Category Archives: assumptions

skinny crazy small

I have a young friend who is using theater for raising public awareness.

SCSrevisionDecPost

Actress and playwright Sylvie Mae Baldwin announces the world premier of her original one-woman play skinny crazy small.  And I am delighted to promote it.

The play chronicles the 8 year battle of a young girl with anorexia, seeking to give new voice to the discussion of this illness and to advocate for breaking down stereotypes.

She has an Indiegogo campaign for skinny crazy small that is live for just a few more weeks. Funds will allow Baldwin to pay her director and technical director a fair wage, as well as to rent rehearsal and performance venues. The Indiegogo page has a full breakdown of how funds will be allotted. Please contribute to this project at:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/skinny-crazy-small
Your donation is tax deductible, thanks to Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts organization in New York City. And if your employer matches donations, skinny crazy small can accept those as well!

Great resources to learn more about the show include their website and Facebook page: http://sylviemaebaldwin.wix.com/skinnycrazysmall

http://www.facebook.com/skinnycrazysmall

You can also purchase your skinny crazy small tickets today!: http://skinnycrazysmall.brownpapertickets.com

About Sylvie:

Sylvie Mae Baldwin is an actress, modern dancer, and musician. In May 2015 her original one-woman show, skinny crazy small, will premiere in Seattle, Washington. The play tells the story of a quirky and strong-willed girl’s struggle with anorexia and seeks to promote honest discussion about eating disorders (www.facebook.com/skinnycrazysmall). Regionally, Sylvie Mae has appeared on stage with Antaeus Company (CA), Book It Repertory Theatre (WA), Key City Public Theatre (WA), Lexington Children’s Theatre (KY), Seattle Public Theater (WA), Seattle Theatre Group (WA), and South Coast Repertory (CA). Sylvie Mae also was part of a group of young actors at the Northwest School who spent three years working in collaboration with UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital tp craft short plays from the poems and journal entries of terminally ill children in the hospital’s ICU. These plays were performed at the UCSF medical facilities and the DeYoung Art Museum. Sylvie Mae trained with Anne Bogart and the SITI Company in New York. She is a proud member of the Actors’ Equity Association. http://www.sylviemaebaldwin.com

Not a single story

So many layers.

It always amazes me how we bring many lenses to any situation and these are how we see the world. Some, well maybe most of us, have several lenses, or maybe should.  What do you think?  Which lens rises to the top depends on so many things.

In the story of today, shall we look at this through the just get the person to safety lens?  How about the really weird, as in I can hardly believe I felt this and though it cannot be close, here I am, standing in another’s shoes lens?  Or the health-care system, it really can be better lens?

Or all of the above.  They all fit for me. I like the notion of multiple views.

The story:

It was a busy week back at the ranch, er job: several evening events, a night on call, but no matter.  I had made plans to take Friday off and even arranged coverage for Monday; we were going to the snow, heading for Canada.  “We” would be my neighbors and me.  They drive, I have the housing arranged: me in one room, their daughters in the other, the parents in the living room.  A close friend’s daughter with a season pass wanted to come too and she could sleep in my room.  All set.

Then my friend, mom of the kid who would be my room mate, decided to rent a place in the same building and come as well with another friend of ours.  All good….except she was tired and it was a long week and she was ambivalent.  Her daughter and I both talked with her, and in the end she decided to come.

Thursday evening we all (including my friend’s husband) were at a fund raising dinner, and all seemed ready for the next day.  I arose Friday, packed, and my neighbors and I hit the road.  Many hours later my friend, her daughter, and our other friend arrived.  My friend did not feel well, was nauseated and had abdominal pain all day.  She had not eaten since the night before.

Saturday morning it seemed clear that my friend needed to be seen at the clinic.  She, our mutual friend, and I (all family medicine doctors) feared appendicitis. While my neighbors, my friend’s daughter, and I went to ski, the other two went to the clinic.  By lunch, we knew. Her daughter and I headed down the mountain:  appendicitis.

We were in a location with no hospital.  We knew the ones along the way from there to Seattle.  Her husband was not with us because he had been on call, but had gotten sleep and was able to drive to the border and meet us. We knew there were surgeons in Squamish, then Vancouver, then Bellingham, then Everett, hoping to get her to Seattle.

