First Do No Harm

A gentle reminder, on occasion I moonlight for the Shinbone Star, the best little political blog on the world. I joined the mostly disgruntled mostly retired journalists and editors about 4 years ago when all hell broke loose in America. This is my recent blog post for them. Enjoy. Better yet, get pissed and vote accordingly.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The staff doctor here at The Shinbone Star is a little a little ticked off about the man at the top. No, not about Dutton Peabody, …

First Do No Harm
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After Life

I think I have an unhealthy obsession with death. It is not clear to me when this started. I think I let it out of my subconscious 4 years ago after the sudden death of my mom. There was something about her eyes as they turned from blue to gray that changed me. Even as I type this, I can barely express what I saw or how I felt. It is as if my breath catches in my chest. I can’t go there. I just can’t. I tried so hard to save her. 

My work is an expression of my obsession. My enemy is death. For myself and my patients. As much as it is within my power, I fight her. Yes, death is a woman to me. She is the woman who’s eyes turned to gray on that night that was burned into my soul, she is the one that took my mother’s blue eyes away.

People used to tell me all the time when I was little that I looked just like my mother, as I age I can see it for myself. There is this way that her neck kind of wrinkled at the edges. Mine is doing that, too. When I look in the mirror, my eyes are the same blue as hers. I stare at them too long. There are moments that I imagine them graying at the edges and I quickly turn my head. I didn’t just see that. It was just my imagination. I take a deep breath just to make sure I still can. 

Most days, I am just fine. I am so very happy. I enjoy my work, my husband, my children, my life. I laugh. I hardly ever cry, but that was not always the case. After her passing, I wasn’t good at all. I wasn’t even sure that I could continue with my work. How could I be a doctor if I couldn’t even save my own mother? It was irrational. I know that now. I went to therapy. I wanted someone to tell me that I was right to leave the profession. She didn’t. She told me I was exactly where I should be. I went to a career counselor. She told me the same thing. 

You should just go be a doctor. 

So I did.

Except, I kept trying to find a way to explore my feelings about death. I took an art class; it was one of those that are offered through the local community college, typically filled with senior citizens and stay at home moms. I learned to paint. I had no idea that I could. I tried to paint a picture of my mom, but it was too soon, I just couldn’t get her eyes right, so it sits unfinished behind a bookshelf. Then I discovered dolls.

My canvas became discarded dolls. I completely disassembled them. Took off their clothes, ripped off their hair, poked out their eyes, removed their heads and I started over. I remade them. I reimagined them. I make their hair, their clothes, I paint their faces, and I even make their eyes. I tell their stories. I save them. 

Of course this is crazy. I know it, but it gives me endless joy and these dolls are saving me, too.  For the past 2 years, I have been selling my creepy dolls at oddities expos and on Etsy. I’ve lost count how many dolls I’ve sold. Probably close to one hundred. Somehow, I think other people get it. They see the beauty in the darkness because my dolls are dark. I’m not afraid. My dolls are showing me that death is not the end. My faith tells me that, too. I see my creepy dolls as hopeful. They have survived something bad, just like me. 

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Postcards from the Edge

The news cycle can be overwhelming. The onslaught of conspiracy theories, half truths, and misinformation that comes from social media and not so respectable news sources is a never ending battle. Who do you trust? Who is trying to manipulate? Every day is another issue with the current US president and his cronies. The latest is manipulation of the USPS to negatively effect mail in voting. Is this even for real? Or is this just another way to gain clicks on another bogus headline? With some investigation, I discovered that it is indeed real.

It didn’t take a genius to figure this out, since our fearless leader is quoted as saying, “They want $25 billion, billion, for the Post Office. Now they need that money in order to make the Post Office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. But if they don’t get those two items that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because you they’re not equipped to have it.”

For some strange reason, this was my last straw.

I have not been a fan of our current administration from the beginning. I participated in the Women’s March in 2017, have written posts for my favorite political blog https://exjournalistsunite.wordpress.com, called and written to my Senators over issues that have concerned me, marched in a Black Lives Matter protest, donated to causes that I support and generally remain a vigilant, aware citizen.

