, but not in their homes. So entire families would get ill. I don’t think they had figured out viral loads yet. If you are the last one standing, and you are trying to take care of a spouse and six children, you were high risk from viral load and exhaustion.

The Roaring Twenties WAS a way to grieve, it’s just a dysfunctional one. The stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger, grief and acceptance. My sister said that acting out and revenge ought to be added as stages of grief. She died of breast cancer after fighting it for 8 years. Roaring is denial and bargaining and acting out and revenge, all at once. Everyone grieves differently, remember that. There is not an order to the stages of grief and you don’t do them once. You do them over and over and over.

I am a Cheerful Charlie, right?

War is one way to forget/deny/act out. Let’s not do that. Let’s not have a civil war of forgetfulness and denial.

Let us remember clearly and lean on each other.

Playing for change: lean on me

I think this fits the Ragtag Daily Prompt: inflammable.

My sister’s blog: https://e2grundoon.blogspot.com/2009/01/chemo-not-in-vain.html . She died on March 29, 2012. The start of the blog is here: https://e2grundoon.blogspot.com/2002/02/ .

Blessings.

______________

I got Cheerful Charlie from Pogo comics: read the Albert Alligator section. https://comicstrips.fandom.com/wiki/List_of_Pogo_characters
More recently, Downton Abby used Cheerful Charlie. https://downtonabbey.fandom.com/wiki/The_Cheerful_Charlies

Covid-19: Good and Bad News

I am writing this on Christmas morning.

The good news is this: National Guard Empties Bedpans and Clips Toenails at Nursing Homes. “In Minnesota, an ambitious initiative is training hundreds of Guard members to become certified nursing assistants and relieve burned-out nursing home workers.” (1) Well, hooray, the National Guard is called out to help, because the nursing homes are out of staff and we aren’t supposed to abuse our elderly. I think this is AMAZING. And the National Guard may learn some things about work and the elderly too. Hoorah and Hooray!

The bad news is a snippet from New York State: Omicron is milder, BUT the exception may be children. (2) Child cases of Covid-19 are going up really fast and hospital admissions of children. ICU work is hard hard hard, but child and infant ICU is even harder. Blessings on the nurses who do this and the physicians too. When I did my pediatrics rotation way back in Richmond, VA, in a tertiary care hospital, I had children who were dying: one with a brain tumor, one with liver cancer, one with Wilm’s disease. Hard work. I chose Family Practice. I have still had pediatric patients die, including an 18 month old where I had taken care of mother through the pregnancy, but not terribly many. Even less in the last ten years since my average patient was about age 70. All of my kids in the last ten years were complicated: one with Down’s, another a leukemia survivor, others. Children can be very medically complicated. I had two adults who had survived infant heart surgery as well. They were set up with UW’s Adults who had Childhood Heart Surgery Clinic, though that is not the correct name. I am pretty happy to have that sort of back up only two hours away. They both had pretty awesome heart murmurs and that midline chest zipper scar. Ouch.

So, why post this on Christmas? If the cases are rising in children, maybe that will inspire some folks to get vaccinated or at least not yell at family who refuse to bring small children to an unvaccinated Christmas gathering. Judging by the posts on the doctor mom facebook group, there is quite a bit of family yelling going on. Stand down, folks, and respect other peoples’ boundaries.

The problem is, if enough children are sick, we run out of beds. And staff. “As of Thursday, there were 1,987 confirmed or suspected pediatric covid-19 patients hospitalized nationally, a 31 percent jump in 10 days, according to a Washington Post analysis.” (3)

Blessings.

1. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/22/health/covid-national-guard-nursing-homes.html?action=click&campaign_id=154&emc=edit_cb_20211223&instance_id=48593&module=RelatedLinks&nl=coronavirus-briefing&pgtype=Article®i_id=165651500&segment_id=77808&te=1&user_id=c97a1a8547f511fe3bd45b0806ed713c

2. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/23/us/covid-cases-children.html

3. https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/12/24/omicron-children-hospitalizations-us/

Covid-19: masks work, we figured that out YEARS ago

I was thinking about masks and the whole “masks don’t work” or “masks are unproven*” thing. That is complete and utter crap. We proved masks work YEARS ago.

If they don’t work, do you mind if your surgeon don’t wear one? What about your nurse with a cough when you are in the ICU? I think we have proved quite definitively in the operating room that masks work.

Also, your family doc and OBgyn ain’t gonna NOT wear a mask when delivering baby because it can be REALLY SPLASHY. And some patients who are delivering a baby have hepatitis B or HIV or hepatitis C or whatever. WE DO NOT WANT TO CATCH IT SO WE WEAR MASKS. MASKS WORK.

And take tuberculosis. Tuberculosis bacillus is tiny and can be air borne, if you have active tuberculosis and cough. We use reverse flow rooms in the hospital with an airlock: a door to a small entry room, that has to close before you enter the inner patient room. And the air is slightly lower pressure so that air comes in from the airlock but doesn’t flow out. All the air out of the room is filtered to catch and kill the tuberculosis bacillus. We go in the airlock and put on nearly full gear: gown, gloves, mask, hair covers, shoe covers. When we come out, we take it all off in the airlock. We also keep a stethoscope in the room so that we don’t carry infection from patient to patient.

So the whole anti mask thing seems categorically insane to me.

Like, didn’t we figure out masks work back before the civil war? Or thereabouts. No, maybe later than that. Without masks and gloves we had all the women with post baby fever, who died like flies and most people died of infection after surgery. Until that coke addict at Johns Hopkins made people wear clean clothes and wash their damn hands before each surgery and wear gloves. Suddenly people survived post surgery at a much higher rate. Everyone came to train with him to imitate him. By 1897 everyone was wearing gloves to prevent infection. And so a brilliant coke addict invented medical residency, which is why residents are not allowed to sleep. We’ve gotten over that a bit.

Anyhow: masks work. Think, people, think.

*Usually the unnews qualifies this as “masks are not PROVEN to work with Covid-19”. What, you want a ten year clinical trial first? Are you crazy? And the resounding answer is “YES! We are crazy!”

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: December. Because everyone should have figured out masks by now.

Our town Covid-19 quarantine list

This is fiction. Though many of the people may exist in some form or other.

Subheading of police report:

Current covid-19 quarantine list

1. Katherine is quarantined for 10 days for chasing a deer out of her front yard with a broom without wearing a mask. Many thanks to the two neighbors who called in. Also, quit talking to deer and singing to the chickadees. You are just confusing everything.

2. Bob 1 is quarantined for 10 days for biking down his drive way without a mask on. Yes, we know you wore the mask for the other 48.25 miles. We don’t care.

3. Bill is quarantined for taking off his mask while hunting elk. No, being thirsty after butchering is not an acceptable excuse. You just be glad that you had that elk tag.

4. Two more Bobs are quarantined, one for playing the piano and the other for playing the fiddle, both with the windows open while not wearing a mask. It’s too cold for that right now and germs. Geeze.

5. Russ is quarantined because he can still talk fast, even through the mask. We aren’t allowed to say what else he’s done.

6. Joey is quarantined for miming fascism in public. We can tell who you are through the mask. Stick to magic, dude. Miming facisim is just creepy, ok? You are giving us nightmares.

7. Lou and Amelia are quarantined for abandoning the post office and for being too nice to bicyclers. What are you two, liberals?

8. Leah is quarantined for wearing that peek a boo mask and it didn’t match the rest of the outfit. Ok, you had matching gloves, shoes, hat, coat, dress and lipstick, but the mask was not right and we’re outlawing the peek a boo thing. People just get too hot.