The punch line is that she did get to Seattle, had her surgery around midnight Saturday night, and was home Sunday evening.

But that in not the point of this post.

I mentioned three lenses above.

Get her to safety: Who should go, where to go, who helped us know?  We had many possibilities.  Who should go?  Should her daughter drive her to Seattle?  What if she got sicker along the route and a doctor was not with her?  How luxurious that there were two other doctors along.  And who should go?

Stand in shoes:  The two doctor friends (Diane and me) decided to drive her to the border. Had we crossed the border, the wait to go north was close to two hours. We did not want her husband driving across. And she did not want us crossing to deliver her and face that wait. We opted to park at the Canadian border, talk to the guards, walk to the US border (about an 8 minute walk, in the pouring rain, our friend doubled over, us carrying her bags), talk to a US guard who by cell phone instructed her husband how to get to us without getting in the 90 min line, and delivered our friend to her husband.  Something hit all three of us, only shared after the fact. What we felt walking across, pouring rain, was a sense of vulnerability. It was a trek. 

Although we knew we had what we needed to get our friend across to the USA and us back into Canada, we were nervous and vulnerable.  How is it for others for whom the border cross has even higher stakes ?

We stood in line at the US station for pedestrians.  There were border patrol folks milling around.  It looked like they were not attentive to the lines and were not doing work.  We stood there.  Our friend was getting more and more hunched over.  We were scared. How much time did she have until she ruptured that appendix?  Finally we asked for help. The guard heard us and did help and a few minutes later our friend was on her way south and we two others were trudging back to Canada.

What do others feel in that walk between borders?  Really, we all knew ours was only 8 min between the two borders in that nomad’s land and yet each of us silently felt that anxt: what if it does not go well?  We all have enough life experience to know that what we felt had to be, given the certainty of our getting across, just a tiny fraction of what many millions feel when crossing a border under duress.

And the health care system:  Our friend had lab results and CT scan that showed the appendicitis.  We had seen the monetary charges: they were half what they would be in the good old USA.  Yet people complain about single payor.  Really? 

OK, once we handed her over to her husband, they were in the good ol USA.  One hospital/ surgeon on call would require she go to the ER.  Even if they accepted the CT scan and labs, there is that charge on top. (and by the way, there would be the delay and risk of rupture) A second hospital/surgeon would admit her straight to a room and then the OR.  Guess which was chosen? Surgery that night, home the next day.

Patients or money first?

What do you see in this story

Hearing Loss—Take Two

In my last blog on hearing and hearing loss, I mentioned how a lot of what most of us actually “hear” is with our eyes.  We unconsciously add to our sound hearing with context and even lip reading and intonation.  I would quote proportions and give a reference if I could find it again.  Oh well, I csan’t.  Tonight I went to see The Lego Movie at the advice of my son, Nicholas.  Lego characters do not really move their lips, right?  During the first few minutes, until the story line was established, I thought it might turn out to be a worthless venture with my comprehension being about 70%.  Once we were about 5 minutes into the movie, I could much more clearly “hear” the characters’ lines–because I had characters and story line. It was a very interesting verification of what I had read, tonight experienced first hand.

That brings me to the –drum roll and trumpet blasts–hearing aids. I opted for the ones recommended, that sit in the ear and supposedly do a great job of not magnifying surrounding sounds and would work for work, which for me means 1) hearing soft spoken people in meetings, 2) being in group sessions and hearing various people, and 3) using the tools of my trade: the stethoscope.  Of course I also hoped that the car radio could be at a lower volume and that dining in loud noisy restaurants would be easier.

They get a grade of D+ -maybe- except in one crucial area they get an F and therefore will not work.  I feel like the princess and the pea.

1.     In the car:  Wow, I can hear all the other cars and my car’s quirky noises.  Cool.  But I cannot turn down the radio volume.  If anything I need it louder to hear over all the “new” noises I can hear.

2.     Small groups at work:  not yet tested.

3.     Restaurants:  I used to love eavesdropping on tables near me.  I am happy to report that capacity might be back with the aids!  Hearing my dinner companions however is not improved at all.  Like the car radio, the indiscriminate pick up of the microphones does not make the near and dear clearer.  Do I want to eavesdrop or do I want to be part of the dinner conversation at my table?

