Doctor, no offense but I don’t want to see you

Doctor, no offense but I don’t want to see you

It was already close to the end of the workday in my clinic but there was still a new consult to see. It was the usual – a recent heart attack with diabetes, metabolic syndrome and hypertension. Pardon me, I meant to say – there was a new patient named Mr Lowry with the above-mentioned medical conditions.

I went through the chart quickly – some of the medications could be further optimized, blood pressure could be better controlled, the weight would have to come down. I asked the patient the usual questions – no, no recent chest pain; yes, he can walk for couple of blocks until his knees start hurting; yes, he quit smoking; no, he has not been able to lose weight. Mr Lowry answered the questions readily enough though he did not offer additional information or ask questions.

I asked him to take off his jacket and get on the exam table for a quick physical. As I leaned closer to help him push the T shirt up to listen to his heart, I could see there was writing on the shirt. I could only make out the word “today” as the shirt was riding up on Mr Lowry’s generously sized belly. “What’s written on the shirt?” I asked, curious. I received the first smile of the visit, and Mr Lowry pulled the shirt down so I could see. I DIDN’T WANT TO BE HERE TODAY, the shirt read. As I puzzled, my patient burst out laughing. “This is my hospital shirt”, he explained. “I wear this to all my doctor visits. My wife knows that it needs to be washed every time I have an appointment”.

The smug joke masked a deeper truth – my patient was trying to set his own narrative for his medical appointments. He didn’t want to be “recent non-ST-elevation MI, diabetes, obesity”. He was “Mr Lowry who doesn’t want to be sick”.

There is something freeing in naming the negative emotion. It is now out there and identified. In regards to Mr Lowry, it made it easier for me to find the motivation for lifestyle change – “you need to take your medications, lose weight, etc – so that you don’t have to see me anymore”.

Over the next day, I kept going back to the shirt. Is it somehow more powerful to elicit a negative emotion rather than positive one? Politicians certainly know that fear moves people to vote more than a desire for a positive change. The generic “you should exercise to be healthy” is less motivating than “you should exercise so that you wouldn’t get a heart attack”. It is especially motivating if the heart attack has already happened once – now the fear has teeth. When I ask my patients what is the most important thing I can do to help them, the answer often comes in negatives: “I don’t want to be short of breath”, “I don’t want to be tired after walking 10 steps”, “I don’t want to be in the hospital”, “I don’t like the hospital food”.

Few weeks ago, Mr Herkel was admitted to my hospital service. He was an epitome of a healthy 53-year old – slim, fit, didn’t smoke, exercised regularly. Part of the reason he had kept himself healthy was his bad genetic lottery – most of the men on his father’s side of the family had already had heart attacks or died by his age. And now, when he had developed chest pain that refused to go away, he anxiously checked himself into the emergency room. The type of chest pain he had was not especially worrisome – but due to the significant family history, we did a thorough workup nevertheless. His careful lifestyle had counteracted his genetics – the tests showed no heart disease. Mr Herkel’s relief was palpable. “No offense, doctor,” were his parting words, “but I sure hope I will never have to see you again!”

As for Mr Lowry, I am waiting for him to come back one day with a different T-shirt. The one that says, I DIDN’T NEED TO BE HERE TODAY.

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Self-care tip: Sometimes, a powerful negative emotion may be a motivation for positive changes in your life. But you have to name the emotion first and evaluate it. Be smart.

Question: Have you had a negative emotion change your life for the better?  Tell us your story.

I Can’t Make Friends – Anxiety

voyagerMr. Clark stopped talking and walked to the ringing rotary phone on the wall.

We were experts, as 7th graders, in anticipating what phone calls would be about. I’m surprised we never got around to making bets. I missed my chance to be a bookie. When the phone rang, it could mean someone was in trouble and had to go to the principle’s office.

Everyone was quiet waiting to see if their name would be called. No. That wasn’t it.

It could mean there was a school announcement. It could mean there was something wrong with our bathroom plumbing! But it had never meant that a space ship had exploded. Seventh grade was not the time to grasp what this meant. If we couldn’t grasp it, if our perceptions were unable to see it, then it could not actually exist. Right?

