Lift

Bomber

There are times when the anxiety overwhelms. Pressure on my chest. Can’t breathe. A dysphoric and irrational sense of impending doom falls like a curtain, separating me from the rest of the world.

I need to move, to escape. 

But I can’t. 

Why? Why now?

It comes in phases. There are times when I fly through the day, a smile inside and out. I feel the joy. I am the joy.

And then? The darkness descends.

You aren’t good enough or smart enough. Someone is going to figure it out. Then everyone will know your secret. You don’t belong here.

I can’t focus. I type words that aren’t right and don’t make any sense. I cannot follow the conversations people try to have with me. My brain is paralyzed. No. My brain is in overdrive running from one imagined catastrophe to the next. I cannot sleep because I cannot make it stop.

“Doc, it’s like you know me. How do you understand it so well when I am not even sure how to describe everything?”

Because I am you.

Sometimes there is good reason for it, an event which serves as trigger. Like a supoena to testify in a patient’s lawsuit against an multi billion dollar international corporation. Sometimes there are dozens of good reasons for it. Being on call, stressful patients, behavior issues at school with my kids, extended family conflict, pressure from the suits, my virtual desktop at work is overflowing, the WordPress app reader is frizzing out again and I am missing posts, … Very often, though, there is no good reason at all.

It is then that the pill calls to me.

Die to live another day…

I keep a bottle with my name on it. Not to literally kill myself. Just to make life easier. Kill the anxiety. End the suffering. A pill a day to make the anxiety go away.

But I am a coward it turns out. I am not good at taking pills. I try to do other things. I take a hike in the woods. Being among the trees often helps. Instead, I get a bad case of poison ivy. I try attending an opera, but I can’t enjoy that because of the itching from the poison ivy. I buy a new skirt but it doesn’t fit because of the steroids for the poison ivy. I want to hug my kids…. hugs from my kids often helps… but good squeezes set off the itching again.

All I can do is laugh. There is nothing else left to do.

Suddenly I am rising up out of the abyss. 

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Name Dropping

Interior, B25 Bomber
“Do you want to put on a flight suit?”

My daughter nodded, a grin starting to form. She had not been one bit happy about being dragged to an air show.

“They didn’t make flight suits that fit women so the ladies had to roll up the legs and sleeves to make them fit.” She zipped up the suit, then rolled up the cuffs. “Come on, I’ll show you how to fly!”

She helped my daughter scramble up the wing and into the cockpit and proceeded to explain how the instruments worked, letting her use the pedals and rudder.

“During World War II, women flew planes like this all over and in some cases taught the men how to fly…”

It was a fascinating thing watching the change that come over my daughter. She held her head higher. She seemed more confident. She positively glowed. It was a striking transformation.

The key?

Her brother was not getting to do this.

I used to think that girls just needed the same opportunities as boys but I am thinking that is maybe less true. If her brother had been there he would have commanded all of the attention. She would have faded to the background. She needed her own opportunity, her own experience. My daughter needed the woman in the B-25 bomber to pull her to the side specially and tell her that she flew in this plane all the time, that girls, that women, CAN do amazing things.

This post was going to be about how grateful I was for all of the women in the world who take the extra time to help girls understand their history, to understand science, to help them reach their dreams.

And then the Boy Scouts announced girls could join up.

Now, I’ll be honest. I know the Girl Scouts are not all about cookies necessarily but that is what the world knows them for. I never wanted to be in the Girl Scouts as a kid. I didn’t want to have to compete at selling cookies. I wanted to do what the Boy Scouts were doing, having adventures, learning survival skills, but I never wanted to join the Boy Scouts because… boys… ick.

As a parent I have not enrolled my kids in either scout program. I simply don’t have time to be jetting off to two meetings and doing camp outs and projects for two different organizations. So, on some level I see the appeal, having both kids in the same program. But girls need their own space to feel special. Too often they get lost in the male crowd. They need mentoring from strong women.

All of this begs the question, what is wrong with being a girl? Why do we have to be more like the boys? Why can’t we be successful and adventurous in our own right? Why do we have to join the boys?

Why do we have to sell cookies?

I don’t think girls who want to join the Boy Scouts are bad but part of me feels the “allowing” girls thing is a bit insulting and maybe a bit embarrassing. Come, girls, join the BOY Scouts! Is being a girl such a shameful thing? Is being different bad? For all of the emphasis on cookies, perhaps the message is that Girl Scouts have missed the point. They are no longer relevant. 