4.     And the final:  I can hear NOTHING of the heart with my stethoscope and lung sounds are 90% blunted.  So this aid will not work and will be returned.

I know there are some that apparently filter better and they had downsides that left them not recommended (I cannot remember why).

We would think that the technology that is out there would have this figured out. I am back to the drawing board, trying to do my part to do my share of the conversations in my life. It is not so simple as just go get a hearing aid.

Patient Centered? Really?

Where I work, we have decided some policy changes.  First of all, let me clarify what “we” means.  “We” is the management of our clinical enterprises, either one or both of them.  I scratch my head in wonder.

Lots of people now are talking about how our relationships with our patients are so important.  Well not exactly.  What they say is put our patients first.  What does that mean really to them? (“them” being the management I mention above in “we”)

They talk about team care, the patient centered medical home.  If we (now I mean me and others actually doing the work) meet some criteria, we get more reimbursement. But is that really putting the patient first?  What are those criteria?

Why is it that no one asks us who see patients what do we do to put our patients first?  Why do they not take it from patients who are satisfied?

But I digress.

Our new policies:

1.     We want our medical assistants to do more, facilitating what the doctors need to do.  They have long templates to complete on multiple visits, much more than the “why are you here?” and its ancillary questions, blood pressure, weight, pulse, respiratory rate, and oxygen saturation (and why does a healthy 20 year old need oxygen saturation anyway? Show me the evidence. I would rather that they remember to obtain and chart the respiratory rate and oxygen saturation when there are symptoms and cause.)

2.     They are to review every medication the patient is on and check them off.

3.     They are to see if any immunizations are needed and to order them for me to sign

4.     If it is a kid for a well child check they are to enter data from a long questionnaire the parent(s) filled out on how the child is doing medically, emotionally, nutritionally, and developmentally.

5.     That is to take place before I see the patient.

6.     What that means is:  our patient calls for an appointment.  Say they have a fever and sore throat.  They get a 15 minute appointment.  Say they are 80 with multiple problems.  They get a 30 minute appointment.  If 1-4 are completed by our medical assistants, I get about 5-6 minutes in a 15 minute appointment and maybe 12  in a longer more complicated appointment.  Do the math.

7.     If I take the time I was supposed to have, I get behind, running the risk of irritating the next few patients on my schedule. If I fill only the time left, I am shortchanging the patient I am seeing, who might feel they did not get to handle enough in the brief time with me.  Oh and by the way, it is fraud if I bill for more.

At the same time, we are pretending that we are being a team.  Don’t get me wrong.  I believe in teams.  I love teams.  It used to be true that our front desk staff were on the team.  They knew the patients when they called for appointments.  They knew who they could squeeze in as an extra, who needed more time.  And our patients trusted them. Now we have a call center for the whole medical center, that I will just say is not the same.  It used to be true that I worked 95% of the time with the same medical assistant.  The patients who call me their doctor knew that medical assistant had their back, whether it was a hug or an urgent medication renewal.  We had a pharmacist and social worker who knew most of our patients and our highest need patients knew them.

That was then and this is now.  Team?  Why is the patient left off the team?  How come they don’t know that the work of the medical assistant is part of their visit?  Why don’t we schedule so that the medical assistant work can happen and I can still have the time my patient and I need to work together on whatever brought that particular person to the visit?  Instead our patients are dissatisfied.  The medical assistants are incredibly stressed with more to do and realizing the more time they take the less time we doctors have.  And I cannot do my job.

This is just one area where not involving regular working stiffs (like me and our staffs) in policy and process development just does not work.  Instead we have institutions trying to get certificates for a reductionist view of what is needed in our encounters, er, yea I mean relationships, with real people around their health concerns.  Check boxes, lists of criteria…most well intentioned and could make for good patient care, but reduced to a get it done without any realism about time and skill and the imperative the patient brings to an encounter with me.

Oh well….I will keep doing what I do.  The next piece may be on Intellectual Freedom, the academy (that would be places where teachers and scholars live in universities), and my institution—that is if I believe the new language in our faculty code that gives us some intellectual freedom and whether I trust that it would supersede the policy of the Medical Center.

