What I learned from my first doctor job

When I started my first job, I had a nurse and a receptionist within a bigger clinic, all primary care. Fresh out of residency. One month in I asked to meet with my nurse and the receptionist.

The receptionist brought the office manager. I was surprised, but ok.

I started the meeting. “I am having trouble keeping up with 18-20 patients with fat charts that I have never seen before, but I think I am getting a little better at it. What sort of complaints are you hearing and how can we make it smoother?”

The office manager and the receptionist exchanged a look. Then the office manager excused herself.

Weird, I thought.

The three of us talked about the patients and the flow and me trying to keep up. About one third were Spanish speaking only and I needed my nurse to translate. That tended to gum things up a bit, because she could not be rooming another patient or giving a child vaccinations.

I thanked them both and the meeting broke up.

Later I found that the office manager had been brought in because another doctor tended to manage by yelling and throwing things. And another doctor had tantrums. So the receptionist was afraid of me and had asked the office manager to stay. The moment they realized that it was collaborative and I was asking for feedback and help, the receptionist was fine without the office manager.

That was an interesting lesson on working with people. I had been very collaborative with the nurses and unit secretaries in residency. As a chief resident, I told my Family Practice residents to treat the nurses and unit secretaries and in fact everyone, like gold. “They know more than you do and if you take care of them, they will save your ass!” The unit secretaries would go out of their way to call me in residency. “Mr. Smith is not getting that ultrasound today.”

“Shit. Why not? What the hell?” I would go roaring off to radiology to see what the hold up was.

The unit secretaries did not help the arrogant residents who treated them like dirt.

I thought it takes a team. I can’t do my work without the nurse, the pharmacist, the unit secretary, the laundry, the cafeteria workers, the administration. It takes the whole team. I value all of them.

Admitting diagnosis: old guy, don’t know

I wrote this in 2010, after I worked for three months at Madigan Army Hospital. I really enjoyed working there. It was the first time since residency that I had worked in a big hospital — 450 beds — and in a not rural setting. I kept asking to work with residents and eventually the Captain and I worked it out to both our satisfactions.

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During my three months temp job at a nearby Army Hospital, I am asked to help the Family Medicine Inpatient Team (FMIT) whenever a faculty member is sick or out or deployed, which turns out to be fairly often. I enjoy this because I want to work with residents, Family Practice doctors in training. It is very interesting to be at a training program, watch the other faculty and work at a 400 bed hospital instead of my usual 25 bed one.

Two patients need to be admitted at the same time on our call day, so the second year resident takes one and I take the other. The report on mine is an 82 year old male veteran, coughing for three weeks, emergency room diagnosis is pneumonia.

The resident soon catches up with me because her person is too sick and gets diverted to the ICU. Mr. T, our gentleman, is a vague historian. He says that he has always coughed since he quit smoking 15 years ago and he can’t really describe his problem. He’d gotten up at 4:30 to walk around the assisted living; that is normal for him because he still does some o the maintenance. He had either felt bad then or after going back to sleep in a chair and waking at 10. “I didn’t feel good. I knew I shouldn’t drive.”

He’s had a heart attack in the past and heart bypass surgery. Records are vague. The radiologist reads the chest xrays essentially as, “Looks just like the one 3 months ago but we can’t guarantee that there isn’t a pneumonia or something in there.” He has a slightly elevated white blood cell count, no fever, and by then I do a Mini-mental status exam. He scores 22 out of 30. That could mean right on the edge of moderate dementia, or it could be delirium. I get his permission to call his wife.

“Oh, his memory has been bad since he spent a year in a chair telling them not to amputate his toes. And he was on antibiotics the whole time. He wasn’t the same after that. This morning he just said he didn’t feel right and that he shouldn’t drive.” So his wife called an ambulance.

The third year chief resident comes by and wants to know the admitting diagnosis. “Old guy, don’t know.” is my reply. “Either pneumonia or a urinary tract infection or a heart attack maybe with delirium or dementia or both.

The second year is helping me put in the computer orders, because I am terrible at it still. She could put them in upside down and asleep. “Why are we admitting him, anyhow? We can’t really find anything wrong, why not just send him home?”

