Archive for the ‘GENERAL STUFF’ Category

PEOPLE ARE INTERESTING

April 28, 2021

As I finished checking the registration forms from the three people in the vehicle at the vaccination clinic at Autzen Stadium and took two vaccination records, an elderly woman in the back seat showed me a scrap of paper that had once been her vaccination record.  I told her I would make a new one.

“My dog ate it!” She said, obviously embarrassed. 

I couldn’t resist. “Sort of like your homework?”  The two in front broke out laughing, and so did the woman. Yes, people are interesting. 

I learned that simple fact from my mother, a sociologist, who earned her Master’s degree in 1955, when I was 7 and women were supposed to be at home, not getting degrees or even teaching college level classes, which she would do.

They were supposed to be taking care of their children, disciplining them if necessary (which it often was in my home), shopping, taking them to doctor’s appointments, cleaning the house, and making the meals, although in my case, as the youngest, I learned early to make my own lunch, and I have done so for nearly 7 decades.

My mother would often point out interesting-looking or interesting-acting people when I was out with her, clothes, relationships, commenting, “People are interesting.”  If a couple were a tall man and a short woman, she was interested. They weren’t of different colors back then, which today she would find fascinating; same gender couples were not on our radar then, and I’m not sure what she would think of the biological fact that gender is not a simple dichotomy. 

When an airline ticket agent told my mother he had a lot of problems to deal with and couldn’t help her, my mother asked him to tell her his problems. He did.  Then she said she had listened to him, and now it was his turn to listen to her. She was interesting. And got her problem fixed.

I never forgot that.  When I practiced neurology, I observed people for a living, but I was less concerned with the unusual aspects my mother pointed out in favor of the specific physical attributes I needed to know.  A good neurologist doesn’t have patients put into the examination room but prefers to call them personally from the waiting room, where he or she notices their ability to hear, watches them get up, walk, and talk—all complex neurological functions—without their realizing they are being observed. I had many a patient diagnosed before I shook their hand, which was another part of the exam. I learned that three times as many women accompanying their patient-husband came into the exam room without asking as did men accompanying their patient-wives.  I knew that because I counted them. That’s real sociology.  When I still had time to go to the Tucson Symphony, I would watch people walk, diagnosing Parkinson’s Disease, steppage gaits of a foot drop, hemiparesis, and cerebellar disorders; I would listen to speech of one with a tremor, all sorts of neuropathology to notice. People are interesting.   

When my wife and I started volunteering full weekends at Autzen, we checked paperwork for legibility and completion, filled out vaccination cards or made new ones (if the dog ate it), and explained the remaining process of getting a vaccine and waiting around afterwards. We had more human contact the first day we were out there than we had had in the prior year, and that is no exaggeration.  

We saw the whole gamut of people who lived in western Oregon—mostly white, but Black, Hispanic, men, women, and non-binary, because I could read the checked box or see under medical conditions “transitioning.” There were all sorts of accents. I guessed right that two women were Iranian from their names, and I surprised a woman who was Turkish by telling her I thought she was by her name. Fathers brought daughters, mothers brought sons.  Three generations of people were occasionally in the vehicle, a teenager in the front, the middle-aged driver, and the grandparent in the back, with a date of birth that was close to mine.

Five men were crowded into a Prius wagon, the only “fiver” I have had to date. They alone moved the needle that was Oregon’s vaccination percentage.

I also noted handwriting consistent with familial tremor and the micrographic writing of Parkinson’s Disease.

I like numbers, so I was interested in birthdays, how quickly I saw a second person with the same birthday I had already encountered. By the 23rd person, the probability is more than half that one birthday will repeat.  I saw people born on 9/3/93, 9/9/99, 6/6/66, the last the week before I graduated from high school.  There was an 6/8/68 woman whose daughter just missed being a 9/4/94. I’ve seen five with my birthday and scores of people born in December, where I say, “good month to have been born in,” just like 1948 was “a good year to have been born.” My wife counted lefties. It’s more difficult writing in the driver’s seat if one is left-handed.  Ever think of that?  

I saw a couple drive up in a contractor truck, man white, woman Asian, partners in the company as well as life. I saw one pair pulling their trailer, planning probably to be on the coast or up in the mountains that night, my wondering which it would be.  Some vehicles were barely running and had a a lot of miles on them, as did the driver.  One car overheated and had to be pushed out of line.  Others were late model Lexuses or Mercedes’ driven by teenagers or young adults.  I wore knee pads, because I often filled out the vaccine card on my leg, and I knelt on the rocky surface of the parking lot, where I often made eye contact with drivers of vehicles close to the ground.  Or, I had to reach way up to the driver to give him back his vaccination card, chugging sound of the diesel in my ear.

How people age was always interesting. I saw an Asian woman 4 days older than I who looked much younger. I have seen people ten years younger than I who look much older.  One Black man told me, “I don’t like these numbers,” pointing to his date of birth. I told him I had a good six years on him, but he looked good. 

Many were in a celebratory mood, a few grumpy.  That’s fair. It’s been a long 14 months, people are tired of the pandemic, the wait for vaccines has been long, and the wait in line that day no fun.  One lady shooed me away from her vehicle for being too close, despite my being double masked and outdoors, and when she would soon have a vaccinator touch her.  

Some drove down the wrong lane, for Lane 1 had two parts, the edge being for walkers and cyclists but just wide enough for an ATV service vehicle to pass.  I’ve had to have the drivers back up, and one lady was superb, backing up faster without a camera than I can with one.  She was embarrassed; I told her that she wasn’t the first, and her back up skills were great. The prior day, an 81 year-old missed the directions I had given her when I worked the initial check in and drove off down the same wrong lane with several of us chasing after her van.  I had a sense she didn’t understand my directions and should have repeated them.

One group of young people streamed music to get vaccinated by.  We have had Teslas and a truck that was vibrating so badly I couldn’t write on the driver’s side.  Another truck drove through with a loud screech every time the driver braked. I had a brief conversation with one man who saw my “Gates of the Arctic” hat and wanted to go there. He had “The Look”*: someone who wanted to see the open spaces, free flowing rivers, caribou, bears, the circular path of the summer sun, and the tundra’s coming alive. I told him it was worth doing and hoped he would.  

We tell people to take a picture of their vaccination card. My wife adds “put it in a safe place, and then take a picture of the safe place so you can find it when you want it.” There is a pause, and then the people in the car just laugh. People are interesting, but in that way, of putting things away and not remembering where they are, we are much the same. 

Fourteen lanes getting ready for the onslaught.

*They had that look in their eyes—maybe I should call it The Look—which others have seen from me. It’s a far away gaze of longing, of thinking about wild country, of rivers that run free and few people in the Lower have ever heard of, like Aichilik, Nigu, Itchilik, Alatna, Hulahula, or Kobuk.  It’s mountains and remote valleys, wild country, open horizons, where the Sun in summer travels in a circle above the treeless tundra.  It’s slogging through tussocks, rivers, swamps, and in bear, caribou, Dall sheep, wolverine, and moose country.  It’s hiking on residual ice, or aufeis, and bugs in June, blueberries and crowberries in July, rain, autumn colors and the return of night in August.  It’s the most difficult country to hike that I have encountered, also the most beautiful.  It is a country that kicks one’s butt, until finally one accepts it with the simple words, “It’s Alaska.” Everybody up here who has worn The Scent understands that.

BROTHER, DOCTOR, COUNSELOR, SLEUTH

February 15, 2021

Recently, my brother died in the Philippines after suffering a large stroke with complications.

