Posts Tagged ‘judgmentalism’

Looking for the illness behind the addiction

October 24, 2018

I saw some addicted to meth

I want them to keep up their breath

And not lose their molars

Because some are bipolars

Predisposing to a too-early death

Synopsis: I’m a Family Practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. In 2010 I danced back from the brink of burnout, and honoring a 1 year non-compete clause, traveled and worked in out-of-the-way places in Alaska, Nebraska, Iowa, and New Zealand. I followed 3 years Community Health Center work with a return to traveling and adventures in temporary positions in Alaska, rural Iowa, suburban Pennsylvania, western Nebraska and northern British Columbia. I have returned to Canada now for the 4th time.  Any identifiable patient information has been included with permission.

I dealt with a number of methamphetamine addicts today.

Far too often the medical profession in general and this doctor in particular yield to the temptation to judge substance abusers. Such an exercise in self-indulgence on the part of the physician fails to benefit the patient at the same time it saps the energy of the doctor.  I learned those lessons from a doc 18 years my junior.  I wish I learned it earlier in my career.

Most physicians find it easier to focus on the human being in the substance abuser if we also can find a major psychiatric diagnosis.

People do not decide to acquire the diseases of schizophrenia or bipolar (formerly known as manic-depression); such illnesses come to them gratuitously. And, if they had the choice, almost all the sufferers would choose to be sane.  Society in Canada and the US has failed the mentally ill; in both countries they comprise a disproportionate number of the prison population and the homeless.  All over the world, they face a life expectancy 20 years shorter than average.

Thus, confronted with an addict, I’ve started to ask my touchstone bipolar question: “Have you ever had an episode lasting at least 4 days during which you felt great without drugs, slept less than 4 hours a night, and didn’t miss the sleep?” If I get a blank stare, I ask, “Have you ever felt so good without drugs that you didn’t need to sleep?”  and if I get a positive answer, I ask if it lasted more than 4 days.

All the meth addicts I attended today met the diagnostic criteria for bipolar. Each one came from unique circumstances, had unique considerations, and got a different treatment.

During my 3 years in Community Health I took care of a lot of the mentally ill. I learned that schizophrenia, bipolar, and substance abuse overlap so much that trying to tease them apart for therapeutic purposes comes close to useless hairsplitting.

I hadn’t learned those things during my private practice years because that patient population lacks the resources to access upscale medical offices: for the most part they have no insurance, money, or transportation. Too many of them constitute the homeless and the incarcerated.

So I did my best. I prescribed the patients medication and asked for follow-up.  If they don’t come back, I won’t think less of them, because their illnesses include impaired thinking.  And I won’t think less of myself.


Exercising my buprenorphine waiver but going back to Alaska

February 26, 2014

I wonder if this is the way

With all the things I could say

I’m away and I’m off, To the Island Metkoff.  

I’m taking vacation today

SYNOPSIS:  I’m a family doctor from Sioux City, Iowa who danced back from the brink of burnout in 2010.   Honoring a 1-year noncompete clause, I did short term medical work in Keosauqua, Iowa, Grand Island, Nebraska, Barrow, Alaska and New Zealand.  I came back to work in a part-time position with a Community Health Center, and I’m now down to 40 hours a week.  I’m taking a month to work in Petersburg, Alaska, 

For the last week I’ve warned my patients  that I’ll take a month of vacation for March.  I’ll work in the same clinic in Southeast Alaska where I worked for 2 weeks in August.

My addictionology practice has grown by leaps and bounds in the last month, and the news of my upcoming time off has been particularly hard on my opiate addicted patients.

The narcotic or opiate group of drugs includes morphine, opium, heroin, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, meperidine, fentanyl, codeine, and others.   The epidemic of addiction to these drugs has started to strangle the country, until deaths from overdoses of legal narcotics surpassed deaths from motor vehicles in 2012.  Already, the US uses more narcotic pain killers than the rest of the world put together.

Some attribute this surge in dependency to a government agency’s decision to make pain the 5th vital sign, and to sanction doctors who failed to address a patient’s pain level that exceeded 5 on a 10 point scale.  In fact the opiate use started to grow logarithmically that year.