The perfect storm of a pandemic and an attack on our mail system right before a major election that would affect our right to vote??? That shit put me over the edge. What does one do when they are pushed over the edge? Freak out, rant on FB, punch a hole in the wall, get drunk?

Nope, not me. I’m more punk rock than that.

I brought a shit ton of postcards, addressed them to the White House and every day I write one postcard and mail it.

It is strangely therapeutic. I have a little notebook where I jot down things I want to say. Some are Bible verses, quotes from famous people about leadership and integrity, thoughts about the way the pandemic has been handled, etc. Sometimes, when I am feeling especially punk rock, I’ll mail 2 postcards. Take that you tyrannical oligarch in the White House! This is my form of anarchy. Quiet, small, but fierce, just like Shakespeare said, “Though she be but little she is fierce.”

Or rather in the words of the great Sex Pistols:

I wanna be Anarchy
And I wanna be Anarchy
(Oh what a name)
And I wanna be anarchist
I get pissed, destroy! 

I am especially careful, however, not to be disrespectful, use colorful language or make threats. This is not my intention. I am certainly not interested in any Secret Service visiting my house. I am also not interested in seeing harm come to anyone or intimidate someone. I just want to speak MY truth. THE truth. Hold our administration accountable. Push back against what I see as a culture of half truths, misinformation, and deceit. I figure my little postcards help fund the post office. If they get piled up somewhere and never find their destination, it really doesn’t matter. I put it out there and that’s what really counts.

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It’s Alive

In case you were wondering, I survived the coronavirus and so did my husband and kids. It’s been over a month since our collective illnesses and everyone is back to normal. To be clear, it started with me. A few days later, my husband felt the familiar body aches, fatigue, and low grade fever. Then our oldest child started to complain of a sore throat. The youngest never had any symptoms. As each of us fell to the virus, we donned masks in the house trying to keep the next one from getting it. The youngest may have had it and been asymptomatic, I don’t know, I didn’t have her tested. The test is invasive enough that I didn’t want to make my kids have it before they had to and since the youngest was asymptomatic, I never bothered. We all hunkered down for 2 weeks and road out the internal storm of COVID 19 together.

As I recall those days, I remember an overwhelming fatigue. I had little energy for doing anything, including eating. I lost 7 pounds. Not an overwhelming amount, but I’m only 5 foot tall and on my frame, it was significant. I’ve definitely gained it all back. Once my sense of smell and taste returned, I was famished. I normally run 3-4 miles 4 days a week and I barely had the energy or breath to walk to my kitchen. The shortness of breath and fatigue were significant for me and it lasted for about 10 days. I had to be put on Prednisone because at around day 7, I developed wheezing and worsening shortness of breath. After a few days, these symptoms improved.

The hardest part during that time was listening to any news about the virus, death tolls, hospital rates, people refusing to comply with mask mandates, it was all too much and absolutely made the panic intensify. None of us know exactly how our bodies will react and with more than half of my little family sick, I couldn’t let my mind wander to the horrific possibilities. I reminded myself that most people survive, most do just fine, but some don’t. All the while our family was fighting the virus, one of my dear friends was transferred to the ICU minutes away from intubation. She wasn’t winning her fight and that realization hung over all of my COVID ridden days. I was only a few days behind her, was she my future, too?

I thought about writing during those times, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I just needed to focus on getting better, taking care of my family, and praying for my friend. I just needed to get to the other side. I was barely keeping my head above water and every bit of energy was necessary to swim to the shore. I eventually made it. My friend eventually made it, too. She slowly recovered and never had to be intubated. My husband and son, thankfully, had mild symptoms and recovered quickly.

There is a strange peace now that we have been through our own versions of illness. I still wear a mask everywhere I go, still use hand sanitizer, wash my hands and generally limit my trips to stores, but I feel relieved. I know that we have at least some immunity and the worst is behind us. We survived. My friend survived. In order to ensure that others have the same fighting chance, we must remain vigilant. Wear the masks, take the precautions, stop the spread of COVID 19 to others.