I received the information on Messenger by luck, because normally I look at it perhaps weekly.  The message was concise:  “Please answer. Your brother is in the hospital.”  To underscore the urgency, two videos showed indeed my brother, using a rebreather mask, lying on a gurney, two in PPE attending him. I hadn’t seen him since an afternoon in Oakridge, Oregon, nearly 5 years ago.

For decades, he had gone to the Philippines for half the year, spending the other half in Oakland. He remained there during the pandemic and had been there 15 months. He was found on the floor in his apartment when his girl friend, Lisa, went to see him. She noted the fruit she had hung on his door 3 days earlier was still there, worried, and got a key.  As I later put things together, my brother had a stroke, ending up supine on the floor long enough to get a decubitus ulcer, a bed sore, on his buttocks, and to aspirate, causing pneumonia.  Covid testing was negative. 

He obviously needed to be admitted. The EKG and Chest X-Ray were sent to me using Viber and Telegram. In addition to pneumonia, he had atrial fibrillation with a heart rate of 190 and a left hemiplegia. Such didn’t surprise me given he had a small stroke a few years earlier, a long history of intermittent—and now apparently chronic—atrial fibrillation, heart failure, and taking anticoagulants sporadically, all of which were significant risk factors. He didn’t take his brother’s—my— advice when he was conscious; now he didn’t have a choice, but it was too late.

I learned I needed a 50,000 peso deposit, about $1100, for his hospitalization. Lisa found his wallet and a credit card, so I told her to use it. I knew nothing about his assets, US address, social security number, telephone or passport number, immigration status, end of life wishes, a trust, will, nothing. That was the way my brother liked it. I knew that I couldn’t change his mind: I never had. My father came closest, but he never fully succeeded, either. 

If you don’t have a will or advance directives, read on and note the consequences to those left behind without one to guide decisions.

After admission, Lisa periodically left to buy medications for his treatment at local pharmacies. That was how it is done there.  The CT scan showed a large right hemispheric infarct with swelling, a bad sign.  The next day, I spoke to the neurologist doctor to doctor, impressed by the detail and clarity with which the he presented information.  He wanted my brother to be put on a ventilator to support his lungs, suggesting a 3-day trial, which I thought reasonable.  At that point, we were both concerned of my brother’s ending up in a vegetative state: no comprehension, but appearing awake.

Meanwhile, I tried to sort out costs, deal with the 16 hour time difference, and help Lisa understand the seriousness of my brother’s condition.  Concurrently, I realized I would neither see nor talk to him ever again. Lisa got his computer and her daughter opened it, so we were able to find a few contacts, a bank, an investment account, a retirement account, and a smattering of passwords. I called his investment broker, and when I heard myself say, “My brother is seriously ill in the Philippines, and we need his money for the hospitalization,” I felt like a scammer. I knew nobody could do anything; I just didn’t need their saying “Wait until he wakes up,”when I already had told them he wouldn’t.

That weekend, I used his passwords to log in to a pension fund and his bank account, not that I could do anything with either.  He had 3 phone numbers to try, one with a 63 number that he used in the Philippines. I found his address in Oakland and learned from the pension fund he had no will.  I discovered his credit card was good for $2000, which was useful but already almost maxed out; his savings account had $200. 

I called my lawyer, who told me she found one name on a Listserv in the Bay Area, so I called and left both a voice mail and a summary on the Web site.  That night, I heard from the neurologist, who said the scan looked like more brain emboli had occurred along with incipient gangrene of the left leg. He was dying, so we made him DNR-do not resuscitate—although Lisa wasn’t quite ready to sign it. I had no problems with that.

That Tuesday, my brother rapidly deteriorated and died mid-morning there, early evening Monday here.  While Lisa was grieving and blaming herself, I told her my brother had been more ill than she knew, and she had done everything possible. I was all too familiar with my brother’s approach to life, but she wasn’t,  Still, she obtained his death certificate, somewhat surprising, because I thought the hospital would hold the body until they got paid.  She then sent me a video of the truck’s carrying my brother’s body to the crematorium.  I then called the US Embassy in Manila to see what they would need after he died. It was a strange call, for when they offered condolences, I was now more doctor-sleuth-executor, counseling Lisa at times, and compartmentalizing my brother into the “past” box.  I would be and am now the last surviving member of my birth family.

Once I had the death certificate, his passport copy, my passport copy, his immigration papers, Form 2060, and a copy of his Medicare card for good measure, I sent them to the Embassy, not knowing if it would be sufficient, but if it were, the 4-6 week waiting period for a Consular Report of Death, which I could use to access my brother’s accounts, would start. I would have to notify those contacts I knew, from Facebook and his phone (both very limited), a cousin, and my sister-in-law.

I was fortunate, when I dragged myself away from the ugly reality, that I didn’t have to repatriate his body and decide where to bury it; I didn’t have to deal with his personal effects, either, other than keys and ID.  In the Philippines, he had been loved. He had credit cards with enough money available that Lisa could buy his medicines and have his body cremated. She took enough grief from past girl friends he had and others who thought she had hurt him that I finally had to break social media silence when she asked me to reply to a Facebook post saying, “God only knows what happened.” I wrote, “I don’t claim to speak for God, but I can speak to what happened to him,” writing a concise hard hitting paragraph. The embassy had told me I needed to send a notarized permission letter for Lisa to use.  She operated fine with an un-notarized one.

As sole survivor, I felt strangely unmoored.  For the first time in years, I wanted to talk to my parents, for they would have understood my difficulties with my brother-their son-better than anybody else. I voiced those conversations aloud when I walked.

I asked my bank to help me with the wire transfer to pay the hospital, because it would involve nearly $12,000.  Even as next-of-kin, I had no legal obligation to act.  I was not executor, and I didn’t yet have a lawyer.  But my brother had received good care, was treated well, and I had a moral obligation to pay for it.

That was the first out of pocket money I had spent.  It was fair and just, if expensive. After wiring it, I felt an immense relief that a chapter was closed. My brother would ride off on his bicycle into the great beyond, again leaving behind unfinished business.  Lisa and her daughter would hold constant vigil over his ashes in a small shrine with two candles, a picture of him, for nine days, praying for his soul, a Filipino custom. When I heard that, I chuckled to myself, “Is 9 days long enough?” My parents would have laughed. 

Peace, bro. You were loved but man, you made things more difficult at the end than they had to be, and you still ended up with a shrine.  What a world. Don’t worry about your stuff; little brother can deal with it. 

Author, left, with brother, Oakridge, Oregon, June 2015.

STOP THANKING PEOPLE FOR THEIR SERVICE AND START SERVING

June 23, 2020

The day I arrived back in the US at Travis AFB, later SFO, I was carrying two arm loads of gear from my ship, which I had left about a day earlier in Subic Bay. As I half stumbled with the load along the sidewalk, people would not get out of the way.  I was still in uniform, and I would be until I could dig some civilian clothes out of my luggage, and that wouldn’t happen until after I arrived in San Diego.

That is how I left active duty in June 1977.  Nobody cared where I had been or what I had done, and there was no reason to care.  I filled a billet, I did what many young men did back then, and when my time was up, I rejoined the civilian world. The only things different would be that my hair would remain short—until the quarantine 43 years later—I lined up my shirt buttons with my zipper, and I called a lot of people “sir.”  I was 2 years older as a resident, and back then, that was considered significantly older.  November 11 came and went without my notice.  

For the next 25 years, that is about how things went regarding my past service. I had a few memorabilia on the wall in a bedroom, I drove lawyers crazy by using “sir,” because they expected a doctor to insult them, I guess. I learned a long time earlier that one could use sir in an infinite number of ways, just so the word got spoken. “Aye, aye, SIR!” I once yelled at the executive officer when I left his office having to do something I though was stupid and unnecessary.  I even let loose at an attending my first month, caught myself…and ended up with a “You are full of BULL–uhh-LONEY, SIR.”