“We can’t send him home because he can’t tell us what’s wrong. He might have an infection but he might not, and he has a really bad heart. If we send him home and he has a heart attack tonight, we would feel really bad. And he might die.”

I was getting a cold. I had planned to ask to work a half day but half the team was out sick so I just worked. But by morning I had no voice and felt awful. I call in sick.

At noon the phone rings. It is the second year. “You know Mr. T, who we admitted last night?”

“Yes,” I say.

“He had that heart attack during the night. Got taken to the cath lab. You made me look really good.” We had worked on the assumption that it could be early in a heart attack though the first labs and the ECG were negative. I had insisted on cardiac monitoring and repeating the enzymes. The resident had finished the note after I left and the night team had gotten the second and abnormal set of enzymes.

82 year olds are tricky. With some memory loss he couldn’t tell us much except that “I don’t feel right.” He was right not to drive and we were right to keep him in the hospital. And if it had all been normal in the morning, I still would not have felt bad about it. The residents are looking for a definitive diagnosis, but sometimes it’s “Old guy, don’t know,” until you do know.

No pandas

Today is PANS/PANDAS awareness day. I wrote this a couple weeks ago.

PANDAS PHYSICIANS NETWORK: PANS/PANDAS AWARENESS DAY

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No pandas

I don’t have PANDAS because in the United States we barely believe in it in children and we don’t at all in adults.

I don’t have PANDAS because even though one psychiatrist said I did, he retired, and the next one says I don’t. Then not sure then no. They don’t agree.

I don’t have PANDAS because my primary care doctor won’t read the guidelines even after I have been her patient for seven years.

I don’t have PANDAS because my pulmonologist has never heard of it.

I don’t have PANDAS because it would be a lot easier to put me on a mood stabilizer to shut me up than listen to me.

I don’t have PANDAS because I am labelled difficult because I am afraid to take a mood stabilizer because I do not get a fever or a white count so my main symptom of infection is that other doctors think that I am manic though I am hypoxic and short of breath. They want to fix my mood while I want to not die of pneumonia, so our goals are at odds.

I don’t have PANDAS because I am a doctor and if I had PANDAS my fellow local doctors would feel guilty that they have told each other that I am bipolar and manic for the last 18 years and have shunned me at the county medical meetings and won’t even send me the invitations, except for the one that forwards them. He says he has given them my email and he doesn’t understand why they don’t send me the invitations.

I don’t have PANDAS because Seattle Children’s doesn’t allow the Cunningham Panel to be drawn and they say there is not enough evidence yet.

I don’t have PANDAS because I can’t afford to pay $925 on my own for the Cunningham Panel and anyhow my antibody level is back to whatever is my new baseline, higher than before no doubt.

I don’t have PANDAS because the other doctors are frightened: if I have PANDAS then who else does and if I have chronic fatigue caused by hypoxia and fibromyalgia and it’s related to PANDAS then who else would they have to test and neuropsychiatric is a whole different thing from psychiatric and we swear that we don’t know what causes chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia.

I don’t have PANDAS because I am an adult who lives in the US though if I was in Canada or Europe I could in fact have PANDAS.

I don’t have PANDAS because in the United States we barely believe in it in children and we don’t at all in adults.

outfits inappropriate for work

Ok, I have been going through my clothes. I found both the pink bra and the wings in the bottom of a closet. So, I put them on. I did not actually step outside the house wearing this. I think I need a costume party. Anyhow, it’s rather fun trying these silly things on. I’d have to wear the wings over my White Coat to doctor in this outfit…..

Covid 19 long term and PANDAS

It is not looking like I will be able to return to medicine. Based on the current research, the PANDAS reaction will get worse with each infection. I will be moving in to a hamster ball next week, (*&^*&(*&*&^.

You, gentle reader, can work your way through the research, which I am going to present to you. You have no reason to do this unless you have chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia or myalgic encephalopathy or post covid syndrome. Or you know someone with one of those. I think there are a few people out there.