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The Results are in!

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This is not a cat, obviously. They would never put up with me wrapping a blanket around them, but our dog has no shame.

The tension was something akin to a gender reveal party or maybe more like a walk to the gallows. I kept checking my patient portal for my test results. I was becoming obsessive with temperature checks. My temperature never rose above 99. I hadn’t even taken a Tylenol. I was convinced I was being paranoid, that my mind was inventing the symptoms in my body. I was somehow, crazily, manifesting the achiness in my knees and ankles, the deep down-to-my-bones fatigue. The reason I kept checking my temperature was because I “felt” hot, but the fever never seemed to materialize.

So without further ado, I suppose I should let the “Shrodinger’s cat” out of the bag…

(you can find my previous post to which I am shamelessly referring to at Schrodinger’s COVID)

My test came back positive.

Cue all the typical gasps and sympathies. Go ahead, get it out of your systems because we need to talk. Ready?

I have worn the mask, washed my hands, been as diligent as humanly possible and this little fucker snuck in. I let my guard down somewhere, but if I try to discover the exact moment, I will drive myself crazy. The truth is, and as my dear husband said to me after I told him my test results, it’s just a matter of time. We are both in healthcare. The daily infection rates are rising. Restaurants and stores are opening up. People are getting out and this shit is spreading. Despite the feeling that a COVID infection is inevitable, we have to keep up our diligence. Hell, I’m wearing a mask in my own house now so I limit its spread to my family. We can not let our guards down, not even for a second.

The worst part is thinking that somehow I am weaponized. This virus has made me complicit in its death march. My every breath, in the right (or wrong) circumstance, could be lethal. Go ahead and make a joke, my breath could be lethal in any circumstance (LOL). I am not opposed to laughing in the face of death. In fact, in many medical circles, laughter is the best medicine, and with this virus, I have little else to throw at it.

So far my symptoms have been mild. Am I one of the lucky ones that will get through this unscathed? Or will the raging fever, hacking cough and gasps for breath follow in the days ahead? After reading many accounts on the internet of the progression of COVID 19 infections, I said this to my nurse when I called her to tell her the lovely news, and she said, “just like we tell our patients, I’m going to tell you, stay off the internet!”

I wrestled with keeping my results secret, as if that is possible, unlike other illnesses that just belong to the person that is afflicted, it seems COVID 19 belongs to the world. I figured once the proverbial cat was out of the bag, everyone would know anyway, so I might as well be the one to tell my story.

It is 1 am, I am alone in my bedroom because my husband moved to one of the kids rooms (I made him), and I was tossing and turning, thinking about all that a positive test means. It means I let my guard down. It means my family could be at risk. It means the symptoms could escalate. It means my family, colleagues, and patients will look at me differently. There will be a hesitation. I wasn’t able to keep myself well, how can I keep others well? It means I’m not perfect. It means I’ve got to rely on God to get me through, because, in all honesty, I’ve got nothing that I can do to make a difference.

I checked my temperature again. 98. The slightest tickle of a cough. I have asthma, so I keep taking deep breaths to make sure I can, that there is no wheezing or tightness in my chest. I feel vulnerable. Alone, but hopeful. Because I have been anticipating my results all day, I have been distracted from what the days anniversary was. In many ways, I am glad that my mom did not have to witness the last 4 years, to have to be part of  this pandemic. She would not have fared well. What irony to find out my results on the anniversary of her passing. Perhaps a good omen? Mom if you are watching, I love you, but I’m not quite ready to see you again….

 

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Schrodinger’s COVID

IMG_7241Tomorrow is the 4 year anniversary of my mother’s passing and today I sit here awaiting the results of my COVID 19 test. I’m not sure that the two things have anything in common, probably just mere coincidence. It is a strange feeling, the not knowing. I am both negative and positive for COVID 19 at this very minute, like a modern day Shrodinger’s cat. I have to quarantine as if I have it. I keep searching my body for any changes to suggest I’ll be dead soon. I promise, I am exaggerating about the death part. I don’t feel too bad right now.