It was 9/11 where things changed.  Suddenly, many wanted to get into the service and do something. I remember in 2003 at the AP Stat readers meeting, where a few hundred of us corrected the national AP exams, a couple of teachers were in the national guard and going to Iraq. At the meeting, they asked all veterans to stand. I was surprised.  Never heard that one before. As I stood, there were maybe 10 others in a group of about 200.  Interesting.  It is nationally about 7%.

The next time was Veterans Day that same year when I learned it was a holiday at a school where I was volunteering.  I was so surprised, I blurted out that hey, I was a veteran.  

Since then, there have been yellow ribbons on cars, flags everywhere, especially at football games, and on uniforms the players wore.  We started calling everybody who was serving a hero, which then was used for pretty much anybody who was doing what others didn’t want to do and who never before had been considered one or considered themselves one.  Heroes were also in charge of Abu Ghraib, too, or some of the more unsavory things that we did abroad. The flag got co-opted by one side, even as they did things in its name that the flag most assuredly did not stand for. 

At track meets here in Eugene, veterans and current military personnel are asked to stand before the national anthem. It is a weird and frankly kind of a neat feeling, although again, all I did was fill a billet on a ship.  If I hadn’t been there, some other guy would have had to do it. On Veterans Day, I now wear my ball cap and look for others wearing theirs, too, feeling a kinship over years, countries, and military actions.  One guy a hike with got blown up in Vietnam. He is a biologist and has had a full life. Once, one of the other vets told him that he felt guilty for staying stateside during Vietnam.  

“Don’t ever feel guilty,” the once injured man said.  He wore a hat that said “Peace.”

When Covid hit, I wanted to help.  I was willing to go to the USNS Comfort or Mercy as a medical officer—out of date to be sure, but able to help out in a military setting. It was a big pipe dream, of course, just like going elsewhere to help would have been.  I would have been  another person helping with some medical background, but I didn’t want to be one who got sick and made more work for others. I stayed home, was good, didn’t cause trouble, and did my part not to get infected. 

And so I find it strange, odd, and frankly reprehensible that when public health leaders in the country ask us to wear masks, to socially distance, to not crowd, and basically not to do stupid things, that there has been so much pushback. One of my military veteran former friends said that being worried was a result of watching too much TV.  Armed vigilantes descended on the Capitol here and demanded opening up the state. Wearing masks became a political statement, rather than a simple measure to try to limit the spread of the virus.  People complained that they weren’t being allowed “to live,” when in fact the whole idea of the restrictions was to ensure that more people did live. 

It was certainly a necessary, if unfortunate circumstance that people had to eschew normal human contact. But to don a mask—which can be decorated, like a hard hat or a helmet, or a car—to avoid infecting others and at the same time protecting oneself from infection, seems a tiny price to pay for the ability to again be outside, in public, able to do many things that for a couple of months we couldn’t do.  In Dallas, an increase of 12% absolutely for wearing a mask and social distancing—from 57 to 69%—would cause an outbreak to go from exponential growth to dying out.   A friend of mine went shopping where he counted 8 in 79 wearing a mask. I was surprised it was that high.

A couple of months of being limited in where we could go.  Anne Frank spent 25 months hidden where she was far more restricted than many of us were.  And she ended up dying.  

In Union County, Oregon, a few hundred had to attend church to sing and hold each other, ensuring that in a week 263 would get the virus in a county of about 15,000:  “Science is Real.”

“Thank you for your service” is now said to first responders, medical workers and essential workers. We need to stop saying it and realize all of us have a role in serving right now. We have a role not to get ill, not to enhance the spread of the virus, not to be jerks about it, not run too close to others in parks, or crowd in public.   We had a chance to stop the virus, and right now it looks like we will lose that chance. Wearing masks has somehow become against the constitution, against liberty, the right to infect man, the right to do what one wants, even if it infringes upon someone else’s rights—especially if that someone else is a Democrat.  

We have grown soft as a people. We are so concerned about our rights, we have forgotten about our responsibilities to collectively improve society. We want everything we want now.  But we aren’t willing to compromise a bit on anything that we think infringes upon our rights to do whatever we want without regard to consequences, costs to others, or anything else smacking of collaboration or helping one’s fellow person.

Wearing a mask is serving the country.  Use a face shield if one wants, but do something positive and useful. 

Thank you for…not being a jerk.

Face shields are easy to put on, allow one’s expression to be seen, and protect one’s eyes, which a mask can’t do.

The ball cap is wearing out, but the jacket still fits. 2016.
One can serve by volunteering outdoors, clearing trails. The author (right), Waldo Lake Wilderness, June 2019.
or…one can go on sites like zooniverse and help transcribe data from outer space, biology, physics, social sciences, or here, the names of prisoners at Mauthausen and other places, so that those who died are remembered. I visited Mauthausen, saw the “Gas Kammer” and the places where prisoners either had to jump into a quarry or be shot. It is a deep honor to be allowed to be part of the project.

JEALOUS

June 8, 2020

I was coring strawberries yesterday, after picking 20 pounds of them at a U-Pick spot out near Mt. Pisgah.  I was glad to get out there, and while the place was jammed, I was directed to a spot where I could be away from others. Picking is the fun part.  Washing is fine, but coring is boring, and going through several hundred berries makes for a long day.

My wife came in and had on a radio show from Doctor Radio from NYU Langone. Dr. Leora Horwitz of Health Care Innovation and Delivery Science discussed work in Covid survival in those who had been admitted to the hospital. It was a long session, so as I cored, put a red berry in a second colander, I listened to a study where people got key information from patients who later were admitted, tracking them until discharge. Wow, a hospital actually tracking something in real time, something important, with a lot of variables.  I would have loved to have spent some time doing that when I practiced.  I was jealous.

I looked over to my wife, saying, “I was trying to do this stuff 20 years ago.”  I was jealous.  I was also exaggerating on the low side.  I was doing it 35 years ago in the case of carotid endarterctomy.  I kept statistics for about ten years, until I finally got tired of beating my head against a wall and started doing quality improvement in a nursing home, since I couldn’t get anywhere in a hospital on the other side of the 110th meridian, which ran down Anklam Road between the two. I’ve often wondered how the nursing home did during these past few months. I proved then that one could decrease reporting of weight changes to the state about 80% if patients were weighed on the same scale. That’s an example of saving money and improving quality. I couldn’t get that information to fly over the meridian.

They did good work at Langone.  They found fully 75% of the patients there admitted survived to discharge.  That is useful information and impressive care, which also made me jealous.  I didn’t see too much impressive care in practice, although I sure tried to steer the place towards it.  Langone looked at risk factors and found that some lung conditions surprisingly did not seem to be problematic  They studied 5300 patients.  Of course, they had a lot of throughput and nice computers, rather than the pen and paper and the work I did by myself in medical records, back in the mid-80s and later.

I listened to the whole show and shook my head, now green with enby, which went well with the red on my fingers, my jealousy giving me a Christmas appearance in June.  I never got the chance to work for a group that really was in to dealing with learning like this one.  That’s exciting, when people are engaged in something bigger than themselves and proud of their work.  I had a little of that in the Navy, but only a little.  

I finished cleaning the strawberries and put the last two trays in the freezer. It was a good start for the season.

I have followed the Covid numbers from the beginning, when US deaths were still grouped by county and state, and we were well behind China.  I’ve watched as Mississippi briefly rescinded open up orders when they had a flurry of cases. Turned out, it was a data dump from the prior weekend.  I’ve listened to people who were concerned about our death rate here in Oregon, when on the same graph as New York, there was no daylight between the line in Oregon and the x-axis.  Here, we flattened the flounder.