Thursday Thoughts From the Throne

Clock feature in a small park in NYC

Is the day over? No?

Phew!

Made it. 

My colon has been awfully out of whack this week. So has my running schedule, come to think of it…

So, most of the time I try to avoid talking politics and religion with my patients and my friends. There are only a few trusted people I feel I can have a rational conversation with. Today, though, I ran across one of those people who was trying to convince me that my theology was misguided and that abortion was wrong in all circumstances. Even in the case of an 11 year old girl who was molested by her uncle.

Don’t get me wrong, I like this guy. He is a good man, even if we fundamentally disagree. However, he made a comment about prayer in school that got my dander up. Specifically he said that Christian prayers only should open every school day and that more of it probably would have prevented the Las Vegas shooter from killing all of those people.

Um. No.

I am going to skip the theology question and the abortion issue and hit on that school prayer statement.

Being prayed at is not the thing that prevents hurting people from lashing out. Love does. Good parents who try to do right by their kids and their spouses, fellow human beings who show kindness…. these are the things that prevent damaged people. 

Loving people who need it is awfully darn hard. 

I am not saying don’t pray. Go ahead and pray. I pray. Prayer is powerful. Prayer can help you love, help you find kindness when you don’t think there is any left inside of you. Here’s the thing, though: Don’t you ever think for one minute that your prayer means you have done your duty and your responsibility to other people stops there. No. You have to physically reach outside of yourself and help those around you or you are just saying empty words. 

I used to be that person, the one for whom the world was black and white. No amount of arguing or reasoning could change my mind. I was so full of anger back then. Why doesn’t everyone see the logic that I see? Life had to show me the all of the other shades of gray and the myriad of vibrant colors that make up this world. It had to show me that I am not as smart as I thought I was. 

Life is still teaching me.

Kind of makes me wonder what I will think of this post in ten years…

Dollars and Senseless

IMG_3774

People in the US are used to this sort of thing but I wanted give everyone a peek into the way healthcare is billed:

The price charged to insurance for OR use and three days of babysitting for a ruptured appendix was $42,500.  No ICU. This does not include the surgeon’s fee or the anesthesiologist’s bill or the pathologist’s examinationof the removed offending organ.

The amount actually paid by insurance was $8,950 with an additional $680 of patient responsibility (what the patient has to pay). 

The other over $30,000 was “adjustment”, money that will never be paid by anyone. 

The games we play. 

After the birth of my child, I received a bill from the hospital for my care… over $2,000. There were also bills for the OB, anesthesia, pediatrician, the NICU stay, etc. 

I expected the bills to be high. My baby was worth any price but I still wanted to know what my money was paying for. Being on the physician side of medicine, I don’t often get to see the $ side from the standpoint of a patient so I decided to dig.

What I found most annoying was that the bill was not broken down into anything meaningful, so I requested an itemized bill so I could see the details.

When I reviewed the several pages of information that came a few weeks later, I found several charges for questionable lab tests as well as medications that I was fairly certain I had never received. Propofol, a sedation medication commonly used in ICU… the one that killed Micheal Jackson. Dopamine, a vasopressor that is used in the ICU to keep your blood pressure up. There were a couple of obscure infectious disease tests that there was no reason for me to be tested for. I called the billing number and listed my concerns to the woman who answered.

“So are you requesting a review of the charges?” She sounded astonished.

“Yes. Yes, I am.”

A week or two passed and I received a call that said that over $700 of the charges had been removed but there were still two items that I was disputing, the lab tests that should have never been done, that they were not going to budge on.

“Well, I would like to see proof that they were done and I would like to know why because they do not make any kind of sense.”

“I cannot provide that.”

“Then I would like to request a copy of my records.”

“Ma’am you are more than welcome to request a copy of your medical record. The charge is $4 per page.”

“How big is my record?” 

“I don’t know but I expect probably over 40 pages.”

(Was it really $4/page? Maybe it was less. Were there only 40 pages to the record? Probably there was more. Much more. It was a few years ago, and I don’t remember the details exactly but suffice it to say, the cost was going to be quite high.)

“Can I come by and just review my record?”

“Absolutely not.”

I did some quick math and figured that the disputed charges were less than the cost of the copy of my medical records and I ended up just paying the dang bill as it was.

Fun, huh?