First, read the guidelines for treating PANS/PANDAS.

https://www.pandasppn.org/guidelines/
https://www.pandasppn.org/jcap2017/

The article about the three antibodies involved is in this section:
https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/cap.2016.0148

“Evidence for group A Streptococcus (GAS)-specific cross-reactive antibodies having affinity for neuronal components (including receptors) in the basal ganglia has been demonstrated in human and animal studies (Husby et al. 1976; Kirvan et al. 2003, 2006a, 2006b, 2007; Hoffman et al. 2004; Yaddanapudi et al. 2010; Brimberg et al. 2012; Lotan et al. 2014). Sera and immunoglobulin G (IgG) from SC and PANDAS patients known to bind to components of the GAS cell wall have also been shown to cross-react with components of neurons in the basal ganglia caudate, putamen, and internal segment of the globus pallidus (Kirvan et al. 2006b). Antineuronal IgG antibodies binding to multiple targets, including lysoganglioside, tubulin, and dopamine receptors, have been reported to be elevated in patients with SC and PANDAS compared to controls (Kirvan et al. 2003, 2006a, 2006b, 2007; Cox et al. 2013, 2015). Targeting of such antibodies to dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra and ventral tegmental area in the basal ganglia (as well as other cortical neurons) was confirmed in transgenic mice expressing a chimeric antineuronal autoantibody containing VH±VL regions cloned from a patient with SC (Cox et al. 2013).”

All right, three antibodies. So WHAT, doctor?

The antibodies are to dopamine, tubulin and lysoganglioside.

Here is an article looking at chronic lyme disease.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2666354619300158

Basically that article looks at four groups. No lyme disease, one episode, more than one and chronic. No dopamine antibodies. But the tubulin and lysoganglioside antibodies are not present in the healthy folks and are present in the lyme folks, highest in the chronic lyme. Those two antibodies are associated with chronic fatigue (the tubulin) and fibromyalgia/gluten and sugar intolerance (the lysoganglioside).

Now wrap your head around that one in ten severe infections can trigger chronic fatigue. ANY INFECTION. I am normal, I just bloody well got antibodies early because my mother had tuberculosis through the whole pregnancy. So I was born with PANS. Then, smartied that I am, I chose to be a physician, meaning I get exposed to infections. Guess I am not going to be doing Doctors Without Borders, right?

Treatment, well, that is complicated. I think it depends on the person’s profile: which antibody is giving them the most trouble. I am a special case, because I have all of the antibodies firing full bore at once. Which has forced me to be extremely creative about how to survive this now and in the past.

First off for the treatment: DO NOT PUSH THE CHRONIC FATIGUE. Because the tubulin is damaging not just skeletal muscles but the heart muscle as well. So even with squeaky clean coronary arteries, pushing through the chronic fatigue could trigger a heart attack or broken heart syndrome. And we aren’t (yet) measuring these antibodies routinely. Hell, I hadn’t heard of tubulin since the distant mists of college until 2 weeks ago.

Secondly: if there are neurological symptoms, that is, any two or more of manic/word finding difficulty/ADHD/OCD/emotional lability/oppositional defiance/clingy/brain fog/yeah I forget the rest, then the anti-dopamine antibodies are present. In addition to speeding the thoughts, I think that they speed cell metabolism. I always drop ten pounds the first week. So, vitamins are vital. If your vitamin K drops, you may clot. Also vitamin D for teeth and vitamin B12 — if it’s low you can get Guillain Barre. The myelin sheaths unwind. Ok, that could also be thiamine or folate or all three. Bleeding strokes from low vitamin K.

Third: I don’t know if it’s just me, but the things I have to change in my diet are NO SUGAR and NO GLUTEN. I tried rice yesterday and it was ok, so I think it’s gluten and not just all bread/rice/potatoes/pasta. I have mostly been eating meat or cheese with kale/collards/mustard greens/parsley or turnip greens. All of which are vitamin rich. I have not had bread in three weeks and have been not even eating much fruit. Blueberries and grapefruit are safest. In two of my bouts of this, with strep A pneumonia, I would have fluid shifts when I ate sugar or gluten. Normal urine output is up to 2 liters. I had 10. That was documented in a 24 hour inpatient observation, though the doc did not actually notice. I did. I also figured out how to get it to stop, by stopping carbohydrates as much as possible. Greens only, because they are food sources of vitamin K. At any rate, it’s worth a try for other people. I use electrolyte tabs with fluids too, NUNN tabs or Airborne.

