Recognizing Patterns

“I did an internet search for my symptoms and after doing a bunch of reading, this is what I think I have….” She pulled a sheaf of papers from her large purse and passed them over to me. 

Erythromelalgia.

I scanned through it quickly.

It wasn’t anything I had ever heard of before, but then her symptoms were not something that I recognized either. Hands that turned red and burned like they were on fire. They got better when she raised them up overhead or ran them under cold water. It had been going on for years. The pain was excruciating and now occurred at a more frenzied rate to the point she was afraid to leave her house.

“I think you might be right,” I told her. 

Now, if I were honest with you and with myself, I would admit that my pride didn’t want her to be right. I wanted to be the hero. I wanted to be the one with the answers, not her and certainly not Dr. Google, but here we were anyway. 

We did bloodwork to make sure it was not caused by something more serious and she started aspirin. Like magic, the pain was gone. Somehow, she still considered me her hero even after I told her I probably never would have figured it out on my own…

Several months later, a new patient showed up in my clinic telling me of the pain she was experiencing in her hands and feet. The pain came and went with no rhyme or reason. It burned terribly, kept her for doing things for fear it would appear.

“Do your hands and feet change colors?”

 “YES! They turn red and I have to elevate them or run them under cold water to get them to stop.” Over the years she saw half a dozen specialists and was diagnosed with all manner of things: Fibromyalgia. Anxiety disorder. Neuropathy. Malingering. 

She cried. She had clearly suffered and I suspect the implication that she was crazy was just as excruciating as the physical pain itself. 

This time I got to be the full on hero. “You are NOT crazy. What you are experiencing has a name and a treatment!”

And by golly, she got better.

I have patients who come in all of the time and say sheepishly, “I know I shouldn’t be reading online but…” 

But what if that first woman had not? 

Maybe I would have referred her to someone who could eventually figure it out. Maybe she would have ended up like the second patient spending years suffering, passed from one specialist to the the next, always told it was all in her head. Then when that second patient showed up, I wouldn’t have had an answer for her, either. 

Patients teach me new things every day, sometimes it is something simple… like keeping my pride in check so I can actually hear what patients are saying.

Fatherless

Rose window example, San Antonio

“Can you tell me anything about your father’s medical history?”

“No. I don’t know him.” He shrugged as if it was no big deal but his voice said otherwise. 

Next patient…. 

“What about your father’s medical history?”

She scrunched up her face. “I think he’s still alive? I don’t know for sure. I never knew him.”

Next patient…

“So your mother is alive and has diabetes. Do you know anything about your father?”

“I’m not in contact with him.” The disdain came across loud and clear in her voice. “I hope he’s dead.”

If fathers ever think they don’t matter, they should sit in my seat and listen to the pain they can generate even when they are not there.

A Virtual Reality Devotional

Stained glass window

The body lies prostrate

On the confessional floor

A weakened avatar

Your closed door

Heartbeat slowed

From afar

Fading finally

Into empty code

Mere tokens

Conquests

Meaningless and broken

Nothing of value

Can be taken

Only the memories of love

Gained and lost

And gained again

Virtual virtue

Virtually gone

And truth now clear

Life

Turned into fear

Death 

A final frontier

Hold your breath

It is not so painless 

As they wanted us

To believe

Pecking Order

Flamingos fighting

Just take a nip 
Here and there
So I can be pretty
Fix my hair
Pull and tuck
Gouge at my eyes
Make me look pretty
Slim my thighs
Whiter teeth
A larger bust
I’m still not pretty
Another adjust
Raise those cheeks
Now my nose
Got to look pretty
Paint my toes
Some fuller lips
Sharper jaw
She is so pretty
Fills me with awe
Chisel me down
Tighter skin
I could be pretty
If I were thin
Sew me up
Dress me up
Give me more pain
So I can feel alive
So I can feel loved 
Still not happy
Just a pinch more
Want to be pretty
Want to be adored
Soon I’ll be there 
You wait and see
Soon I’ll be pretty
Soon I won’t be me

Hanging Out

Old Ferris wheel in black and white

I find that I am more and more conscious of my own nose hair. What is interesting about this is that I never, ever notice the nose hair of other people and if I did happen to see some bits poking out of a nostril it would not gross me out. So WHY on Earth do I care about my own nostril hair? 

