toxic people

Are there toxic people?

No, I do not believe so….

I think there are toxic interactions.

Toxic behavior. And it takes two to tango, really.

Do I have to stay away from someone who behaves badly? Do they set me off? Well, that’s about me, isn’t it? I need to go look in the mirror and see what is bothering me. What does this remind me of? Are they getting under my skin? So what part of my skin needs better boundaries?

I realized that my father drank too much when I was in college. I read about it and went home, ready to intervene. My mother and my sister refused, much to my surprise. And slowly I realized that my mother was enabling the drinking.

I set boundaries with my father. I said that he could not come to my house drunk and he could not drink at my house. I refused to sleep in my parents’ house because he was falling asleep and there were cigarette burns in the floor and an 8 inch diameter one between the couch cushions. I told my mother I was having nightmares about fires. She joked that she would be mad if he burned a hole in the waterbed. I told my father I was afraid to sleep upstairs and moved to my grandmother’s, two doors away. I was lucky that I had that option.

My father stopped drinking a decade later. I took my young son to visit, and found that my father had started again. I asked my mother, “Why didn’t you tell me?” She replied, “I told you I would leave if he drank, but I am not going to leave.” I said, “We are not staying with you.” and we moved to my mother-in-law’s house.

As a family doctor, I try to help each person. My clinic and I do have boundaries. If they no show for three visits within one year, we ask them to change to another doctor. People call for referrals often. I can’t do a referral without documenting a diagnosis and doing an examination, so they need a visit. “But you’ve seen me for hip pain!” “Yes, and that was a year ago. Time to reevaluate, right?” And all doctors here are swamped: they want to save their over busy time for people who truly need them. The orthopedist does not want to see that hip unless I agree that they need to: if physical therapy and discussion can fix it, one less person that they don’t get to operate on.

I recently had calls for an emergency referral. I left a message with both the patient and the specialist. I had not seen the person for five months. I have no idea what is happening. If it’s an emergency, they need to contact the insurance, not me, because I have not seen the person: no diagnosis. And insurance should cover if it is an emergency. If it is not an emergency, well…

There is behavior that I prefer not to be around. There is behavior I will tolerate in clinic but not my personal life, since I get paid in clinic. There is behavior I won’t tolerate in clinic. But think of the great ones that are still spoken of: the Buddha, the Bodhisattvas, Jesus. They had boundaries to where any person was allowed to approach them and was received and was sometimes changed by that reception. When I say “I can’t be around him or her,” how do I need to change? Ok, not the crazy person shooting into crowds, no tolerance. But day to day, the things that get under our skin, it’s our skin that is fallible.

I do not want to label anyone toxic. I hope to make a small difference in the world through my clinic. And add to the joy in the world.

For the Daily Prompt: saintly. I am not there. 

Sweet Honey in the Rock: Would you harbor me?

the unwashed masses

I don’t have any of THEM as patients. The unwashed masses. All of my patients are smart.

There aren’t any unwashed masses.

I have a gentleman who is overweight, obese, diabetes. He is not stupid. He is not unwashed. He is not exercising or controlling his blood sugar right now because the temperature is below freezing. He has a hole in his trailer floor and no heat. So he huddles under the electric blanket.

I have a gentlewoman, also diabetic. She too is not stupid. She is not unwashed. She lost her husband to cancer and then everything else and then was homeless for a period. She has a small house but she has no heat. She stays in bed to stay warm. Her contractor quit before he put in the furnace and he’s gone bankrupt. She is cold.

I have veterans. They are not stupid. They are not unwashed. One was homeless for a long period and pooled his resources with another to rent a section 8 house. I am so proud of them. They are having trouble living together, each would rather live alone. Only sometimes they would rather not be alone. It is hard.

I have a massage therapist. She started to train as a counselor. To be a counselor, she needs a certain number of supervised hours and was getting this through the county mental health. “I didn’t know.” she says. “It is taking twice as long as I thought because half the time they don’t show up. They don’t show up because they don’t have gas, they don’t have food, they have been evicted, their son is in jail, they are in jail. I had no idea. My massage clientele is so different, they pay. I thought poverty was in third world countries, but it is here, in my county. I didn’t know.”

I know the people who live in the woods. A schizophrenic who comes once a month for his shot. He was losing weight. “Why are you losing weight?” I demand. “I am only eating once a day.” he says. I nag him to go to the community meals. He is shy, he is afraid of people and he is hungry. He is not stupid. He is not unwashed.

I have opiate addicts. Six years ago one expressed concern. He is 6 foot 5 and big. “I am afraid of some of the other people. You shouldn’t be doing this! It’s too scary and dangerous!” My opiate addicts are not stupid. My opiate addicts are not unwashed. Sometimes they relapse. Sometimes they die, in their 50s, 40s, 30s, 20s.

One in six people in the US is below the poverty level. They are not stupid. They are not unwashed.

And when someone talks about the masses, the people, the stupid people, most people are stupid, the sheep….

….I am beyond angry….

….my heart hurts….

Poverty in the US: http://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2016/cb16-tps153.html.

More: http://www.census.gov/topics/income-poverty/poverty.html.

The examples are taken from 25 years of practice, details changed for hipaa, but I can list dozens at any one time. The photograph is during the sunset after clinic, when I walked down town, the view across the sound.