We kids had other things we were trying to sort out. Boys and girls. Getting your period or facial hair. Zits. What Melissa said about you when you thought she was your friend. These were space occupying in our minds. There was little room for understanding that this phone call announced the end of 8 lives, a billion-plus dollars blew up, nor especially not what it meant politically! Spouses and children, watching and cheering in the bleachers live, front row and center, witnessed as their own individual loved one exploded into tiny particles.

Mr. Clark walked, white-faced and perspiring, to the radio, asked for silence over the hum that had built up, and we heard. The challenger, the 8 people aboard (one of them a teacher), in 1986, was gone.

A spaceship exploding is about what anxiety feels like. That may sound extreme but it is the truth. And those who have experienced it, as if their were going to come apart, will do anything not to experience it again. This urge to avoid anxiety expresses itself in emotions and behaviors. But often, when anxiety doesn’t reach a full explosion, the afflicted individual doesn’t even know that they are sensing the urge to avoid, nor how they are responding to this avoidance. The afflicted person and those who know him get think that these medical symptoms are actually the afflicted’s personality. “It’s just the way I am.” 

You may be someone who feels inner congruence with decisions. By temperament, you like closure! But even so, against your own hard-wiring, you find that you have trouble making decisions. How you talk is driven by indecision. You’re couching what you say, being careful. Your self-esteem erodes.

Manuel had some similarities to this, but also, on top of his medical condition with avoidance symptoms, his personality was one that got energy from being alone. That doesn’t mean Manuel didn’t like people or interpersonal relationships. It just means that he got energy from being alone. And he did stay alone most of the time. When around others, the energy poured out of him like lemonade through an open spigot. However, he wanted others. Being lonely was not his goal. But there he was, more energy when alone combined with a thrumming buzz of nerves when he tried to make friends, when he tried to date, or when he was approached by someone spontaneously in public who asked the time.

Fudge! She only wanted to know the Blinking! Time! he screamed inside.

Manuel had some friends with whom he was deeply bonded to by shared experiences. But he had gone on to college and his friends had not. It was niggling in whispering thoughts that he might still be hanging out with them because they didn’t disrupt him. Because he came apart. Terror, like a spaceship exploding in the atmosphere after take-off, filled his perceptions, if he tried to hang out with anyone else! And Manuel didn’t like thinking about his friendships that way. They lost value when tattered by that persistent wind. Nor did Manuel like thinking about himself as someone who couldn’t get other friends if he wanted to. As someone who would use the faithful. Friendship by default? No. He felt shame just thinking it and he knew it’s falseness. In his most essential self, he knew he loved them for more than proximity. But he really didn’t know if he was weak. It was a possibility. And besides! What girl would want a weak man?

People with anxiety have barriers to any number of connections in life, like coming up to an energy force field we can’t see. There are interpersonal connections we might have had, but never initiated or explored because the anxiety held you in place. This is what anxiety does to us. Anxiety takes away our freedom to choose. And as the consequences and fruition play out, we live out the related losses.

Manuel came to me because, “Mom told me I better come and talk to someone.” Mom was fed-up with his isolation, hours of video games, and she had noticed that he was spending even less time with his childhood friends. 

Talking to Manuel, unearthing these patterns in his life, his insight grew a bit. But once he looked at anxiety, even with a sideways glance, which was anxiety provoking in itself, he came up against the need to decide,

Should I treat?

Deciding to treat is a decision to make between the patient, perhaps including their support system, and their treating clinician. When there isn’t a clear answer though, like a blood test that shows the vitamin D levels are low, we respond with vitamin D replacement therapy, but in these areas of diagnosis, it often feels nebulus to the patients on what to do.

When the decision doesn’t have clear form, like an undefined space, go toward the data. You may trust your clinician to know that data integrate it into all the information that goes toward deciding on treatment. Or you may choose to spend time researching and evaluating the data on your own and then go forward. Either way, if you stay with what you’ve been doing, you will remain ill and the illness will progress over time.