What?

During the last years of my dad’s life, we all knew his hearing was not great.  I’m not sure why he did not get hearing aids.  We knew that large noisy groups made it hard for him to socialize and that he shied away from those.  He could hear us in small groups or one on one conversation, mostly.  I don’t remember feeling annoyed with him or him getting short with us when he could not hear. He was career navy and served in WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam so I know he had noise exposure as one culprit in his hearing loss.  And there was age.

I do remember feeling I wish we did not have to plan events so that he could be comfortable.

This brings up the question of who is responsible for what when there is a change in physical ability?  How much of the burden is on the person whose health and ability status changes? What about those in that person’s life?

Next week I will have molds made for hearing aids.  Some of my hearing loss is just family and age, I am sure.  I also sing in a group and in a concert two years ago, the tenors to my left were magnificently loud in several pieces and I heard immediately the tell tale ringing that did not stop when I left the concert and for days later.  Actually I still have the tinnitus, more in my left than right ear.  Luckily for me it does not drive me batty, either because I am already batty or because I just have enough going on that it is not on the radar of my life.  But I knew after that event my left ear in particular was in deep trouble for hearing.

I say “what?” a lot.  I struggle in my groups with students if the quiet students do not speak up.  My kids are frustrated at having to repeat themselves.  Maybe my students are too.  My friends tease me.  I say “wait til you have these shoes on…see how it is.” I laugh with them because I am good at laughing at myself.  Some people seem irritated when I ask for them to repeat themselves.  I feel “less than” even though I did not make this happen other than to sing next to loud people.

Soon after that concert a very close friend and I were at her family’s cabin.  I was saying “what?” a lot.  And she would then yell her next response, well not yell loudly, but much louder than it needed to be.  I got irritated and suggested that if she did not mumble I could hear her, that it was articulation not loudness that was the issue.  She retorted that I was going deaf and she did not mumble.  I told her I had an audiology appointment already made and that I still believed she mumbled.  Within the week I found out the degree of my hearing loss and mutual friends acknowledged that she does “mumble” a bit.

Loud places are hard.  It turns out that with sensorineural hearing loss, part of what happens is not only can a person hear less well, they also have a shift in the noise comfort level.  A normal hearing person will say “it is bothering me” when the noise level is at a certain decibel level.  A sensorineural hearing loss person will say it is bothering them at a much lower decibel level.  And that is independent of what they can hear in language at a given level.  I have had three hearing tests.  The first two my results demonstrated this.  In the third I “cheated,” because I knew of this concept.  I weathered the noise far beyond what was really tolerable…and I passed.  Yay me!  Not.

It turns out that a lot of our communication is not from hearing.  It can be body language, lip reading that we don’t know we are doing, etc.  The context helps.  Some people are better at accommodating, figuring out context and filling in the blanks.

And in some settings it is hard to ask people to speak up, or say it again.  I can understand why my dad and others with hearing loss tend to withdraw.  I have wondered if I should stop my working in the work I do.  Is that wondering because I question my skill or because I am embarrassed or because I am just tired advocating for myself?  I honestly don’t know. I just feel like it is hard, my problem, and well…I guess I just don’t know what should/could be a reasonable expectation in differnt relationships.  Many have trouble hearing our department chairman.  Is that my problem and should I just pretend I hear and be quiet?

Last week I felt like a sitcom.  My younger son yelled down to me from upstairs. “Mom, can you get me some paper?”  I yelled back, “what do you need paper for?”
“Mom can you just get me some paper, now?” I answered, “Nick, just get it from the printer, which is right up there with you. Won’t that work?”  He then came down stairs looking crosseyed.  “What is wrong with you?”  “What do you mean,” I retorted.  “You want paper. There is tons upstairs.” “Mom, I said, will you do me a favor!?” We both collapsed in laughter to his words, “get that hearing aid.”

I found a website that talks honestly about what others can do.  I know what I need to do.  Of course I hope the aids help.  The ones I tried before did nothing.

Here are tips if you are a normally hearing person with someone in your life who is hearing impaired from the Hearing Loss Association of America:

Tips for Hearing Person to Communicate with Person who has a Hearing Loss

Set Your Stage

  • Face person directly.
  • Spotlight your face (no backlighting).
  • Avoid noisy backgrounds.
  • Get attention first.
  • Ask how you can facilitate communication.
  • When audio and acoustics are poor, emphasize the visual.