I’ve watched, as Britain and the US had peaks and valleys in the daily death count, which seemed to be 5 days of the former and 2 of the latter.  Yep, the weekend.  This sort of data dumping wreaks havocs on the models that we are using to deal with the epidemic.  We had a $35,000,000,000 (worth writing it out) information system a decade ago in health care, and it was shut down during the pandemic, because it was taking valuable time away from patients.  

What in the world is wrong with us?  Or with the generation behind mine, where we counted things, pen and paper, made lists on paper, tracked stuff on paper, and knew where we were very quickly?  If an information system is only used for billing, and it slows down patient care, we really have lost our way.  Now I moved to anger.

Well, we need data inputters to do this.  Fine, put out a call. I will volunteer my time. This is bunk.  The Vice President and the Coronavirus Task Force—remember them?— asked hospitals to “please” send numbers of Covid-19 cases in their intensive care units daily. You don’t say please. You say, “Do it.” Finally, we did it, and our numbers are currently at about 17,000, compared to under 1000 in many European countries, about 300 in Italy now. Italy. Brazil is stuck on 8315, where they’ve been for a month, so they aren’t updating it. We aren’t alone. We do share the same type of leadership, however, as do two other countries in the top five, Britain and Russia.

Please?  From this group?  OK, they put out a flow chart how to get Covid tests in California that had precisely three lines. Remember Dr. Birx holding that up?  Amazing.

How difficult is it for any hospital in this country to count, as of midnight every night, the number of Covid-19 cases and the number in ICU?  You don’t need a computer for this stuff. You need someone who can count, write it down, and call it to a central hot line.  Oh yes, we could use email, too, but apparently our tech savvy populace doesn’t like that.  

It’s disgusting, and if it screws up the models we have, it is going to kill people through lack of timely information.  

Because we cannot do things in real time, we need people go back and “clean” the data, and that takes more time.  Fine, clean the data, but get the preliminary out immediately. We need it for planning.  It is easy to do, cheap, certainly not $35 billion, and it is data that everybody interested in Covid-19 wants on a daily basis.  NYU figured it out, but they are good.

I know Americans really don’t like numbers and counting, preferring nice looking software, glossy paper, and lots of colorful worthless pie charts to make the data “look good” (the human brain does not distinguish angles well, so that pie charts are a sub-optimal way to present data.) I’ve had this tirade before when I learned that mortality data, like for breast cancer, was three years old.  We ought to be able to track diagnoses in nearly real time. They have to be made by a pathologist, and there are a limited numbers of pathologists.  Every week, send the appropriate numbers to a central registry.  That way, we have immediate data, and can later use the 3 year old clean data, to compare and see exactly how much error there is and why. 

This is not the first time I offered to count things. I wanted to do it with medical errors with chart reviews with a three part ordinal score of No Error, Possible Error, Significant Error.  This could have been done in every hospital in Arizona, where I once lived, and we could have had a state wide tally of possible errors.  Oh sure, someone would sue, so those who have never been sued, unlike me, wanted to shut the whole thing down or asked me what kind of software I was using.

My brain, That’s the software.

It is soft.  Gelatinous even. That good enough?

TIMBER ISSUES

February 29, 2020

Last weekend I went to the annual Oregon Logging Conference, where our volunteer trail crew had set up an exhibit about our trail work and brought several small logs and two large crosscut saws, about 80 teeth each, for people to use, with supervision, to get an idea of how we clear wilderness trails, where chain saws are not allowed. 

The night before, Oregon Wild, an organization to which I belong and donate, demonstrated out front.  I felt a bit traitorous going inside the exhibit hall, but my trail clearing crew has many ex-loggers on it.  They are experienced sawyers and have a lot of woods experience, and I have learned from them.  Showing the public that volunteers are doing significant work to help the public access their national forest is important. 

There is now hashtag Timber Unity, Stand up for Working Oregonians, web page Dear Oregon, which is more of the same, and a year after the attempt failed, Stand up for Oregon, Legislators want to take your guns.  The legislature Republicans have left the state so there won’t be a vote on the cap and trade bill or anything else. Last year, they did the same thing.  They feel put upon as a minority.  Well, I lived in southern Arizona for 37 years and was a minority when it came to stuff that was passed up in Phoenix. We talked about Baja Arizona and seceding, but it was a joke. I feel like a minority in my country right now, run by the rural and put upon folks, who rub it in whenever they can.  Apparently, when the Republicans get put upon, they walk out.  It reminds me of the kind of stuff I did when I was a boy and what some physicians I know did when medicine changed and hospitals had to change, too.

On my way from the car to the exhibit hall, I went by a house with a sign up on a tree: “Log it, Graze it, or watch it burn.”  And one of the first people I saw in the hall had a Trump 2020 hat on.  This is not a friendly group.  Many think we are forcing them all into Priuses and want to outlaw diesel, red meat, gluten free, LED bulbs, transgender, the thought of climate change, think the eastern two thirds of the state should become part of Greater Idaho, and only one side owns the flag.  At least with Greater Idaho, they wouldn’t have any more senators and not another representative, either, unlike the State of Jefferson folks, who think the 40,000 there deserve two and one.  

I hear much about how we have more trees than we did a hundred years ago.  Sure, because then, there was mass cutting without concerns about ecosystems, resources, animals, or anything else.  But there isn’t more old growth now, where carbon storage is huge and the ecosystems fully developed.  I don’t count seedlings as “trees” in that sense.  If we had more trees now, the pictures of the state over the last 20 years would not be an example of how much clear cutting has been done, and Oregon Wild would not have put pictures of clearcuts on the MAX trains up in Portland.

A friend told me her father was a logger many years ago and said everybody thought the forests were infinite.  I also see signs saying that young trees take up carbon at a higher rate than older ones. That’s a tipoff to the fact that the trees are small.  Here’s how I know “higher rate” comparisons are a sign of something small: 

2018 2019

Paul’s Pizza sales    $1 million                $2 million  

Big Cheese Pizza.   $175 million         $180 million

Paul’s has grown 100%, impressive; Big Cheese has only grown 2.9%. Wow, Paul’s is growing more than 33 times faster than Big Cheese.  

But Big Cheese has gained $5 million in sales, compared to Paul’s $1 million.  That is 83% of the market increase. As to market share, Paul’s has increased from about 0.6% to 1.1%.  Now, extrapolation can be misleading, but I could hardly be faulted here for noting at the current rate of increase of market share, it will take Paul’s at least a century to catch up with Big Cheese, which is well named.

A century is about the minimal time period we should let planted trees grow, not 40 years..  Do clearcuts affect the soil long term?  One reference, which was put out by a logging group, pointed to the need to keep slash, the branches and other material, at the site and that the nutrients quickly came back to normal.  It’s perhaps not fair, but the reference looked at only minerals, did not define ions properly (calling them “nutrients”) and said new approaches used non-toxic chemicals, including “agua regia” (sic).  I heaven’t studied chemistry in a half century, but the term is “aqua regia,” a mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acids, a bit toxic.  Another article looked at fungi and bacteria in the soil and found that even 10-15 years after a clearcut, the soil had not recovered.  Compaction from heavy equipment, with anaerobic conditions developing, was a significant problem. It was clear to me that the second article gave a better idea of what was going on than measuring only minerals and ions, and using Spanish where Latin belonged.  Don’t laugh; mistakes like agua regia (even spell check picks up the error) hurt one’s cause. It is the coffee stain on an airplane meal tray. If you can’t check spelling or grammar, what else are you missing?