So either way, going with the data, either via your clinicians recommendations directly, or indirectly. Accept treatment. In fact, run toward it! You will have a much higher quality of life. And… those around you will too.

Self-care tip – Go toward the data!

Questions: What had influenced your choices in treatment or not to treat? Please tell us your story. We need your voice!

Psychiatrist is In

Psychiatrist is In

Lucy’s psychiatry booth

Did you notice?  In this picture, the patient became the psychiatrist.

Question:  Have you ever felt like your psychotherapist or psychiatrist blurred their boundaries with you?  Have you ever struggled with your own boundaries with him or her?  Please tell us your story.

Self-Care Tip:  Enjoy your boundaries and let them lie.

 

Old and Dying – Why We Are Still Alive

geriatric lady

Sweaty, well-worn, in bike-ware, she was eating comfortably with her friend.  I kept trying not to stare and just had to fight it!  I wanted to imprint her shiny wrinkled yet blooming geriatric status and break down what I saw into categories of self-care moves to grow old by.  She looked really good.

I managed to finish eating at, (Oh my word! Yum! My new binge and bolt location,) Zinc Cafe, without ruining her appetite with a big hug and smooch from crazy-staring-stranger, me.  I almost congratulated myself, it was so hard not to do.  Nevertheless, when walking out I did stop and tell her she was beautiful and that I wanted to grow up to be her.  She bloomed even more, right there and then.  It was swell.  Good food.  Good role-model to remember.

We think it is our best years that people will identify us by.  But they do not just do that.  They think of us as how we are now too.  More importantly is how we think of ourselves – of Me.

It is different for everyone.  Why we want to be here.  Understanding why, is a universal interest.  It is the other side of value in the aging process.

My parents are getting old.  I am.  My patients and their parents are getting old.  We are dying.

My dad is old.  He just turned seventy-nine.  He is not wearing bike shorts.  He is not a blooming geriatric.  But I value him and saying why, well, I realize starts with “Me.”  It is not because of him thirty years ago. It is about his life these last thirty years.  It is about his Me, now.

The present does not prove nor negate the past.  Our value is more than that.

Sometimes I visit community practitioners.   Please visualize that all of this is in the middle of their busy clinic day, racing between exam rooms to meet patient needs.  I am standing at a nurses station perhaps, dressed in something über professional, (to hide the gypsy in me as well as I can.  But if it were you, you would not be fooled by the cut of my lapel!)  I catch the eye of the clinician and receive a strained smile, almost hearing her say, “Come on!  I’m dying here!  I have three patients waiting!”  But generally they do not actually say it, generally.  And sometimes, they are snagged by the magic of connection, take my elbow and draw me away into a private space where they can share their story.  In a matter of moments.

We are skilled at shaving moments here and there.  Skilled at putting as few words into a fat minute that can convey the large concept needed just Now!  We learn this over brow-beating years of managed care medical practice, personal choices, convoluted expectations and need to please – self, other, insurance or what not.  When clinicians share stories, we do it like we are late catching the train to heaven.

From these visits, I get more to my quality of practice.  I get known, and get to know.  Awesome.  It is a newer part of my “work,” that I have been doing this, and I am loving it.  I meet the people who are the other side of our patient’s treatment team.  I meet people who are both human and medical clinicians.  Realness surrounds them.  Life stories come from them.  In a fat minute I hear about their past, gain some understanding of their present and from that, I am given much.  One physician told me of his beloved daughter who suicided, another of her husband’s chronic brain illness and how their family struggles.  I shared how my young cousin hung himself and that part of me who is groping toward that space and time before he died.

To know who we are despite our changing emotions and behaviors, our changing identities, improves our understanding of life value.  Somehow, Dad has known that, without bike shorts.  He continues to mentor me in that.  I do not know about the beautiful geriatric at breakfast, but who is to say she does not know her value?  Not Me.  But I am going to explore my own, for my sake.  I am getting old.

Self-Care Tip:  Look and look some more for why you are valuable.

Questions:  What is valuable about you, even though you have lost so much in life?  Why are you still alive?  Please tell us your story.