9. Patrick is quarantined for nursing in public right out in the open. Really, now. Currently those fall under the mask rules too. You can use a big scarf or go indoors. It’s not socially acceptable yet for guys.

10. Geoff is quarantined for exposure to the 80 year old neurologist who is still working doing Independent Medical Exams. You guys took off your masks between patients in the back room. Fools.

11. Sue is quarantined for being around Geoff. Double fool.

12. Barbara and Carl and family are quarantined because they left everyone sad and hungry on Christmas Day 2020. Carl did not make the 500 gallons of hollandaise. We will happily set up a social distancing grid with 10 foot colored places for people to sit, with the neighborhood cordoned off for two blocks in all directions from your house. That is, we’d get eggs benedict first and any time one of us came on or off shift. The High School Robotics team has agreed to repurpose their robot to deliver to each person who is masked and sitting in a grid spot. We envision a pattern using both sides of each street so that the robot doesn’t go on the grass and fall over. We might even fund a second robot. Please? Could we have Christmas this year?

writhe

You are sick as shit.

You go to the ER.

You finally feel safe, on a bed, they will save me, you think.

The nurse is on autopilot. He does not seem concerned. You are shaking a little as he arranges you on the bed. He puts the heart monitor stickers on and hooks you up. Blood pressure cuff, pulse ox. Blood pressure is fine, pulse is a bit fast, at 110.

You notice he is not making eye contact.

“I’m cold.” you whisper.

He doesn’t reply. He keeps messing with the wires. He puts the call button next to your hand. He leaves and returns with a warm blanket. It feels wonderful. He doesn’t say a word.

You feel better under the warmth.

The respiratory therapist wheels in the ECG machine. You smile at her but again, no eye contact. She puts more stickers on you. “Hold a deep breath.” The ECG spits out. She takes it and leaves.

The radiology tech wheels the portable xray machine in. You watch his face but don’t bother to smile. He looks everywhere but at you. It’s a bit creepy. Are they all robots? It’s 3 pm, not 3 am. “Lean forward,” says the tech, putting the radiology cartridge behind you. “Take a deep breath and hold it.” He takes the cartridge and leaves.

The nurse is back. Puts in the iv and draws 5 tubes of blood. You are shivering a little. He doesn’t seem to notice. You think about another warm blanket. The iv fluid starts and you can feel it running cold into your arm.

There is a child crying in the ER, in some other room. You start noticing the noises. Machines beeping. People typing on computer keyboards. No one is talking. The kid gives a howl of protest, rising and then is abruptly quiet.

Your hands and feet are tingling and burning. You writhe a little under the blanket. Sensation is returning to your hands and feet. It hurts but it is also good. You were at the point where all your feeling had shrunk to a tiny spark in the center of your chest. As the iv fluid runs, feeling slowly spreads out from that.

The doctor comes in. Grumpy, clearly. “Lean forward.” Listens to your chest. “Sounds clear.”

“It’s been hurting for 5 days. It hurts to breathe. Burns.” You are anxious as hell. BELIEVE ME.

The ER doc gives a little shrug. “Oxygen sats are fine.” He does a half-assed exam. He leaves.

You look at your feet, taking your socks off. Because he didn’t. There are two black spots, a couple millimeters across, old blood. Those are new.

You press the call button.

Time goes by. The nurse floats back in.

“Look. Tell the doctor to look. These are petechiae.” You point to the black spots.

If the nurse had laser vision, your feet would be burned. The nurse glares at your feet. He goes out.

The doc comes in and looks at your feet.

“They are petichiae. I have an infection.”

He gives a tiny shrug. “Your chest xray looks clear. Your labs are normal. You are not running a fever.”

“I am on azithromycin for walking pneumonia. I suddenly felt like all the fluid was running out of my arms and legs. I am worried that I am septic.”

“Blood pressure is fine. You are really really anxious.”

You are furious. It probably shows on your face. You are terrified.

“Could it be an antibiotic reaction?”