A significant number of fires start in slash left behind after clearcuts, including the Milli fire in 2018, where Black Crater’s wonderful trail was destroyed.  We used to have “teepees” to burn waste. I remember them when I traveled through the state 50 years ago. Many think we should bring them back; in this administration, who knows, maybe we will.  Never mind that smoke from them and once allowable grass burning once led to a multi-car, multi-death pileup on I-5, in 1988, where 7 were burned to death and 37 injured, many severely, from smoke.  Twenty years later, the rye grass group still had 10% of the fields burning every year.  

These organizations want to go back to the days when we could do all this stuff, but we didn’t know better then, the land was less crowded, and life was supposedly better—assuming, of course, one didn’t get seriously injured in an accident, didn’t die of diseases we can cure today, and one wasn’t a person of color, immigrant, female, different, gay, lesbian, or disabled.

What I noted in the exhibit hall were young parents with several children.  I wondered, while looking at them, how they would adapt to climate change, which is real, to changes in timber management, which must happen, if not now, after this administration, and to health care.  Their representative in Congress, Greg Walden, wrote the bill that would have taken a couple of hundred thousand of them off Medicaid.  He still got easily re-elected.  

Our priorities need to include education, family planning, better access to affordable quality medical care, better environmental stewardship, adaptability to climate and world demographic changes.  COVID-19 is another warning shot by nature.  We would do well to listen. There will be more of these, and neither nature nor viruses cares a whit about jobs, ways of life, families, or those who feel they have a monopoly on “hard work.”

OLC 2019
Using two man competition saw for first logging this year of a trail blocking log on the S. Willamette Trail, February 2020.

COULD WE FINALLY GET A DOCTOR TO SEE THIS PATIENT?

September 8, 2019

A physician-friend of mine consulted me the other day about an unusual symptom.  I don’t get consulted much these days—I’m old, out of date, and nowadays just about everybody seems to be a medical expert either through being or knowing a first responder, nurse, PA, or some of the people I know in the hiking club.

Anyway, my friend had flexed his neck and felt a shock go down his body for a few seconds. He wondered if he were crazy.  Few things are as clear to a neurologist as this Lhermitte’s sign, named for the Frenchman who first wrote about it.  This means there is a problem in the cervical spinal cord, either due to MS, if the person is young; or arthritic changes or cervical spondylosis if older, with a spinal cord tumor,  foramen magnum meningioma, or Arnold-Chiari malformation, where part of the cerebellum, called the tonsils, tries to join the cervical spinal cord rather than staying in the skull. I did a brief exam, which showed no weakness, and told him he needed an MRI of his neck. 

He saw a nurse practitioner and convinced her that he needed an MRI.  That was done, and the radiologist wrote a report and sent it to the office.  The nurse in the office, not the NP, and certainly not a physician, read the report to my friend over the phone, which showed “moderate changes at C3-4,” mild changes elsewhere.  Nothing else. No future care was offered.  

In my practice, I not only saw the report but felt I should look at the films, often with a radiologist, and then call the patient and discuss what was next. The radiologists loved it when a clinician showed up by the alternator where the films were stored, and I learned a lot, too. I called my patients with the results and returned their calls. I wasn’t paid to do this and I never expected to be.  It was part of the office visit, in my opinion. It was not a fun part of the job, but it was part of the job.  I can’t remember any time in the past six years a treating physician—or a midlevel, for that matter—called me.  Even with email queries, only once has a physician has ever responded to me.  Something has been lost.

I told my friend he had to get a diagnosis.  Lhermitte’s is not some minor ache and pain associated with growing old.  It isn’t mild deafness or an early cataract.  This is a potential problem when mid-levels take over a lot of care and physicians don’t closely oversee it. Midlevels are excellent physician extenders but should not be considered complete physician replacers, either. I told the physician to get the CD of the images and I would look at it with him.

When I looked at the images, spinal cord compression at C3-4 jumped right out at me.  There was a 2 mm offset in a person with a small spinal canal to begin with, meaning that there wasn’t ever a lot of room for the spinal cord, and the slight change in alignment had removed 2 additional mm.  This was severe.  It explained the Lhermitte’s sign, and the question was how it should be dealt with.  He then called his primary physician, who made a referral to the spine clinic.  

My friend got an appointment six weeks out—-with a PA.  

This is discouraging.  This problem is a major cervical cord issue that explains a classic symptom that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later, and it shouldn’t have to be screened again six weeks later by another mid-level.  It’s frankly insulting. It’s time for a doctor to see this patient.  The referring physician dropped the ball, too.  At least it’s real pathology. This isn’t a person with a little osteoarthritis.  When I saw “headache, emergency, rule out bleed,” the headaches were almost always tension.

My friend has to wait, and it is a grim reminder that Oregon is not physician friendly and has a hard time attracting and keeping doctors.  I still haven’t a new internist a year after my other one left, although I’ve seen a physician assistant twice.  

The more recent appointment was for my injured hand which I got losing an argument with a rock on a river crossing on a backpack of the Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood.  I had a second metacarpal fracture, closed and non-displaced, and the diagnosis made, after which I elected to go to the local orthopedic institute to make sure my hand was going to be properly treated.  It is, after all, a broken hand. I did a lot of reading about broken hands, just like I do with other conditions I have.  

I went to the orthopedic center and saw…a NP.  She put me into a splint, which made sense, but again, I have to wonder, why aren’t doctors seeing routine real pathology?

Don’t get me wrong. For years, I spoke to first responders in Benson, Arizona, about head injury.  I had a video made at one hospital showing my dissection of a human brain, one of many I did, a crowd of nurses around me, so they and others could see the structures.  I did this, because I like to teach and I wanted ancillary personnel  who saw patients to increase their knowledge.

I now feel I need to direct my care a lot more than I thought I ever would. I’m on my own, the way I was on Mt. Hood, deciding to keep hiking another 30 miles with an injured hand rather than bail out at Top Spur Trailhead.

I worry, however, how I will deal with something serious in the future, and given the opiate issue, I worry greatly should my wife or I develop a painful condition— like metastatic cancer.  There are too many barriers between us—both retired physicians—and a treating physician. They are physical as well: I go into a medical office these days, and I need a GPS to find my way back out.  It didn’t used to be that way. 

I find it odd that when I was in medicine, I treated all sort of things that my training never touched upon and didn’t treat many things—carotid artery disease, and MS, to name two—that I had the training for. Internists would treat those conditions and send me people with obvious tension headaches.  Now that I am away from medicine, I am subject to non-physicians as gatekeepers and wonder what will happen if I am not mentally sharp enough to check what is happening. I am starting to be far more assertive about what I think needs to happen.

I also wonder what my friend would have done, if he were not medically trained and hadn’t contacted me. He would have eventually become diagnosed, but he might have had deficits from a myelopathy (spinal cord damage) assuming he didn’t have a fall first and become paralyzed. How many people are out there who are not getting full evaluations because physicians have delegated much of front line care and it isn’t clear to me who might be falling through the cracks? 

At the minimum, when I am given an appointment with a medical practitioner, I want to know before I go who it is. This does not always happen, unless I specifically ask.  Second, if I have seen a midlevel, I want to know whether a physician has signed off on my medical record. Third, I can afford my care, but why is the cost the same with a midlevel as with a board certified specialist, or in one recent case, $100 more for less workup?

Finally, if the electronic health record is too burdensome, some day we are going to have a new health care system. If you are a practitioner and don’t like the time spent on an EHR, assert yourself and design something better. Take back control, like I’m trying to.