There’s other stuff. But I am tired and my chest hurts. Take care of yourself and each other.

USPSTF

USPSTF is the United States Preventative Services Task Force.

Here: https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/.

This is a site I often use and frequently show to patients. For further reading….that is, if they want to know more about a topic. There is a nice two minute video about the Task Force right now, saying that it’s a volunteer organization that started 30 years ago, to review research about preventative care, agree on a recommendation and publish that recommendation.

Before they publish or update a recommendation, they ask for public comments and expert comments.

I have great respect for the USPSTF. Let’s take breast cancer screening. The current recommendation is here: https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/Page/Document/RecommendationStatementFinal/breast-cancer-screening1. There was a big furor when this came out, because the recommendation is for biennial mammograms. Every other year, not every year. The USPSTF went through reams of data and papers and said that they could discern no difference between yearly and every other year screens in normal risk patients. The screening recommendations are different for people with abnormal BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

So who yelled about that recommendation? Radiologists for one. Now, there is a financial incentive on their part to have women get the mammograms yearly. The American Cancer Society was annoyed and the Susan B. Komen Foundation too. But the USPSTF stand their ground. The guidelines get updated in a 5-10 year cycle.

Reasons that I like the guidelines:

1. They are online. My patients can look at them too.
2. They make recommendations for screening by age groups.
3. They rate their recommendation: A, B or C level evidence or I for Insufficient Evidence.
4. You can read the fine print. They put the article with all the detail and all the references on the website. The weight of evidence is apparent.
5. They say “We don’t know.” when there is insufficient evidence.
6. The site is pretty easy to use.

I have to weigh evidence in medicine. A functional medicine “study” that is not a randomized double blind clinical trial and that only has 20 patients is really more of a case report. Hey, we tried this supplement and they liked it. The recent study about alcohol from Europe with 599,912 patients has a lot more weight. The Women’s Health Initiative had 28,000 women in the estrogen/progesterone arm, and 21,000 in the estrogen only/had a hysterectomy arm. Length of study, design, all of these are important.

There is a recent headline about a study saying that coronary calcium scores have now had one study where they were useful. That is a study. The guideline from the USPSTF is here: https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/Page/Document/UpdateSummaryFinal/cardiovascular-disease-screening-using-nontraditional-risk-assessment. The guideline says “insufficient evidence” and that’s what I tell patients who ask for it. I offer referral to a cardiologist to discuss it, but I am reluctant to do a test where I really don’t know what to do with the results. I pay very close attention to the guidelines and they are always changing. They have the strongest and least biased (by money and greed) evidence that I can find. And patients can read them too, which is wonderful.

Even though the USPSTF says that there is insufficient evidence for mammograms after age 75, we can still do them. That is, medicare will keep covering them. Some people keep doing them, some don’t. I discuss guidelines, but I will support the person continuing the care if that is what they want and they are informed. People are infinitely variable in their choices and logic.

Illness Anxiety Disorder

“Please write something from a medical perspective about anxious people who worry every little thing is some serious disease.” — reQuest 2018

This is quite a brilliant and timely question.

Here: https://www.anxiety.org/hypochondriasis-replaced-by-two-new-disorders-in-dsm-5.

The DSM V was published on May 18, 2013. This is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders version 5,  and it redefines various disorders. For example, opiate dependence has disappeared and so has opiate addiction. Instead, there is one diagnosis: opiate overuse syndrome. Which really combines both opiate addiction and opiate dependence and makes it a spectrum.