I’ve had about 3 cups of strong tea with honey since this morning. I’m lying in bed next to my best pal, Jackson (our dog). Resting. The kids are avoiding me “like the plague.”

I woke this morning with sore muscles and joints, congestion and a minor cough. I have a headache, chills, and I just feel really tired. I tried to brush it off, but I would be doing a disservice to my patients and colleagues if I ignored my symptoms and tried to keep working, so I asked to be tested. I cancelled my clinic, drove home, and now I wait.

I know I let my guard down, although I can say with 100% honesty that I have always worn a mask at work and when in public. I make my kids do it, too. When we get back in the car from a store, I make everyone use hand sanitizer. We have ventured out, though. We have had meals at restaurants and gone to our favorite junk stores. If I have the virus, could that be how I got it? It really doesn’t make sense to try to figure it out, for all I know, I’ve just got another “bug” and not THE “bug.”  I think I’m just being paranoid because I have known at least 2 deaths in the past few days and many more infected.

I called my dad to tell him that I was tested today. We haven’t seen each other in about 2 weeks. We did visit him around Father’s Day. When I told him that I was waiting on the results, he was upset. I kept telling him, I’m just getting tested, I’m not positive yet. He told me, “It just really pisses me off!” I wonder if he realizes what tomorrow is. I’m sure he does. I better remember to call and check on him.

My dad and I have talked a lot about the national response to the pandemic, or lack thereof. He’s been worried about me in healthcare and my exposures at work. I’ve been worried about bringing illness home to him or my family. I wash my hands, wear my gloves, and my surgical mask. The same mask all day. We have both been angered by the lack of consideration for those in the community that are most vulnerable to the virus, like my dad. We have talked about the concept of every state for themselves, every man/woman/child for themselves all in the name of freedom, the freedom to ignore a deadly virus.

I’m kind of pissed off, too. I fell like maybe I failed somehow. I just wasn’t careful enough. I’m pissed that maybe someone was careless and went out without protection or were knowingly infected. I’m pissed that people aren’t taking this thing seriously. I’m pissed that I know people who have died. I’m pissed that I have to sit here and wait. My results probably won’t be back for 48 hours and until then I’m just going to have to be pissed off and wait in that in between place where I’m positive and negative at the same time.

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Protest Poster Ideas for BLM

UnknownDon’t you hate when bloggers give this long diatribe before you get to the part you really want to read, like, when I was a kid I had this friend, blah blah blah. Let’s just get to it. If you are planning to protest for Black Lives Matter, against police brutality, or because you are just pissed about what is happening in this country, here are some ideas for your protest posters. I am sure that I will be adding some more as I come across them. Help yourself, some I made up, some I saw on other posters. Let me know if you have some favorites to add to the list.

*From personal experience, it is important to spell check your poster, yes I carried a misspelled protest poster in the Women’s March in 2017.

  • The Thug is in the White House
  • Make the White House Black Again
  • Paint the White House Black
  • Just-Us
  • Karens Against Police Brutality
  • Trump is a Thug
  • Racism is the Deadly Virus
  • Jesus was a protestor, too
  • Protest is my right
  • Hands up, don’t shoot
  • Momma’s here, George
  • Stop Killing Black People
  • Colorblind no more
  • America is proud of us
  • The world is watching
  • Democracy lives
  • Democracy in action
  • No justice No peace
  • Vote out the thugs
  • November brings change
  • Not one more death
  • Change happens now
  • By any means necessary
  • I can’t breathe
  • Black Lives Matter
  • Your pain is my pain
  • I will not be silent
  • Trump is the looter
  • No more suffering
  • Heal our people
  • Pray for peace
  • Silence is consent
  • Am I next?
  • Am I neckst?
  • Who’s neckst?
  • Prosecute Killer Cops
  • Color is not a Crime
  • That’s not a chip on my shoulder, that’s your knee on my neck
  • How many weren’t filmed?
  • Hold Police Accountable
  • Say Their Names
  • Are we great yet?
  • Justice for George
  • Being black shouldn’t be a death sentence
  • I want to live
  • Let me live
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Black Health Matters

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This is my homemade protest poster

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m tired. I have been on social media almost nonstop. I think my phone said my online time is up 40% this week. I am consuming everything I can about what is happening with protests, law enforcement, and justice for George Floyd. I’m still reeling over the murder of Ahmaud Arbery while jogging. I couldn’t believe the audacity of the Central Park Amy, her nearly strangled dog, and the birdwatcher just asking her to leash him. We watched 2 murders in a span of weeks. Two black men murdered over and over again on TV. Holy shit.