Get the Point Across

  • Don’t shout.
  • Speak clearly, at moderate pace, not over-emphasizing words.
  • Don’t hide your mouth, chew food, gum, or smoke while talking.
  • Re-phrase if you are not understood.
  • Use facial expressions, gestures.
  • Give clues when changing subjects or say “new subject.”

Establish Empathy with Your Audience

  • Be patient if response seems slow.
  • Talk to a hard of hearing person, not about him or her to another person.
  • Show respect to help build confidence and have a constructive conversation.
  • Maintain a sense of humor, stay positive and relax
Tips for the Person with Hearing Loss to Communicate with Hearing People

Set Your Stage

  • Tell others how best to talk to you.
  • Pick your best spot (light, quiet area, close to speaker).
  • Anticipate difficult situations, plan how to minimize them.Do Your Part
  • Pay attention.
  • Concentrate on speaker.
  • Look for visual clues.
  • Ask for written cues if needed.
  • Don’t interrupt. Let conversation flow to fill in the blanks and gain more meaning.
  • Maintain a sense of humor, stay positive and relaxed.

Establish Empathy with Audience

  • React. Let the speaker know how well he or she is conveying the information.
  • Don’t bluff. Admit it when you don’t understand.
  • If too tired to concentrate, ask for discussion later.
  • Thank the speaker for trying

I return to the question.  Who has responsibility for what? What is your role?

happiness moments

For my birthday (11/5 if you want to remember it in the future) my son gave me The Happiness Project. by Gretchen Rubin.  I thought it was an intriguing choice.  With respect for him, I won’t spend words talking about the personality styles of my sons.  What I wondered was whether this was something he thought particularly appropriate for me or was it a projection of his sense of self.  Fairly soon after giving it to me, he checked in. “So how is the happiness project going?”

That makes the question clear, right?

I have been formally and informally evaluated (by numerous bosses, co workers, students, residents, and patients) as being serious, but with a very in tact sense of humor.  I have not been evaluated as seeming unhappy. OK if you asked the 7 full or interim chairs of my department if they think I am happy, I confess I have no idea what they would say or what their criteria might be.

Do you have a clue whether your bosses, your co workers, your friends, your family think you are happy?  And if you drew a line from 0 to 100,  0 being morbidly depressed and unhappy and 100 being ecstatic all the time, where would you rate… self rating or by others? I admit to a slight bent towards paranoia since getting the book, wondering how many, like my son, think I will benefit from a happiness project, well any more than any of us could. ( i think we all could, but not at the expense of that which drives us to seek and work for a world that is better…OK, I think it is how to have both.)

I am reading the book.  There are great tips.  I like the “enjoy the now”, “sing in the morning,” and many more that challenge me.  Others I do, routinely.  And I guess I am glad.  Think of the Eeyore my son would think I am if I were not generous, open to people’s feelings, looking for ways to be off the path, collecting (ok very small that way…two means a collection).  I do sing, not in the morning.  I need other voices around me to find my part and I don’t have other voices with me in the shower, not that I am opposed to it, just is not there. I think I have done a good job at stop nagging.  As for not wanting appreciation: I plead I am human. OK, I will take it on…not being a martyr in the not wanting appreciation, that is hard.  I am human.  It is a work in progress. I am a work in progress.

Write a novel? Forget about results? OK.  I have not written a novel.  I have written a manuscript.  And I cannot forget about those results.  I am carrying the stories of many people, including the 30+ contributors to this work, and feel a responsibility to bring it to print.  These narratives need to be shared. What shall I do next to get it there while waiting for replies?

Happiness…I think I have it a lot of the time and it is multi-tasked with the things that weigh on my mind: things out of sync with my values and yet realities at work, my kids’ health and challenges, the fears of waiting for the other shoe(s) to drop, and wanting this manuscript to become a book.  In the meantime I will read and find those tips in The Happiness Project that can grow me and maybe reassure my son that I am not Eeyore.