PUBLIC SHAMING

March 30, 2019

As soon as I took a step towards the other side of the trail, right behind a crew member starting his chain saw, I knew it was a bad move. Oh well, I jumped quickly to the brush on the other side of the trail just I heard the chain saw roar behind me.  That was stupid, I thought, and I won’t do that again. I was carrying an axe and a hard plastic wedge, and my job was helping the sawyer by being ready to pound the wedge into the top cut to keep it open and keep the saw from binding.  But I should have waited before going to the other side.  

For the second straight week, we were clearing trail out by the Middle Fork Ranger Station near Oakridge.  The Wren Trail was normally a short, easy walk, but scores of large old growth and other trees had been brought down by the winter storm that shut down the county for a week, and the prior week the smaller chain saws used were limited in what could be cleared.

Today, we had cleared a couple of dozen big trees, 2+ feet in diameter, 200+ year-old Western hemlocks with a few Douglas firs and Western red cedars as well.  The trail was open for use again, and we were finishing a spur trail to a nearby road, making several cuts in a downed Douglas fir. It had been a good day, and the eight of us felt good about what we had done.  Nobody got hurt, although one man with whom I was working had a log brush his knee brace.

Before, during, and after. Each area that is cleaned needs to be planned, each log has to have its cut planned, and we need to be better at planning how we will get the logs off the trail. Near Middle Fork Ranger District office, Westfir, Oregon.

Shortly before we drove home, we gathered for a “tailgate session.”  I had been out more than thirty times with this group, and while we did morning tailgate safety sessions, this was the first afternoon one I had encountered. 

One of the two leaders, an experienced man in his 70s, who had spent decades cutting, looked around at all of us.  He looked at me, and then again at others, and I knew what was coming.  He finally looked at me again:

“You,” he said, pointing his finger at me, but not menacingly, “went around the saw as it was being started.  That is the worst possible time to do it.” The sawyer next to him with whom I had been working the whole day nodded agreement.

I don’t know who was looking at me, but I’m sure everyone else was.  I hadn’t been dressed down in public in a long, long time, and it stung.

“As soon as I went, I knew it was wrong,” I stammered.  And I heard again that saws starting up are most unstable.  That I didn’t know.  But I knew I was wrong.

The group discussed a few other things about safety, at least not involving me, but not involving any one individual.  I wasn’t going to say anything more, a decent approach, but I decided I would anyway.

“We need to stop and think before pushing logs off the trail that have just been cut,” I said.  This has been an issue on many of the outings I have been on, and it bothered me.  “I want to help, but if I’m not sure what the plan is, I am not going to hurt myself moving something until I get into position.”

Nobody said much. I’d seen far too many people in the woods push, lift, pull, or otherwise move logs without proper lifting care.  We were all old; sooner or later, bad technique causes problems.  Even good technique can.  I hurt my knee last summer by pushing in a way I thought was appropriate, but with which my knee disagreed.  I said probably the most important thing of all, although I didn’t appreciate it until later, and the others may not have even noticed: “we need to pay as much attention to moving the downed logs as we do to cutting therm.”

The worst thing that happened?  Being called “You.” He didn’t even know my name. I have worked with this man at least a dozen different days in the woods.  I’ve ridden in his vehicle three times 2 hours to a place and 2 hours back.  I talked to him at a benefit for the Crew at a bar because he was standing by himself and I didn’t see anybody else familiar.  OK, some people are bad at names, and I am one, so I wrote my name on the back of my hardhat.  He didn’t take the effort to know whom he was criticizing.

He should have taken me aside right then in the woods and told me why I did what I did was wrong.  That’s how you learn. Then, he could mention it at the tailgate briefing as something he has seen. I would have known it was about me, but I would not have been shamed. Instead, I felt “I’m once again at the bottom of the experience ladder and everybody else knows I’m a screwup and I shouldn’t come out here any more with the group and I just want to go home.”

If nothing else, he could have at least asked my name.

He didn’t.  He dressed me down in public, which my father and the military both taught me you never, ever do.  On board my ship, I heard a lot of yelling behind closed doors, and I saw chastened people afterwards, looking like they had been through a verbal wringer, but they at least had the dignity—yes, the dignity—of knowing that nobody else saw the scene.

Medical training was full of public dressing downs.  Woe to the physician, who, after having been up all or most of the night, didn’t have all the lab tests or a complete differential diagnosis on a patient right at his (usually his) fingertips.  It stings.  It can bring tears.

I saw a public dressing down of one of my classmates at New Mexico State when I was in grad school, and as one not involved in the issue, I felt so uncomfortable that I wanted to be somewhere else—anywhere else—at that time.  It was really ugly, and until this issue in the woods, I had repressed that day some twenty years ago.

When there is a dressing down, here are the reactions:

1. Try to become perfect, even if it is impossible, because perfection avoids mistakes, and mistakes are bad, bad, bad.  Rational? Of course not. But this is not a rational matter; it’s a deeply emotional one.

2.  Defend by attacking.  This same person who didn’t know my name was cutting a log a few weeks ago and not wearing a hard hat.  I deleted the picture I took of him. We don’t want to show that stuff.  We had too many people working in too small of a space today. That was unsafe, and nobody spoke up. We don’t lift properly, as I mentioned earlier. I did at least try to speak up, but it went nowhere. But none of that absolves me from my error, and bringing up examples of other errors is distracting and wrong.

3.  Stick to yourself, stay quiet, stay out of the way.

4.  Hide the error if possible.  A lot of doctors hide errors, because the ultimate dressing down in public—malpractice trial, which I have gone through—is intellectual rape

I’ll still work trails.  I know with whom I will try to work, however, and with whom I will try not to.  I’m a volunteer, after all, and while I’m not experienced at trail work, I’m not a beginner any longer or even a novice.  I go out to be in the woods, try to make current trails accessible again, and do good. I can go alone if I wish.

I’m a natural teacher.  Today, when the young woman at the drug store couldn’t make change properly, and I had to patiently explain the transaction to her two different ways, I did not berate her.  She felt badly enough and apologized for her lack of math.  I told her quietly not to worry about it.  If she’s good, she will worry about it, and she will get better,  but at least it was between me and her.  Nobody else.

BLUE DIAMONDS, WHITE SNOW

March 26, 2019

I had a lot of other things I probably needed to do last Tuesday. There was a trail over in the Drift Creek Wilderness that needed scouting for downed logs, with GPS coordinates, so the trail group, the Scorpions, which I am part of, could tell those who were going to log it out what to expect.  That would still have to wait. I needed to be in the Math Lab at the community college, because it was finals week. 

But I had put off my winter trail checking trip way too long. I am one of the winter trail adopters for snowshoe and cross-country skiing.  I needed to go up into the mountains, hope the snow wasn’t too deep to bury the markers, but deep enough so I could both find and reposition upward trail markers, blue diamonds nailed to trees. I also needed to replace those diamonds that were broken or missing.  I didn’t do it last winter, because the snow wasn’t deep enough.  I had done a pre-season look in October, an 11 mile hike from Gold Lake to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), south to the Rosary Lakes, out at Willamette Pass.  But one person can put up a diamond marker on a tree only so far standing on ground, and I was not about to carry a ladder into the woods and stand on it to mark trails.  It is too dangerous, and my wife has regaled me of X-Rays she has seen of people with horrific injuries with the history, “Fell off ladder.” People my age die from minor ladder falls. If any may be considered minor.  Standing on several feet of snow is a good ladder and a lot safer.