Shrug. “No rash.”

“Except the petechiae.” A sign of sepsis.

“I will change the antibiotics. Clindamycin.” He leaves.

You lie back, terrified. He doesn’t believe you. He is sending you home, septic. You will probably die.

The nurse comes in. Removes the iv and unhooks the monitor and the blood pressure cuff. You get dressed, numb and frightened and cold. The nurse goes out and returns. He recites the patient instructions in a bored voice and gives you the first dose of clindamycin.

You walk shakily to the door of the emergency room. To go home. While you are septic and they don’t believe you. You know what happens with sepsis: your blood pressure will drop and then organ damage and then IF you survive you could have heart damage or lung damage or brain damage and you might not anyhow.

You go home.

Covid-19: in flew Enza

Survey shows 6 in 10 Americans will delay or skip flu shots this year.

Oh, dear. Not going to get your influenza shot? I am. Well, you say, YOU are on oxygen and have tricky lungs and keep yammering about imaginary Pandas.

Yes, and you should get your vaccine anyhow, even if you are healthy as a hoss.

If not for yourself, for everyone else. Because usually influenza kills 12,000 to 61,000 US citizens a year and gosh, guess what it will do to post-Covid long haulers. Um, kill, I would expect. And with a very low influenza winter last winter, because covid and masks and social distancing, immunity is down and the infectious disease folks are anticipating that it could be a worse than usual influenza year. How many people have long covid? This just in: More than half of covid survivors experience post acute sequelae to covid 19 (PASC) at 6 months after. ““The most common PASC involved functional mobility impairments, pulmonary abnormalities, and mental health disorders,” wrote Destin Groff, Penn State College of Medicine and Milton S Hershey Medical Center, Hershey, Pennsylvania, and colleagues. ”These long-term PASC effects occur on a scale that could overwhelm existing health care capacity, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.”

AND not only that, even if you or your friend or mother or grandmother don’t die of influenza, far more people clog up emergency rooms and doctor’s offices. The “CDC estimates that influenza has resulted in between 9 million – 45 million illnesses, between 140,000 – 810,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 – 61,000 deaths annually since 2010.”* And the doctors and nurses and emergency people and nursing home employees and first responders are already short staffed and tired. So if you won’t get your flu vaccine for the general public, get it for the first responders.

AND before you tell me that “the vaccine gave me flu”, hello, it takes up to two weeks for the flu vaccine to confer immunity, and so if you got influenza two days later, you didn’t get it from the vaccine, you got it because you got the vaccine too late. Vaccine complications, well, I have seen one complication in my 30 years of Family Medicine, and it was someone I knew, not a patient. And half the people who tell me that “the vaccine gave me flu”, stomach flu with diarrhea and barfing is not influenza. It’s more likely to be a hangover than anything else. I see a lot more post alcohol “stomach flus” than true food poisoning. Quit drinking so much alcohol, ok?

And while you are at it, you’d better get the Covid-19 vaccine while it is still available free. And before you get on an airplane for Thanksgiving or go Trick or Treating with all those little germ spreaders or fly off to see family at Christmas/Kwanza/Winter break/whatever. Two weeks before, at least. Like, NOW. Or don’t, whatever, just don’t whine to ME about more deaths.

This public service message has been brought to you by a beneficent alien lizard. Feel free to send money.

*https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/index.html

Covid-19: Emotional weather

I do not think of emotions as bad or good. None of them are bad or good. They are information, controlled by electrical impulses and hormones, evolved over millions of years (or endowed by our creator, for those who swing that way).

I don’t dismiss emotions. I listen to them.

I think of myself as an ocean. There is all sorts of stuff happening in the depths that I don’t understand. Probiotics, for example. I don’t take them. If not for penicillin, I’d be dead many times over, from strep A pneumonia twice and other infections. I don’t think we understand probiotics yet. We don’t understand the brain, either.