The problem usually starts when a person has a legitimate injury, such as a broken leg, and gets a prescription for a pain reliever, then gets hooked by taking a friend’s leftover pills.  Abuse escalates in short order, many start onto heroin because it’s cheaper than the prescription stuff, they lose their job/house/spouse/car/assets/family and when they find themselves with absolutely nothing they realize they have a problem.  Then they come to see me.

If I wait till they’re in full-blown withdrawal (yawning, tearing,  diarrhea, insomnia, aching) I can prescribe buprenorphine, but only because I have a special license to do so.

The requisite education, done online, only cost me 9 hours; I got the waiver last summer  to back up one of my partners while he had medical problems.  I didn’t write my first prescription for it for 6 months.

The medication blocks them from getting high, and can stop a lot of pain.  Success demands close monitoring and frequent blood tests.

Patients don’t seek help until chaos dominates their lives.  I don’t get to retell the dramatic , ironic stories because of confidentiality.  The temptation to judgementalism runs strong in my business, but especially in addictionology, yet I know I will finish my day with more energy if I approach each patient with an attitude that acknowledges the mistakes of the past and emphasizes the need to move on.  And really, the patients do the best when they take control of their lives.

But they have a lot of emotional needs and tend to bond tightly to people who listen without judging.

Fortunately I have a partner with more experience with that drug than I have.

Job offers and Sisyphus

May 9, 2013

Call brings me no compensation

I struggle with documentation

I might sound like a boor

But our EMR’s poor

And a source of great irritation.

Synopsis:  I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa.  In May 2010, I left my position of 23 years, and honoring my non-compete clause, traveled for a year doing locum tenens work.  In June of 2011 I joined up with the Community Health Center, which provides care for the underserved.  I’m now working part-time, which, for a doctor, means 54 hours a week.

 I’m starting to get wanderlust again.

Most days bring 6 to 10 job offers, some permanent, most locum tenens (temporary or substitute).  I look at locations and I fantasize.

Places interest me.  A spot in Wyoming evidently has terrible problems recruiting, I’ve received very good offers for the last 10 months.  Indian Health Service has a trouble filling positions as well.  Veterans’ Administration, Armed Forces posts, and Bureau of Prisons chronically seek physicians. 

The one that piqued my interest the most this week was Nome, Alaska, partly because I just finished Michener’s Alaska and partly because I worked in Barrow.  I wouldn’t really take the job because they want Family Practice with Obstetrics, and I swore off delivering babies on May 7, 2010.  Nor do I want to work more than 2 air hours from surgical backup.  Still it looked like a really, really interesting gig.

Ireland keeps sending me information about “hot jobs.” 

I have no interest in cities, not even exotic cities like Albuquerque or San Francisco, though I might consider something in the Denver area because of family and friends there.  For some reason Wisconsin has fallen completely off my radar screen.

I don’t much look for pay rates; still I’m impressed by some of the figures I see.  Bottom lines upwards of $300K come occasionally, but what really catches my attention are the offers of extra money for taking call. 

Bethany and I had such a great time in Alaska in the winter and New Zealand in the fall. 

While I can still remember the absolute euphoria of coming home and seeing familiar faces and sleeping in our own bed, I can feel myself starting to find fault with my current job.  I have begun to dwell on the call for which I receive no compensation and the hours of documentation I do outside of work hours.  The electronic medical record system (EMR), horribly inefficient to start with, irritates me more and more every day.

And if I miss too much sleep I find judgmentalism creeping into my thoughts.  Hospitalizing the same people for the same problems (which come down to bad lifestyle choices) makes me feel like Sisyphus. 

Yet I really enjoy my coworkers, the morale of the clinical staff runs consistently high, and I like doing hospital work.  A lot of docs don’t.  Thus electronic and regular mail recruiting touts “all outpatient” in capitals with several exclamation points at the top of the page.

The clear ability to walk away from a job gives me tremendous negotiating strength.

Unlike Sisyphus, who had been condemned to eternally roll a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll down just before it reached the top.