what would YOU choose?

Here is a story of a choice about an abortion, a theraputic abortion, where a mother has to make a difficult choice. I have seen Family Medicine patients since 1991, so this will not identify a particular person. No HIPAA problem.

I see a new patient in clinic, a woman, who already has children. She has back pain. All is routine until she says, “Sometimes my leg goes numb from the knee down.” I stop. This is NOT normal. “Completely numb?” I say. “Not patchy?” “Yes.” “How often?” I ask. She shrugs. “Not very.” “If it happens again, call me and I want to see you right away.”

Why? This is unusual because most numbness follows dermatomes if it is from back pain. The dermatomes on the skin wrap from the back down the leg all the way to the toes. When someone describes numbness or the pain of shingles in that distribution, we know which nerve is affected. Numbness from the knee down can come from diabetes and other causes, but it is not on one side and it doesn’t come and go. So the unusual stands out for me.

“Anything else weird?”

“I had vision problems in my last pregnancy. They sent me to specialists, even a neuro opthamologist. He couldn’t find anything.”

“Ok.” I shrug. We move on.

She calls two days later. “Both legs are numb from the knee down.”

“Come in today,” I say.

Both legs ARE numb from the knee down. She also can’t lift her feet. The muscles from the knees down are weak. I get neurology on the phone. “MRI her from the top of her head to the base of her spine.” I call the hospital and set it up. That day.

She has seven brain lesions suspicious for multiple sclerosis. She did have an MRI in the previous pregnancy, which was negative. I do not remember how old the child was, 2-4 years or more when I saw mother.

I call her back in for results, we talk about specialists, and I call a neurologist in the nearest big city, three hours by car from where she lives. We start medications and my patient is scheduled.

She has multiple sclerosis. The flare improves. The visual symptoms were MS in the previous pregnancy, but it was not yet visible on brain MRI.

Then she gets pregnant again. Her symptoms immediately flare. She comes to me and I call the neurologist.

The symptoms are not a little worse. Much worse. “I suggest she terminate the pregnancy.”

My patient is horrified. Until the neurologist’s next words. “She needs to terminate if she wants to be able to walk for the children she has.”

My patient chooses an abortion, to terminate the pregnancy. Because she has a bad version of MS*, she remembers the symptoms in the last pregnancy, she is young, she is clearly progressing and she wants to take care of the children she already has.

What would YOU choose? For yourself, for your sister, for your wife. If you are male, do you have any right to make that choice? Now picture yourself pregnant with that choice. And thank you for reading this.

*Addendum: present evidence says that multiple sclerosis does NOT worsen with pregnancy. However, another illness, NMO (neuromyelitis optica) instead tends to become more active in pregnancy. It previously was lumped in with MS until the antibodies (anti-NMO) were identified and it was realized it’s a different subtype of demyelination disease, with its own treatment options. Medicine changes over time and the woman, the neurologist and I were working with the information available at that time.

Sorrow

I used to stop by more

but the people were less and less

the interactions faded to grey

I didn’t feel loved

I used to be ok with that

not feeling loved

not feeling valued

but now I want to be loved

And I am loved, to my surprise

as if a little love

has opened longing

so that I want more love


I want to be loved and feel loved

I send everyone love

even those who have been mean

and the incessant downvoters

and those who have me blocked

or don’t answer or ignore

or leave the catbox when I show up

I send love to you too


but now that I have a small crack

of love in my life, like the sun

shining on a crack in concrete

the seed stirs in sun and water

and grows

written 12/26/17. I wrote this about another writing site. It is falling to bits, like a old building not maintained. It makes me sad, because it is where my sister used to write. She died in 2012 and I still often miss her.

mad skills

What are your mad skills?

My maddest baddest skill, shared with my younger sister, is reading hidden emotions. Children of alcoholics and addicts learn that one young. Or die. Or start drinking/drugging to numb young.

Our culture is bloody weird. Emotions are stuffed like turkeys until people are near bursting. I swear that half my clinic time was letting people talk about emotions and then saying, well, those seem like pretty reasonable feelings in view of the insanity going on in your family. There would be a silence while the person thought about the horrible terrible feelings being reasonable and then I would say, “You said you want an antidepressant. Do you want to discuss that?”