The emotions are the weather in my life. I don’t really control them but they don’t control my ocean, either. Some days are sunny and gorgeous and then a storm may blow up. I am afraid of hurricanes, one destroyed my grandparents’ house in North Carolina, on the outer banks. I think all the cousins still mourn that house. And I miss my grandparents too, all of them. And my parents and my one sister.

See? The weather got “bad” there for a moment, but it isn’t bad. Storms have their own beauty though we hope to batten the hatches and that not too much damage is done. Maybe there is rain, scattered showers, sun breaks, a lenticular cloud. In the Pacific Northwest on the coast, the weather can change very quickly and we have microclimates. My father lived 17 miles away, but inland from me and in a valley. It was warmer in the summer and colder in the winter.

My goal with my weather emotions is to pay attention to them, let the storms blow in and out, and try not to harm anyone else because of my weather. When my sister was in hospice, we had a sign up in my small clinic. It said that my sister was in hospice with cancer and that clinic would be cancelled at some point with little warning. Patients were kind and gentle with me. And then it was cancelled, when she died. I got cards from people. They were so kind, thank you, thank you, and I could barely take it in. My maternal family then dealt with grief by having lawsuits. I don’t think that is a good way to deal with grief, but we just see things differently. Maybe it’s the right way for them. I don’t know.

Whenever I was having internal emotional weather that stirred me up, I would tell my nurse or office manager. Because they will sense my weather and need to know what is up. I had enormous support from them during a divorce, while my partners treated me horribly. My nurses and office manager knew me and my partners didn’t. My partners distanced me as if a divorce were catching. Whatever. Their loss.

Sometimes patients sensed that I was upset. I could tell by their faces. If they didn’t ask, I would. Bring the emotions out. Reassure them that I AM grumpy but not at them. Stuff in my own life. No worries.

Sometimes clinic is about a patient’s weather. They ask if they can tell me something. Often it is prefaced by “Maybe I need an antidepressant.” or “I feel really bad.” When they tell the story, usually I would say, “I think it is perfectly reasonable and normal that you feel angry/hurt/shocked/horrified/grieved/upset.” And then I would ask about an antidepressant or a counselor and most of the time, the person would say, “Well, I don’t think I need it right now.” What they needed was to know that their weather was NORMAL and REASONABLE.

I am seeing things on Facebutt and on media saying that mental health problems and behavioral health problems are on the rise. Maybe we should reframe that. Maybe we could say, “The weather is really bad right now for everyone and it’s very frightening and it is NORMAL and REASONABLE to feel frightened/appalled/angry/in denial/horrified/confused/agitated/anxious or WHATEVER you feel.” This weather is unprecedented in my lifetime, but as a physician who had very bad influenza pneumonia in 2003 and then read about the 1918-19 influenza, I have been expecting this. Expecting a pandemic. Expecting bad weather. This will pass eventually, we will learn to cope, be gentle with yourself and be gentle with others. Everyone is frightened, grieving, angry, in denial or in acceptance. The stages of grief are normal.

Hugs and prayers for all of us to endure this rough weather and help each other and ourselves..

I took the photograph in color. My program made a black and white version. It looks like the back of a stegosaurus to me, a dinosaur now living as a mountain.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: rainbow. Because sometimes the rain and sun combine to make a rainbow.

Adverse Childhood Experiences 12: welcome to the dark

Welcome to the dark, everyone.

When you think about it, all the children in the world are adding at least one Adverse Childhood Experience score and possibly more, because of Covid-19. Some will add more than one: domestic violence is up with stress, addiction is up, behavioral health problems are up, some parents get sick and die, and then some children are starving.

From the CDC Ace website:

“Overview:Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood. ACEs can include violence, abuse, and growing up in a family with mental health or substance use problems. Toxic stress from ACEs can change brain development and affect how the body responds to stress. ACEs are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance misuse in adulthood. However, ACEs can be prevented.”