I shared this trail duty with another, but it now appears it is my duty alone.  Such happens.  Anyway, I knew what I had to do, so I drove up to Willamette Pass Ski Area on Tuesday, when the place was closed, parked the car on the shoulder of Highway 58, walked past the wet pavement of the parking lot, past a cabin, put on my snowshoes, and headed towards the PCT.  The estimated 10 mile snowshoe would be half on the PCT coming in and out, the rest going up the Tie Trail, nearly a mile long, climbing several hundred feet, connecting the PCT to Tait’s Loop. From Tait’s, I would try to find the PCT again near Maiden Saddle and return via Upper Rosary Lake, back past Middle and Lower Rosary Lakes and out the PCT the way I had come in.  I hoped some trail would be broken with prior tracks, but I wasn’t so sure about the Tie Trail or Tait’s Loop.

Map of part of Willamette Pass. Contours are 40 feet.

 

It was warm, with mostly clear skies and light wind, and I started in a shirt, rain jacket in my day pack and a smaller pack around my waist with a hammer, nails, and five dozen blue diamond markers. The trail initially was broken, snow deep on either side, message board at the trailhead almost buried.  The trail along the PCT parallels the highway for a while, climbing about 150 m or 500 feet in a little more than two miles or about 3 km.  It isn’t difficult, and the last part is almost level.  It’s work but not excessive.  It took me about an hour and change to get to the Tie Trail, where I noted, with a little sinking feeling, no tracks. Perhaps nobody could find the trail: the Tie Trail turns about 150 degrees left and isn’t obvious, so I added two more diamonds to show people where the trail was, and I raised another that was almost at snow level.  The snowpack was slightly above normal, which is reassuring for summer, especially since the valley is in significant drought.  

Blue Diamond in western Hemlock. I try to keep the nails only in the thick bark, not penetrate the cambium.

I started breaking trail in the deep snow, sinking in 1-2 feet and also climbing. The plan was to reposition diamonds higher and make sure from one diamond, one could reasonably be expected to see the next.  This slowed me down, as I had to come up to trees, pull out the hammer, remove nails, remove the diamond and reposition it. Fortunately, most of the diamonds were in good shape and I just had to deal with climbing in soft snow.  The trail went through the woods steeply upward, with a couple of switchbacks, followed by a long gradual uphill to the ridge to Tait’s Loop, adjoining the ski area. 

The diamonds are so necessary, because in the woods in winter, many open paths look like the trail. This diamond needs to be repositioned upwards.

I hadn’t been on Tait’s this winter, but I remembered most of the trail well, and I knew the top part was a lot longer and more difficult than I gave it credit for.  Eventually, I reached the junction at about 6300’ and turned south towards the viewpoint to Lower Rosary Lake, far below me. The Diamonds were in good position, and I didn’t have to fix each one, but if on one side of a tree a diamond was too low, the other side would be, too.

I worked my way around to the center of the loop and had to decide whether to complete the rest of the loop by the ski area and go back down the way I came or continue towards Maiden Saddle.  The head of Winter Trails wanted that area checked as a favor to a friend who was responsible for it. I decided to commit myself to a longer hike and continued along the ridge, found the sign that normally is 12 feet off the ground in summer but now has the top easily reached by my hand.  

I need to go north this year as well, to Maiden Peak Shelter and check those diamonds. Perhaps this weekend.
Lower Rosary Lake from Tait’s Loop

Tait’s Loop from frozen Lower Rosary Lake

The descent was gradual, soft, with my legs sinking in often.  Half way down, I stopped for lunch overlooking the lakes below.  I looked on track for getting done in mid-afternoon and getting home in the early evening.  The grade continued steadily downhill until I saw no more diamonds to follow.  There weren’t any, or maybe there were, but buried.  In any case, I lost the trail.  This has happened to me before here, and I made a note that it will need to be fixed in summer, when the trail is visible and enough markers can be placed high enough to be seen.  I went straight down the hill towards frozen and snow-covered Upper Rosary Lake.  I crossed ski tracks and saw diamonds, but they again disappeared after a short distance.  I continued down further towards the lake and crossed the well-marked main trail.  I was several miles and a few hours into the trip, and I did not have the energy to try climb back up to mark the trail accurately. That would have to wait.  I at least knew where the problem was. 

Continuing in softer snow, the afternoon sun warm, I passed along the east side of each of the three Rosary lakes, left the south end of Lower Rosary Lake, and reached the Tie Trail a half mile later, where I began the loop three hours earlier.  From there, it was back out on a good track, with a gentle descent back to the car.

JUST SAYIN’

March 25, 2019

It’s time again for my annual urology appointment.  Well, more like every 15 months.  After each visit, I am told that they will call me for my annual appointment, but when they call and I set up the time, I hear how busy the doctor is and end up being scheduled about 6 weeks past the year.  It is adding up.  Hope I don’t have a high PSA this time around and hear “You should have been seen sooner.”  Just sayin’.

This time, I got an email telling me I would have a chance to check in online.  If I did that, I could arrive 15 minutes earlier; otherwise I would have to come 30 minutes earlier. I could arrive on time and be just fine, since I will probably have to wait. Last year it was about 45 minutes; again, my physician is very busy.

In any case, I checked in online, which started off quickly by my proving who I was and how I wanted my medical information received. I appreciated that the date of birth could be typed right in and it would appear after the slashes, rather than having to use drop down menus for months (I’m at the bottom), dates (closer to the top), and year (long, long ways down). I also appreciated that I could type my phone number in without parentheses or hyphens. Or country that began with US/Canada and not Afghanistan. I could have done without the comments “we are mandated to do xxx by the federal government.”  Yes, you are, and because my medical profession didn’t pay sufficient attention to privacy, had sloppy record keeping, and medical personnel blabbed about patients in public places. I remember those days.  Just sayin’.

Then I got to the review of systems (ROS), with a surprising limitation of choices.  I have a lot of conditions that I could mention, like my palpitations, but the past year has been good, and I couldn’t state that.  There was no place I saw for sleep issues, and that plus its treatment have direct bearing on one of my urological issues. As a result, my ROS seems nondescript when it isn’t.  “How has your health changed since the last time you were seen here?” Is a much better question, but there are no boxes to check for that.  Just sayin’.

I had to check “None” to each one by hitting a dropdown box, when in fact it would have been faster and saved me time to have to hit one button than to click the drop down menu and hit the None button.  Apparently, however, the default for recreational drug use was “Yes,” and I kept trying to write “None.”  Young people have no problem with these forms because (1) they are used to them or (2) perhaps many are using such drugs.  Not really sure.  Just sayin’.  Anyway, I finally found the “No” button, which could have been more prominent.

The problem with these sorts of ROS is that nobody learns much from them.  There’s no time. But I have long learned that coding is important in medical practices these days, and a big part of getting more money is having a ROS documented.  I know, because ROS was never much part of a dictated H&P (History and Physical) after physicians were in practice until it was reimbursed at a higher code back in the late ‘80s.  Then the (hospital/doctor’s offices) wanted it.  By having the ROS filled out beforehand, one can save 5-10 minutes of often boring questioning, maybe more, upcode and bill more, without having to do anything. Everybody is busy. 

Interestingly, I noted that there were no questions about sexual problems, and this is a urology office.  Sexual function and urology go together. They do in embryology and they do in adulthood. Now, maybe I didn’t look carefully enough, but hey, I’m the patient, so if I have trouble, someone else may, too. After all, many patients who see urologists are old.  Then again, sexual dysfunction may not be high on the radar. Be glad you are alive, old timer. Don’t push your luck. Just sayin’.

At the end, after requiring my agreement to release of privacy information (if I wanted to be seen), I was taken to a form for release of genetic code for research.  This stopped me for a minute.  I don’t have a problem with research, but I have a sense—not totally rational perhaps, but it’s still my sense—that there are privacy issues and someone’s getting free material from me without donor recompense.  I ended up signing it anyway and moved on to the last part, the use of material by PR (not their real name), the company that owned the checkin software.  I started to copy and paste the material into “Pages” to do a quick word count (just curious) when I saw the word “advertising.”  