Princess Panties

Doors at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC

“Mommy! You’re wearing princess panties?!??!??” My daughter’s squeal of delight reverberated off of the metal walls of the stall. 

She stared in awe.

The overly crowded movie theater bathroom seemed to fall deathly silent in an instant.

“Shhhhhh!”

“Mommy. They are so beautiful! I want some.” She reached out reverentially to touch them as I hovered over the toilet seat doing my business. I swatted her hand away.

“Not until you are much, much older.”

We washed our hands then headed back out into the hallway where her brother and her dad and the dozens other men were standing, waiting on their female companions.

“Daddy! Daddy!” she called loudly as she skipped happily over to him. “Did you know Mom is wearing princess panties?”

So much for the element of surprise.

And from that moment forward, my lacy underwear was known as “princess panties.”

Deflowering

Close up of a rose
“Who hogs the sheets at night?”

The bride and groom hesitated. A room full of reception guests held their breath waiting for the answer.

Awkward silence dragged on.

“Uh, we don’t know?” The bride offered, finally.

Mercifully the MC seemed to sense the faux pas and appeared set to quickly move on to the next question. The relief in the room was palpable until he got the next question completely out. 

“So who snores the most?”

Another awkward silence. The bride and groom turned to look at each other in disbelief.

Granted, it was a second wedding but there were four (yes FOUR) pastors present at the reception plus two sets of parents in their 70’s and 80’s, deeply religious people. Three fourths of the room sat frowning disapprovingly, their arms crossed. The rest leaned forward grinning in amusement, not wanting to miss a single word. 

Always know your audience….

Thursday Thoughts From The Throne #4


Today’s’ thought is brought to you by my upstairs bathroom….

I am a huge fan of grandparents. I really love celebrating Grandparents Day. I do NOT, however, appreciate schools celebrating Grandparents Day by inviting everyone’s grandparents to come for some function or another. 

Here’s why:

  1. They are invariably disorganized.
  2. There are always a fair number of kids whose grandparents are dead or live too far away to come.

My kids are blessed that they have a grandmother who comes to these things but I have each year encountered the kids who don’t, who are stashed in a back room looking forlorn and left out. It tugs at my heart. 

This year my kids were supposed to write letters and make artwork for their grandparents. Earlier this year their PawPaw died. My son’s letter read like this:

Dear grandfather, I wish I could still speak with you. Even if I will not see you, I will always keep you in my heart.

He gave it to his Granny instead. 

It was good on some level, helping the kids work through their grief but I sure do wish the exchange could have been done privately instead of in front of the whole assembly, putting their grief and their grandmother’s grief on display. 

And that is all my butt has time for today!

The Twelfth 

World Trade Center

“Mommy, why are there so many police everywhere?”

I looked around. She was right. They stood on every street corner it seemed, decked out in bulky bullet proof vests. New York City, more than any other city in the world that I have visited, possesses a very visible police force. No longer simply protecting us from each other, they stood ready to protect us from them.

Did it make me feel safer? 

Yes. Yes it did.

I grabbed my daughter’s hand as we crossed the street with the crowd of other people. The Empire State Building rose up in the distance. 

“Are you going to take your kids to the 9/11 museum?”

They are six and seven.

“No. They aren’t ready for that yet.”

I’m not ready for that yet.

I dropped my purse and camera into a bin and wiggled out of my jacket, sending it and my ball cap through the scanner then stepped through the metal detector. The security guard nodded silently. We were free to move on to the next staging area. 

“Mom, why is it that everywhere we go here is like the airport?” my son asked.

In truth this was the forth scanner we had walked through on this trip. Long lines made longer by strict security. Stress. My kids felt it. So did I.

“Some years ago there was an attack on two tall buildings here in New York. They collapsed and thousands of people died. There are people who hate Americans and want to hurt them so the police and all of the security measures are trying to prevent something from happening like that again.”

Watching the towers collapse over and over again on the news feed at the clinic between patients, the world shifted. It wasn’t until the next day, as the dust was settling, that it became apparent just how much it had shifted. 

My kids seemed to take in the information and I braced myself for more questions, for fear, or even tears from my daughter, but there was nothing. 

Nothing.

This is their world. They don’t know what it was like before 9/11, a world where simply being American carried with it a certain degree of power and respect. They didn’t feel that shift. They will only know a September 12th world, a world where they are targets. 