Often people put it off. Once the feelings are OUT and present and looked at instead of stuffed/contained/terrifying, the person would say, “I don’t know. I don’t know if I need it.”

“Do you want to schedule to come back in two weeks?”

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. If they wanted to start an antidepressant, I would caution that the recommendation was to stay on it for six months minimum if tolerated. Also, if they were starting it in June, I would say, “Don’t stop it in January. Wait until the sun is back. Here that can be July 4th. At least wait until spring.”

The plants are all thinking about spring now. My magnolia would like three more days of sun and then it will burst into bloom. The plums are budding and close to exploding. My camellia is usually first, but I trimmed it at the wrong time of year and so it is not blooming. It looks healthy, though. It is sort of sulking for a season. I would like to sulk for a season too.

Why is our culture, the US, so terrified of emotion? We think everything should be about logic. Emotions are both hormonally and electrically mediated through nerves and blood and they are INFORMATION about our environment and each other. We should let emotions roll through us like waves, and not worry about them so much. I think of myself as an ocean. The emotions are the weather. They roll through. Ok, big storm. Then rain, and lightening. Then low clouds and some fog. Then sun and a beautiful day to sail with a light breeze. But the deeper currents change slowly and the weather is not really that important. I reside in the depths.

The furor over rising prices seems ridiculous to me. The roaring twenties has begun already in housing and buying stuff on Amazon. I have bought two things from Amazon in the last two years. I like to buy local. One order was for my future daughter in law’s wish list. I think people are buying so that they do not have to feel. It is cultural mania. Everyone is rushing around trying to make money instead of grieving. Yesterday I thought, if this keeps up, we WILL have a depression like 1929.

Don’t do it. Don’t buy stuff to avoid the stuff inside. Sit still twice a day, for at least five minutes, and just listen. Try to listen to the depths.

tears falling

I am back in grief
in the ocean of tears
someone has to go there
and I can swim

I can swim on the surface
and I can swim in the depths
no trench is too deep
for me to explore

they think it is dark
in the deepest trench
it’s true that the pressure
is very strong

but all of us
in the deepest depths
learn to glow
and shine

that is what the trench does
at first you are terrified
an ocean of grief
an ocean of tears

but then you see light
beings glowing
some are eating each other
but others smile and wave

if you are not too frightened
if you do not fight and struggle
if you take a breath, calmly
you find you can breathe

and you look at your hands
in wonder as you breathe
in the ocean of grief
in the ocean of tears

you too are glowing softly
in the ocean of grief
in the ocean of tears
you feel welcome

vast

Sometimes emotions are vast. I do not think our culture deals with grief very easily. Grief then becomes a vast pit, stuffed inside us. I sent the Falling Angels poems to friends and family. One older friend said that the poems were too sad and was I that sad all the time?

I replied, no, I am not sad all the time. The sadness is in the poems because there are very few people that I know that are comfortable with sadness and grief. So I put it in to poetry, because I do not want to stuff it. We need to let grief come out and let the tears flow and let it go.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: vast.

people being people

There is a fascinating essay on an obscure unethical website, titled Online Community Dynamics. I keep thinking about it. It inspires today’s poem.

people being people

people being people
they are often scared
huddle
in groups
it’s safest if a leader
identifies an enemy
so that everyone can come together
in hate

the leader
tells the group
who to hate
and why
whether it is true or not

I started out writing
under the title
mean stupid people

but that isn’t right
and anyhow I’d rather find a way
to forgive
again
and again
and again

so I started again
with the title
people being people

maybe we will mature as a species
some day

who do you hate?

now look in the mirror
and ask

who have you forgiven
today?

grounded

This is a poem that I wrote in 2015 or before. It was previously posted here and on everything2.com. I just read a blog where two hockey dads are dead of covid-19. The author is writing about grief. I wrote this when I was struggling with grief and how to really let it in.

grounded

grief is an ox
that stands in the room with me
and overshadows
everything

no
grief
is a plow
pulled by an ox
I try to guide it
in the furrows

no
grief is the heavy ground
the plow turns it
the ox pulls
I guide it
in the furrows

no
I am grieving
I let it be close
I don’t push it
in to an ox
in to a plow
in to the earth
I let it in
I grieve