All the while a virus wages. A virus that appears to harm black folks at a higher rate. The virus of racism and COVID 19, take your pick. I feel traumatized, I am having trouble sleeping and concentrating.  And I’m white. What the fuck do my brothers and sisters of color feel on a daily basis????

Racism, trauma, murder, death takes a toll on the lives of the oppressed. This stress effects the health of those of color in America.

Advocating for the lives of black people in this country is innate to the practice of medicine. Black people are my patients. I stand up for and support measures to bring about their best health and well-being. Doctors have known for a long time that being black comes with its stressors and with these stressors, worsening health outcomes. Being black in this country is hard and it takes a toll on the health of the individual.

Not only do blacks in this country have to contend with racial disparities, systems of oppression, socioeconomic blockades, systemic societal violence, but also the long term effects of an oppressive, hate-filled and violent society on their health.

Black people

  • are 3 times more likely to die from asthma
  • are more likely to be obese
  • have higher rates of diabetes, hypertension, stroke, and heart disease
  • are 50% more likely to get lung cancer if they smoke
  • are more likely to die from cancers that are survivable by early intervention and treatment
  • are underrepresented in clinical trials for new drugs
  • are more likely to lose a limb to complications of diabetes

The genetics that determine the color of one’s skin cannot explain the vast differences in the numbers of blacks effected by illness compared to whites. Systemic racism and the stressors that it causes on the health and well-being of the black American is the cause of these disparities.

Black lives matter. As a physician, I vow to do better. I vow to continue to educate myself on how the medical system and my own white prejudice fosters racism and therefore perpetuates illness for my patients. I will see color, friends. I promise you that. People who say they don’t are liars and part of the problem.

I will not be color blind to the needs of my patients of color.

I will not be complicit.

I will bring the protest to the exam room. I will educate, advocate, and fight for the health of my black and brown patients. I will do everything in my power to change those statistics.

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The Essential Worker

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I was talking to a patient the other day while we passed in the hallway. I had a mask on, she didn’t. She was in the office that morning to get her routine fasting labs. I asked her if she was going stir crazy at home in quarantine yet. Her chest puffed out a little, her face lifted, a smile curled at the edge of her mouth, “I’m essential.” There was a pride in her response that I had never considered. It stayed with me. Her job was in manufacturing and she was proud to be needed.

I have had a job where I am needed for so long, that I don’t even think of it as a positive. In fact, being needed can be a burden and I have to be diligent in ensuring that people do not take advantage of me, use and abuse me, take more from me than I have to give. I have to draw lines in the sand that can not be crossed so that I can continue to do my job without facing burnout. I have learned to preserve my down time so that I can be refreshed to continue taking care of patients when I’m needed.

I watch my healthcare brothers and sisters on the front lines and I know how it feels. There’s too much need. Too much death. Too much expectation. In order to preserve the limited PPE, the limited healthcare workers, the limited ICU beds, leaders in healthcare and government have asked people to limit the spread of  COVID 19 by isolating, sheltering in place, and following guidelines to stay healthy like social distancing, washing hands, wearing masks when in public, and avoiding excessive exposures (like going to get a haircut or shopping).

I have seen the protestors. At first I wanted to shout at them, call them stupid, stand in their faces and wish the wrath of the disease on their lives. Yeah, I got pretty pissed off. I know what the consequences of their actions are and I just wish they understood.

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).

After the anger, I thought about the essential worker. Her faced brightened, her demeanor changed, when I asked her how quarantine was going. She wasn’t in quarantine, she was working. She was needed.