Is this because my nose hair is getting longer? 

Perhaps I am growing more and more sensitive about the change of appearance that comes with aging and I am finding myself more interested in controlling the things that I can have some influence over? 

And then I wonder if there are people who do care about other people’s nose hair and if so, why do they care? What else do they do in their free time?

These are the thoughts I have on a Sunday morning after yet again having one of those pesky hairs ripped from my poor tender nostril by the stupid nose hair trimmer that is supposed to CUT the stupid things. I swear, next time I may as well just tweeze them out….

Lichenification

Lichen close up

Reminiscing is a form of masochism

Reliving, savoring, using the pain 

Rubbed over and over and over again

Until the memory is sufficiently buried

Under a thickened, leathery patch

Numbed, no longer holding power 

Peaceful… for a time at least… then

The need to feel alive arises once more

Seeking out the next memory to scratch

* Note, the photo is a picture of lichen, a fungus living symbiotically with an algae as a composite organism. Lichenification is a dermatology term for thickened skin due to repeated scratching, like with eczema. 

Dark Days

pond before a rainstorm

So how was it? The first day of the new EHR?

If you really want to know… It was a cluster F**K with a capital “F”.

I don’t want to bore you with all of the gory details but suffice it to say some clinics had staff so frustrated they were just walking out, quitting on the spot. 

My staff is all coming back tomorrow. I think. I’d like to believe that pizza and slushies and chocolate helped but I am not sure there was anything that really could have made it better short of an electrical fire. A devastating electrical fire….

Hmmmm.

There’s always tomorrow.

Pushing Buttons

“This is none of your business!”

“Ma’am, I am trying to explain your benefits to you so you understand why you have the balance of $32…”

“Shut the F* up! I’m not paying anything. And you, little man, what the hell is your problem?” She turned from the front desk woman she had been yelling at to the office manager who had come to address the commotion.

Admittedly, he is a bit on the short side but who belittles someone to their face because of their height?

He identified himself. “You sounded upset and I thought I would see if I could help.”

“F* off!” She grew redder in the face and threw a clipboard at the check in window. “I am going to report you, you bitch!” Her voice rose, full of venom. “I am going to report the whole lot of you!”

Everyone stared, silent. Shocked. Finally, she turned and stormed out.

Later that day, she called the complaint line and raised holy hell. My staff and office manager were left to defend themselves to the higher ups, as if they were the ones on trial.

We have had a rash of verbally abusive patients over the past couple of months. I am not there to witness the interactions, but I do get to hear about them later in great detail. It is over silly stuff, like having to have a copy of the driver’s license of the person picking up a controlled substance prescription. 

Bullying. Almost daily. From new patients but also from people we have been seeing for years.

I realize that I talk about this sort of thing a lot. Healthcare is a tough field. You’ve got to have a thick skin or it will destroy you. Here’s the thing, though: I am used to these sorts of things happening from time to time, people are scared after all and there is nothing more frustrating than navigating the healthcare system, but I have never, in over twelve years of practicing medicine, ever witnessed the amount of abuse laid down over the past couple of months. I wonder why my staff even comes back every morning for another day of it. I am not sure we can ever pay them enough. The attacks are incredibly mean and ugly, more over the top than I am used to witnessing in past years. People are becoming more abusive, more hateful with each interaction and I don’t know where it is coming from.

If you work in healthcare, you are expected to maintain a perky and yet calm and meek facade at all times. We are to be patient, kind, respectful and never let our emotions show even in the midst of a brutal onslaught. If we crack, even just a little bit, suddenly the whole event becomes our fault. Let me tell you, that it is extremely difficult to maintain calm when you are getting beaten down every single day. I feel for my staff who absorb the brunt of it.

Why is this behavior even necessary? 

Is it a symptom of the political climate right now?