Related articles

 

Roughly What We Covered With The University Students

Psychiatry logo

Psychiatry logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is psychiatry?

Components intersecting at cross-point where stands Psychiatry:

  • The practice of medicine
  • The practice of business
  • The practice of one’s personal life
  • The doctor-patient relationship
  • The pursuit of Quality of Life

Who should go into psychiatry?

  • Consider temperament
  • There are areas of medicine that are more procedural based versus more weighted toward patient-doctor exchange.
  • The medical system is incentivized by codes and governed by layers of administration.
  • But the question begins with Me; what am I incentivized by?  Again, consider temperament.  Temperament encompasses perceived moral values, and where pleasure comes from.

What is brain illness?

  1. Biological
  2. psychological
  3. sociological

We are not in this to cure anything.  We enter psychiatry to improve quality of life – through approach of the biopsychosocial model.

Questions for you:  

  1. What is psychiatry?

  2. Who should go into psychiatry?

  3. What is brain illness?

Self-Care Tip:  Approach brain illness w/o expecting a cure, but rather a process.

An Introduction to Self-Care | Journal of Participatory Medicine

logo

I thank the talented editor and friend, Sarah McGaugh of birdinyourhandfor her untiring interest and excellence in helping me develop this journal entry.

An Introduction to Self-Care | Journal of Participatory Medicine.

Please join us in celebrating publication in this wonderful Journal.

“Participatory Medicine is a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health, and in which providers encourage and value them as full partners.”

Kathleen O’Malley, Managing Editor, turns out to be wonderful as well.

Keep on.

What Makes A Doctor-Patient Relationship

Power

Image by JAS_photo via Flickr

In our last post, The Struggle in A Doctor-Patient Relationship To Not Get Personal, your comments were critical to bringing it all together.  So much so, that I think it’s worth our time to review the main points about the doctor-patient relationship.

1.  People wonder about how to relate or conduct themselves.  It’s not clear and there are no directions.  In fact, for something so objective, why isn’t it?

  • a subject I have often wondered about – Cindy Taylor
  • when I see the new Doc, I just tell my story and describe symptoms????  – Sekan Blogger
  • hope that those professionals would be much more upfront with their patients – Nancy

2.  The professional distance itself between doctor and patient lends to the healing process

  • The doctor patient relationship is one thing that makes healing possible – Pattyann
  • if friends could help me I wouldn’t need to see a professional… – Patricia
  • distance …is such a strength – Kate Shrewsday
  • something far more greater than what a friend could provide and if I knew the intimate details of her life, that would have changed – S Sanquist

3.  The exchange of money for service is generally part of its constitution and brings motives into question.  Is there a price for the value of a patient’s health or even life?

  • You better keep me alive or there will be less money for you to make – Carl D’Agostino

4.  Power Imbalance

  • health professionals and I are not on the same social level when I am the patient and they are my health provider – Val
  • It (is) a loss to move from friend to patient. That is just how it has to go in the self-care process. Then there is the anxiety of the Dr. discovering who you really are and perhaps being disappointed. – M
  • same fine line in the teaching profession – Sarah McGaugh
  • most of my relationships have some sort of power imbalance – Shout Abyss

In truth, all relationships have an imbalance of power.  In healthy personal relationships, there is a flux in power, back and forth.  It’s a problem if they don’t pulse and is possibly one of the signs of an abusive relationship.

However, this doesn’t hold true in doctor-patient combos.  They are imbalanced by design and stay that way.  It feels counterintuitive at times to those involved.  But a good physician is like a good book – he/she/it is there for Me.  It is a unidirectional relationship.  There aren’t many good unidirectional relationships otherwise, …except for all those others.  You’ve heard of police, cashier’s, housekeepers, entertainers or, for example as Sarah reminded us, teachers.  But these are professional relationships and none of these are personal either, are they?  Unless you’re human, and then they are.  Oh bother!

Self-Care Tip – Find out what pleases you and what bothers you about your doctor-patient relationships.

Question:  What does please you and what does bother you about your doctor-patient relationships?  How do you imagine it would be if it were even better for your needs?  Please tell us your story.