Carrying stories

A few years ago I was given a mini sabbatical. I applied for it because I had collected about 30 stories written by other physicians in workshops a colleague and I offer. At the end of each session, I invited participants to give me what they had written with the expectation that maybe I would put them together with my stories into a manuscript for publication.  Fewer than a third gave me their stories and I had them transcribed and then started to work with the authors to edit and expand them. By the time I was granted the sabbatical, I was ready to explore the meaning within all of the writing, mine and that of the contributors.  I wanted to organize a coherent work. In my view, sabbaticals should also provide breathing room for rest  and for space where new creativity can surface.

The workshop we offer opens with a discussion of relationship centered care and some tools (mindfulness, narrative, self-awareness) and has a writing reflection where participants write about how they have been affected and changed as people (in their personal lives, not their doctor lives) within a relationship with a patient.  The sessions then have sharing of the writings with a focus on reflective listening. We offer these to resident physicians, medical students, and seasoned clinicians locally and nationally.

I knew the project had worth.  Physicians who have taken the workshop tell me their lives are fuller after going home and finding opportunities to spend some time sharing what they have learned from patients with those same individuals.  My patients have always been excited about the project and ask me weekly where they can buy the book. I shared the concept and writings with many people, most of whom were not physicians, in two writing workshops, Write on the Sound two years before my sabbatical and the Healing Art of Writing as the kickoff to it. That was 2010.

The summer of 2010 freedom was cut short by some family needs, but I was able to identify the main themes and see a form to the work. During the next year and a half I continued to pull it together, writing new material, editing, working with contributors, and putting out feelers for an agent, all of this in those little cracks in the weeks and months that were already overloaded with family and work.  A few vacation weeks found me with my laptop in a local coffee shop writing and editing.

By the winter of 2012 I had a rough draft of the entire manuscript and knowing I would be heading to Hedgebrook that fall, I was able to take a deep breath.  Three weeks would be mine to bring this project closer to completion.  I wrote about Hedgebrook in an earlier post; what it added to the quality of the work is immeasurable. I finished editing over the next months with a goal to find a home for it through the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and their annual conference.  My hopes grew when a story from the manuscript, “The Caregiver,” was a finalist in the short non-fiction category.  The conference has Pitch Sessions, where writers get 4 minutes per pitch with up to 6-9 agents and editors (from publishing houses). I was excited to share this work with as many as I could.

Picture the scene:  a big ballroom type space in the hotel.  Along the back wall there are between 25 and 30 agents and editors sitting in one row facing the doors, one long table in front of them.  Each has a chair across the table, facing the editor or agent.  At the gong, about 150 people enter the room and form lines in front of the person they desire to pitch.  A bell rings.  All of the firsts in line go and sit in a chair and pitch their work.  At four minutes, the bell rings and the next person in each line goes to the chair.  If you just pitched someone, you can go to the end of a different line.  At the ninety minute mark, the session is over.

At the end, I had seven people asking for the manuscript and the book proposal, a many paged document that speaks to the work, its audience, its competing works, the publicity and marketing plans and more. Hopeful for a home, I got those materials to them within a few weeks of the end of the conference. I am still waiting to hear from all but one.

Everyone has told me how much harder it is to find a home for a book in this market than for a paper.  They are right.  I have many publications in journals that are research and narrative.  This has been a trial in patience.  Finding time to move this project along is challenging. Keeping in touch with the contributors and hoping they do not lose hope adds another layer. When does patience become inertia?

What surprises me the most is the sense of responsibility I feel.  I am a person entrusted with a very large parcel of human truth that should be shared. Is that a ridiculous and hubris filled notion? I opened each pitch with, “When was the last time your physician shared with you what you mean to him or her?”  The universal answer was “Never.”  Knowing we matter in any relationship, that there is always reciprocity, is important for all to hear.  We recalibrate healing relationships when we teach patients that they are giving and not just receiving and when we teach those who care for patients to remember that they are also beneficiaries.

This is what I carry with this manuscript.

Feeling like a peddler of some elixir, I need engagement by someone  with the capacity to distribute it. I worry that I am somehow not selling it well enough and I fear that no one with that capacity will really understand.  It is hard for me to hold.  Lately, I have a lot of shoulder pain.  I believe it is where the weight sits squarely, the dynamic tension between the need to be patient and defining the alternatives.