The people with their rebel flags, Trump hats, wrapped in the American flag, taking to the streets after sitting at home watching the bills pile up with no end in sight, nobody ever called them essential. They are the sea of nonessential, unneeded that are watching the rest of us get all the accolades. Their white skin, with all the privilege that it brings, wasn’t working for them right now. They are the unseen. The ones with too big a mortgage bill, too big a car payment, secretly living from paycheck to paycheck, trying to look like they’ve achieved the American dream, but falling short by just one paycheck.

Once I tried to understand the motivation behind the protests for reopening a country that has virtually no COVID 19 testing, no cure, no vaccine, no reliable count of the dead or infected; that’s when my anger subsided. These protestors just want to be needed. They just want to be counted. They just want to be heard. They just want to work (and get a haircut or a greasy burger in a booth with a rip in the seat at the local diner). They are not evil, they are desperate. They are so desperate that their motivations and desires will put them and others in harms way and it’s a chance they are willing to take. Many were not wearing masks or practicing social distancing. The virus will spread. There will be death. There will be sadness and worsening desperation.  The essential worker will be harmed like a sick kind of payback for being needed in the first place. They will burden a system that is already showing cracks from the strain.

They know not what they do, but I pray that a sliver of reality will get through. We are all essential. It is essential that we all do what we can to protect the other. It is essential that we understand that our behaviors do not just effect us, but create a ripple. The ripple can be like a breeze of cool air,  refreshing and healing or it can carry the invisible virus of death and despair.  People will be harmed. People will die and we know it to be true.  Some might say it’s the price we pay for freedom. I say no haircut or burger is worth that kind of payment. That’s too big of a price to pay to be needed.

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My Pleasure

imagesAm I the only one that is disturbed when the shiny-overly-smiling-faced purveyor of my chicken sandwich at the Chick Fil A drive thru responds to a simple “thank you for my chicken sandwich,” with “my pleasure”?

I think it’s overkill and insincere. I have never in my life felt the need to respond in anyway to anything with “my pleasure.” It’s creepy. Does it really give you pleasure to put a chicken sandwich in a bag and hand it to me for minimum wage? When I think of things that could possibly give me pleasure several options come to mind, none of them involving chicken.

  • Getting a foot rub by Aqua-man
  • Meeting Stephen King and becoming best friends
  • Drinking red wine from the skull of my enemy
  • Finding the most amazing piece of junk at the Goodwill
  • Eating key lime pie while in Key West
  • Warm chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven
  • Riding horseback with my arms wrapped around the Witcher and my face buried in his long white locks

I once asked someone who I knew that had worked at Chick Fil A if corporate made them say “my pleasure, ” and she said they DID NOT.  What? Impossible!! How can all the people at all the Chick Fil A’s happen upon this odd way of saying “thank you,” all at the same time without a corporate-wide mandate??

Nope, she said, they don’t tell us to say, “my pleasure.”

Liar. Brainwashed. Or perhaps her brain was wiped clean after she no longer worked there. If it wasn’t for their chicken being so damn good I would stop going. I tried to find an alternative by checking out the local Popeye’s which happens to be over 20 miles away. The famous chicken sandwich that nearly broke the internet was pretty good, but not Chick Fil A good. The service was awful and no one said “you’re welcome” or “my pleasure” or really anything at all. Their eyes said all I needed to know. It was more like take your chicken sandwich and get the hell out of here! I kind of liked that attitude. It was sincere, honest.

Making chicken for minimum wage can not be a pleasure. Barely surviving can not produce shiny smiling faces that are just so happy to serve me dead fried foul. Where is the pleasure in that for the server or for the one being served? Who am I kidding? I don’t feel all that great about it either. Eating a living creature that was breaded and fried, slapped on bread and placed in a non biodegradable package just isn’t a pleasurable experience at all. Maybe next time I get a hankering for a chicken sandwich from Chick Fil A -I’ll just have a wonderful, healthy, nourishing, pleasurable….salad.

 

 

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