Missing Out

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“Why can’t I go?” I held the paper clutched to my chest. I’d earned a trip to a church summer camp for free. My ticket out of my own little hell for two weeks. I needed this. Never had I been allowed to go to camp. Up to that point I had been led to believe it was a money issue.

Please let her say yes, God. Please, please make her say yes. I promise to go to South America to do mission work when I grow up if you will just let me have this one thing!

My mother stood silently, her face turned away. 

“Mom! Why won’t you answer me?”

Her body stiffened. 

Finally, her back still turned to me, she answered:

“Because I never got to do something like that.” 

And then it dawned on me. My mother, my own mother, was jealous of me. Jealous of this opportunity. Was there more to it? Probably. But there was an undercurrent of envy and that was what I latched onto.

I judged her harshly.

How can you be jealous of your own daughter? What kind of person does that make you?

It struck me yesterday, listening to my son and daughter practicing on the piano, that I am envious of them. I am jealous that they get the opportunity to have piano lessons from a real teacher. I am jealous of my son’s spelling and math ability, how easily music comes to him. I am jealous of my daughter’s artistic creativity, her ability to easily make friends, and her extensive glitter pen collection. What I could have done with even a couple of those glitter pens back in the day… 

Even now I don’t understand all of the reason behind my mother’s refusal but I did learn an important lesson. I learned I could survive without church camp. I also learned, and a great big wave of relief washes over me even now when I think about it, that God did not *want* me to serve as a missionary in South America. 

Whew.

So where am I going with all of this?

Envy was a surprising emotion to recognize in myself and I find it embarrassing to admit. It snuck up on me. Since I am not a particularly unique person and I am living on this planet with billions of other not so unique people, I expect this means that other parents also experience jealousy when it comes to their kids. I wonder how many?

We all want to believe that we are somehow better than our parents, though, don’t we? 

And yet we aren’t.

I expect that maybe even more than my kids’ glitter pens and the piano lessons that I am most jealous of their youth…. those unexplored futures, the potential looming ahead of them. I wonder if this is simply because I am an older parent, or if younger parents feel this acutely, too.

Ultimately, I don’t intend for jealousy to motivate my saying “no” to things in the future… except maybe if my daughter wants to go out for cheerleading.

Helping Yourself

Angel at the Met in NYC

“We are going to bring meals for the next week or two if that is OK. People really want to help out in some way.”

I sat staring at the email and struggled with an answer. 

Asking for help is hard. 

Receiving unsolicited help gracefully is even harder. 

Why?

I don’t need help. I don’t want help. No, that’s not true. I don’t want to need help. I feel guilty needing help. I feel guilty receiving help. 

What will other people think? I’m a doctor. I could just order stuff, right? I have a money cushion that a lot of others don’t have. Will I be judged for accepting help? Moooching. Weak. Will I then owe people favors that they will call in later? I don’t want to OWE anyone anything.

To accept a meal, you have to be decently dressed and willing to socialize for a few minutes. Are we going to look sick enough? Needy enough?

The first meal was a chicken pot pie, caesar salad, and lemonade pie. It was amazing. It was helpful. I needed it. I was grateful. We subsisted on left overs for a few days.

“We will be dropping off some restaurant gift cards…”

You know what else I needed help with? Buying groceries. It wasn’t about the money. It was about the TIME. How to get time to shop for the family while running back and forth between the hospital, home, school, job. Someone even volunteered to help with that.

Laundry. OMG, the laundry.

The house was a mess. 

Please don’t ask to come in. I don’t want anyone to see us living like this.

Sometimes others NEED to help. Not for me. For them. That was how I justified it to myself, but standing now on the other side I can finally admit that I needed it. I needed the help to keep my kids fed. To survive.

It took a lot of pride swallowing. Humility. Grace. Pushy people. Help. 

But we survived.

Could I have done it by myself? Maybe. But it was a helluva lot easier this way.

I think about those who don’t have that kind of support. Someone who is alone and ends up in the hospital and they don’t even know who will feed their dog or water their plants. I ache for those people now, in a way I have not before because now I understand. 

Not everyone has someone. 

Truthfully, I have always been someone who would say, “Let me know if you need anything,” and just left it at that. It’s what you are supposed to say, isn’t it? Secretly I would hope they didn’t need anything. 

Where would I find the time to help? Surely there are others who will step up. It doesn’t need to be me, does it?

From now on I will be one of the pushy people. I will offer to grocery shop or do laundry or provide a meal… something specific. 

And I will be one of the pushy ones.