Well, can they be prevented? Could Covid-19 be prevented? I question that one.

I have a slightly different viewpoint. I have an ACE Score of 5 and am not dead and don’t have heart disease. I spent quite a bit of time thinking about ACE scores and that it’s framed as kids’ brains are damaged.

I would argue that this is survival wiring. When I have a patient where I suspect a high ACE score, I bring it up, show them the CDC web site and say that I think of it as “crisis wiring” not “damaged”. I say, “You survived your childhood. Good job! The low ACE score people do not understand us and I may be able to help you let go of some of the automatic survival reactions and fit in with the people who had a nice childhood more easily.”

It doesn’t seem useful to me to say “We have to prevent ACE scores.” Um. Tsunamis, hurricanes, Covid-19, wars… it seems to me that the ACE score wiring is adaptive. If your country is at war and you are a kid and your family sets out to sea to escape, well, you need to survive. If that means you are guarded, untrusting, suspicious and wary of everyone, yeah, ok. You need to survive. One of my high ACE Score veterans said that the military loved him because he could go from zero to 60 in one minute. Yeah, me too. I’ve worked on my temper since I was a child. Now it appears that my initial ACE insult was my mother having tuberculosis, so in the womb. Attacked by antibodies, while the tuberculosis bacillus cannot cross the placenta, luckily for me. And luckily for me she coughed blood at 8 months pregnant and then thought she had lung cancer and was going to die at age 22. Hmmm, think of what those hormones did to my wiring.

So if we can’t prevent all ACE Scores, what do we do? We change the focus. We need to understand crisis wiring, support it and help people to let go of the hair trigger that got them through whatever horrid things they grew up with. 16% of Americans have a score of 4 or more BEFORE Covid-19. We now have a 20 or 25 year cohort that will have higher scores. Let’s not label them doomed or damaged. Let’s talk about it and help people to understand.

I read a definition of misery memoirs today. I don’t scorn them. I don’t like the fake ones. I don’t read them, though I did read Angela’s Ashes. What I thought was amazing about Angela’s Ashes is that for me he captures the child attitude of accepting what is happening: when his sibling is dying and they see a dog get killed and he associates the two. And when he writes about moving and how their father would not carry anything, because it was shameful for a man to do that. He takes it all for granted when he is little because that is what he knows. One book that I know of that makes a really difficult childhood quite amazing is Precious Bane, by Mary Webb. Here is a visible disability that marks her negatively and yet she thrives.

A friend met at a conference is working with traumatic brain injury folks. They were starting a study to measure ACE scores and watch them heal, because they were noticing the high ACE score people seem to recover faster. I can see that: I would just say, another miserable thing and how am I going to work through it. Meanwhile a friend tells me on the phone that it’s “not fair” that her son’s senior year of college is spoiled by Covid-19. I think to myself, uh, yes but he’s not in a war zone nor starving nor hit by a tsunami and everyone is affected by this and he’s been vaccinated. I think he is very lucky. What percentage of the world has gotten vaccinated? He isn’t on a ventilator. Right now, that falls under doing well and also lucky in my book. And maybe that is what the high ACE score people have to teach the low ACE score people: really, things could be a lot worse. No, I don’t trust easily and I am no longer feeling sorry about it. I have had a successful career in spite of my ACE score, I ran a clinic in the way that felt ethical to me, I have friends who stick with me even through PANDAS and my children are doing well. And I am not addicted to anything except I’d get a caffeine headache for a day if I had none.

For the people with the good childhood, the traumatic brain injury could be their first terrible experience. They go through the stages of grief. The high ACE score people do too, but we’ve done it before, we are familiar with it, it’s old territory, yeah ok jungle again, get the machete out and move on. As the world gets through Covid-19, with me still thinking that this winter looks pretty dark, maybe we can all learn about ACE scores and support each other and try to be kind, even to the scary looking veteran.

Take care.