The DSM V drops hypochondriasis. Wait, you say, that diagnosis no longer exists? Well, yes, correct. So the diagnoses are made up? Yes, as my daughter says, “All the words are made up.” So psychiatry changes and the diagnosis definitions change and some diagnoses disappear. Medicine is like the Oregon Dunes, really. The information is changing daily. I went into medicine thinking it is like a cookbook, where I just have to learn all the recipes. Nope, sand dunes: the wind and waves and new information change the contours daily. It drives my patients nuts. “My insurance won’t cover the medicine I’ve been on for 26 years.” Um, yeah, sorry, work for single payer and shut down the insurance companies, ok? “This combination of medicines has never killed me yet.” Um, yeah, sorry, but you are in fact getting older and we no longer think that combination is safe and first do no harm: I can’t prescribe combinations that I think may kill you.

Hypochondriasis has been replaced by two diagnoses: Somatic Symptom Disorder and Illness Anxiety Disorder.

From the Mayo Clinic website: https://www.mayoclinic.org/medical-professionals/clinical-updates/psychiatry-psychology/diagnostic-statistical-manual-mental-disorders-redefines-hypochondriasis.

“Patients with illness anxiety disorder may or may not have a medical condition but have heightened bodily sensations, are intensely anxious about the possibility of an undiagnosed illness, or devote excessive time and energy to health concerns, often obsessively researching them. Like people with somatic symptom disorder, they are not easily reassured. Illness anxiety disorder can cause considerable distress and life disruption, even at moderate levels.”

“To meet the criteria for somatic symptom disorder, patients must have one or more chronic somatic symptoms about which they are excessively concerned, preoccupied or fearful. These fears and behaviors cause significant distress and dysfunction, and although patients may make frequent use of health care services, they are rarely reassured and often feel their medical care has been inadequate.”

So, subtle difference. Broadly, the illness anxiety disorder people are sure they have SOMETHING and are worried about ALL THE SYMPTOMS. The somatic symptom disorder people are worried about A SPECIFIC SYMPTOM OR SYMPTOMS and WHY HAVEN’T YOU FIXED ME.

Some of the people complaining of weird symptoms do have a medical diagnosis that has not been sorted out. Take multiple sclerosis for example. The average time from the start of symptoms to diagnosis is 4-5 years.

Here: http://biketxh.nationalmssociety.org/site/DocServer/Facts-about-MS.pdf?docID=54383).

Also here: https://www.nationalmssociety.org/Symptoms-Diagnosis/Diagnosing-Tools.

Another one is sarcoidosis: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sarcoidosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20350358. It’s hard to diagnose, can affect different parts of the body, and it’s still pretty mysterious. Add to that list chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and numerous other diagnoses.

With multiple sclerosis, you may be thinking, well, if they had just done the brain MRI sooner, the diagnosis would be made. Not necessarily. I did find a patient with a bunch of MS brain lesions: made the diagnosis. She had had a brain MRI 3-5 years before because of suspicious symptoms during pregnancy. At that time her MRI was entirely normal.

The DSM V does not have a diagnosis called psychophysiological disorder. This is an ongoing discussion:
1. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/7f7f/21a9b524fb677d575428bea11aab4c8d70c5.pdf
2. https://thoughtbroadcast.com/2011/01/21/psychosomatic-illness-and-the-dsm-5/
This site: http://www.stressillness.com/ is my current favorite about psychophysiological disorders. I heard a lecture from the physician who runs the site. He is at OHSU in Portland and gets the gastrointestinal patients where “they can’t find anything wrong” from all over the state. He is really good at this. He and I are in agreement: the symptoms are real. However, the symptoms may come from emotional suffering and from emotional trauma in the past and present.

It is clear that fibromyalgia is a “real” disorder: functional MRI of the brain shows the pain centers lighting up more with a standardized pain stimulus than “normal” patients. PTSD is “real”. It is interesting that there is more stigma surrounding fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue than PTSD: is that because the former two are more often diagnosed in women, and the latter is legitimate (finally) for male (and a smaller number of female) veterans?

And what do I, your humble country doctor, think? I think that chronic fatigue and PTSD and fibromyalgia and illness anxiety disorder and the others all may be variations of the same thing. Our body will handle and “store” or “stuff” emotions that we cannot handle or are not in a safe situation to handle it. Eventually our body decides that we are now safe enough and will notify us that we have to handle the emotions. Currently our culture is terribly unsupportive of this and there is huge stigma attached to dealing with it. We are all supposed to just be nice.