Whoa.  What’s this?

The company would then be able to send me marketing materials (that’s advertising.)  Well, I checked the definite NO on the form, but I wonder how many my age just checked it YES, because they felt they had to. I looked up PR online and learned that it was a software company.  Going further,  I looked at Web pages that didn’t have the name of the company and might give me a more unbiased look at who they were.

Many of the responses in a survey were from happy medical office workers.  Lot of 5s out there and glowing testimonials.  But I looked at the “cons” and read that young people liked this approach, whereas older people (like me) had more trouble (like trying to check “No” on substance abuse).  When I hit the worst evaluations, there were comments about this program not working in their office and difficulty severing a relationship with the company. 

What surprised me, besides my realization yes, I really am old, is why this urology practice would use software that the elderly didn’t like.  As I said, every year I see a lot of real old people in there from my vantage, and if I am having trouble, I can only imagine what difficulties they are having.  Except not sexual ones, judging by the lack of pertinent questions.  Glad we’re still here.  Just sayin’.

Last year, in addition to seeing the doctor, whom I do like and who is good, he had a scribe, so he could actually look at me and not the screen. It’s disquieting to have a doctor focused on the screen and not me.  The physician is missing something, no matter what he/she thinks.   Some look at a patient because they were told that eye contact mattered and they needed to do it so that the patient would check the right button in the inevitable survey afterwards. I always looked at a patient, because in neurology looking is how we made the diagnosis.  I still quietly diagnose people in public.  

Those of us old-fashioned docs used to ask nurses, “Does the patient look sick because a good nurse could answer it quickly, accurately and it mattered.  The scribe took away some of the privacy, and these days privacy is disappearing about as quickly as wilderness.  It’s a little strange to be having a prostate exam with a young woman on the other side of a thin curtain.  At least I find it strange.  Could she be in another room? I think it would help.  Just sayin.’

Anyway, the presenter of a scribe takes away privacy.  Yeah, yeah, I know.  It will be kept private.  

Like Facebook.

I REALLY SHOULD HAVE STAYED HOME

December 8, 2017

I really should have stayed home that Tuesday evening and not gone to the German Stammtisch at Track Town Pizza.  I go there most Tuesdays to practice my German, to listen, speak, and to talk to people there.  It’s good to get out.  I only stay an hour, because the place has low ceilings, serves alcohol, and gets noisy fast, so that I have difficulty enough understanding English, let alone German.

Last Tuesday, I got into a political argument, first one in a long time.  It was my own fault.  Oh, I can blame the other individual, but I shouldn’t have taken the bait.  Unfortunately, however, a lot of things that have stewed inside me for some time came to the surface.

Normally, I try to steer clear of these arguments, with the exception of climate change, where I immediately put out my four rules: no pejorative attacks, required p-value, confidence intervals or margin of error, what happens if one side is wrong, and verifiable predictions locally, nationally, and globally.  That has always ended the discussion.  I need that approach for politics, although I admit difficulty these days in avoiding pejorative attacks, since my default mode when I get angry is a severe case of sarcasm.  It’s one of my huge flaws.

Anyway, the initial trigger was discussion about an upcoming lecture being given by a German official about immigration.  The individual with whom I was talking—an immigrant himself, I think—was saying how the speaker from Germany was lying.  I had no facts, so I let it go. I’m a grandson of an Irish immigrant, and I believe are that if more countries were problem solvers, rather than problem causers, there would be fewer immigrants. But the fundamental cause of immigration woes is overpopulation,  and unless we control population, immigration, with its attendant problems, will increase.  There are two major realities: one, we can’t grow indefinitely and two, we must control our numbers.  Unfortunately, population control is not on the agenda of The Other Side—or for much of my side, either for that matter.  A lady recently profiled in Sierra, the Sierra Club magazine, had three children.  I almost wrote a letter about it then thought better.

We then got into a discussion of weapons, after the individual mentioned a recently deceased friend of his who had several machine guns and a half million rounds of ammunition in his home.  I was shaming myself silently for being secretly glad his friend—63, massively overweight—died suddenly at home. Half a million rounds of ammo and at least one machine gun.  Wow.  Another listening to our conversation asked why the dead man—or anybody else—needed a machine gun.  We got the usual Second Amendment response, and that is where I started getting angry.  I wasn’t going to argue the wording, but I wagged my finger at him—something I inherited from my father—and said “I hope some day you feel the same kind of pain those who have lost people to gun violence feel.”

I’m not a Christian, and while I don’t have to be a jerk, I don’t have to be nice, either.

I’m not honestly sure what else was discussed, but the individual blamed Obama for the drug trade in this country. I was a bit stunned, saying that we have had a war on drugs that began when Mr. Obama was a child, and that he hardly was the person responsible.  I mentioned the Bush years, which seem to have vanished into the murky morass of 21st century history so far, the two wars and one recession have been blamed mostly on his successor, but while the man said he didn’t like Bush, he had absolutely no use for the Democrats.  Social programs, he said.  That was the reason.  So I asked him what sorts of social programs were a problem.  Unlike Mr. Obama, who is a centrist, or Ms. Clinton, who is center-right, I’m a liberal, but I can find wrong with some social programs.  I couldn’t get an answer, and as angrier I became, the quieter my voice was. I kept asking which social programs he was against.  I could have said that Social Security should have means testing.  I certainly would limit the tax deduction for children, in a somewhat feeble attempt to try to decrease population, and limit the mortgage deduction to $500,000.  This man couldn’t come up with anything, despite my quietly asking him “Which social programs?” five times.  All he could come up with was disability: “I see people getting disability who are better off than I am.”  OK.  That’s an issue, but it is hardly budget busting, and are we going to end disability payments because some cheat? The answer to some is yes. The Other Side wants to restrict voting because some cheat, which I believe was fewer than 10 in the last election, the first one’s documented being a Republican.  I am ignoring the almost certainty of one party’s involving the Russians and the definitive asking by the nominee for the Russians to publish every email they had.  That’s illegal and treason.

I didn’t mention my relief that a person with a half million rounds of ammunition was dead. When the individual stated with some outrage that the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) was in the house and planned to destroy the weapons, not give them to the dead man’s heirs, I didn’t know the law, so I kept quiet.  Destroying them sounded like a good idea, like beating swords into plowshares, but I’m no expert on Isaiah.

I remember that during a break in the arguing, the other man said that he wished the conversation hadn’t gone on because “I don’t want you to think badly of me.”

“I already do,” I replied.  And I suddenly got up and left, walking out, not turning back to look.  I cared not a whit for what he thought about me.

Several days later, it’s difficult for me to remember what it really was that pissed me off so much, and I’m ashamed I spent so much anger accomplishing almost nothing.

I should have quietly exited the conversation, rather than getting into a pissing contest with a skunk.  It’s difficult these days to read the news, see the direction of the country, and not be worried, lose sleep at night (unless this is age), and feel powerless to do much about it.  I’m frankly weary of dozens of emails clamoring for money for some candidate, promises to impeach (which doesn’t solve the problem; conviction is then necessary, and I also know who the second, third, and fourth in line people are), and the continuous surprise that things turned out the way they did. I find it stressful that I wish for bad things to happen climatically so I can say “I told you so,” and I hope those who voted for this government get hurt.  That’s petty, considering these people won’t vote Democratic even if their candidate is a pedophile or groped women.  We already know that.

I walked outside into the pouring rain.  Wonderful. I love the rain.