In the end, we can’t judge how a friend feels or whether they are well or not. We have to treat them with respect and kindness.

The photograph is me on my grandfather’s lap. He became a psychiatrist and I am a family physician. Taken in 1962 or 3. We are at cabins in Ontario, Canada. What a pair of grubs, but happy…..

Make a difference

In medical school I made a difference.

I was with two women and two men from class. We’d had a lecture on rape that day. One of the guys piped up, “If I were a woman and I was raped, I’d never tell anyone.”

“Man, I don’t feel that way.” I said, “I would have the legal evidence done, have the police on his ass so fast his head would spin and I would nail his hide to the wall.”

He looked at me in surprise. “Um, wow. Why?”

I took a deep breath and decided to answer. “You are assuming that you would be ashamed and that as a woman, it is somehow your fault if you were raped. I was abused by a neighbor at age 7. At age 7 I thought it was my fault. I thought I might be pregnant, because I was a bit clueless about puberty. I made it stop and tried to keep my sister away from the guy. When I went to the pediatrician the next time with my mother, I decided that since he didn’t say I was pregnant, I probably wasn’t. When I started school that year, second grade, I thought sadly that I was probably the only girl on the bus who wasn’t a virgin.

In college, I heard a radio show about rape victims, how they blame themselves, often think they did something to cause it, are often treated badly by the police or the emergency room, and feel guilty. All of the feelings that I had at age 7. I realized that I was 7, for Christ’s sake, I wasn’t an adult. It was NOT my fault.

If I walk down the street naked, I’m ok with being arrested for indecency, but rape is violence against me and no one has that right no matter WHAT is happening.

And child sexual abuse is one in four women.”

The two guys looked at the three of us. After a long pause, one of the other women shook her head no, and the other nodded yes.

The guy shook his head. “I never believed it. I didn’t think women could be okay after that.”

“Oh, we can survive and we can heal and thrive.”

We had the lecture on child sexual abuse a few months later. My fellow student talked to me later. “I thought about you and — during the lecture. I thought about it completely differently than before you talked about it. I would deal with a patient in a completely different way than I would have before. Thank you.”

 

previously posted on everything2.com in 2009

for the Daily Prompt: release

focus

For the Daily Prompt: cringe.

I took this on the ridge on top of Mount Zion yesterday. Absolutely gorgeous hike, with the rhododendrons floating among the tall trees and tons of wild flowers. Here are little wild strawberries…. we will have to come back in September.

Cringe: I cringe when I hear the discussion on the news being about health INSURANCE  and not health CARE. We need to change the focus.

We HAVE a mandate that anyone in the US can have health CARE. That is, the emergency room cannot legally turn anyone away. But the bills can bankrupt you and take your house away. Not only that, but the emergency room is the most expensive and worst way to take care of people in the world. The emergency room cannot treat cancer, cannot treat hypertension, cannot help a person with depression, cannot do the long term chronic care that I do. Per person in the US we pay twice as much as the next most expensive country and they have universal care. What is the matter with the citizens of the US? We care more for corporations protecting their profits than we do for our citizens health. And I think this will bring our country down….. we will collapse.

I am a physician but I also run my own clinic. I am a small business owner. And I really expect that health INSURANCE will force my clinic to close.

Call Congress. Say we want health CARE not health INSURANCE.

 

Work place

Mostly I post photographs from outdoors, but this is clinic Friday afternoon. Mordecai took off her feather boa, wig and headdress and came into the exam room to add to a visual discussion about the sacroiliac joints. Mordecai is a plastic skeleton and her sacroiliac joints are attached incorrectly but conveniently for the sellers. After all, her bones don’t have the weight of a real skeleton nor does she have tendons or muscles or skin to connect everything. She is sitting beside my Netter Atlas of Human Anatomy, which I use in clinic every day. To show the knee ligaments and menisci, to show the back muscles, to show the connections of the psoas muscle….

Many thanks to Dr. Netter’s brilliant paintings and also to Mordecai for their help!