Category Archives: social justice

two stem cell and bone marrow registration drive possibilities: please share

Please share these dates:  6/28 and 7/12 when folks 18-44 can register to register to be stem cell or bone marrow donors if a match is found.  The registry needs you!

Those 45-60 can register on line. Please check out information on bethematch.org regarding what this means!  The registry needs you. A cheek swab and a willingness…

Here is the thing: 97% of whites find a partial match.  65% of African Americans do. Other ethnic groups are lower than Whites and barely higher than those of African descent.  For a full match: 75% whites and only 25-35% of those of African descent.  Others are in between. Diversity in the registry is key. The sites for the drive are because they are diverse, inclusive, and social justice minded.  Please come by.

Feel free to share the fliers

Thanks! Sharon

Matt Dobie Immaculate

Matt Dobie St T

Mt. Zion and Civil Rights

As promised when posting Barbara Thomas’ remarks, here is a very brief primer on Mt. Zion Baptist Church and involvement in Seattle Civil Rights history.

Mt. Zion Baptist Church was founded in 1894 with 8 founding members who met in a building on the University of Washington campus. In its early years it moved several times and had a number of pastors. Buying property at 19th and E. Madison in 1918, it remains there today.

Between 1920 and 1957, there were only 5 pastors and several were active in the community as voices for civil rights.

  • Reverend F.W. Pennick (1940-1942) was a civil rights activist
  • Reverend F.B. Davis (1942-1954) ran for Seattle City Council in 1946. There were only 3500 registered African American voters in the city but he got 27,000 votes.
  • 1948-1958 brought Reverend Samuel Berry McKinney to Mt. Zion.
    • 1961–McKinney hosted Dr. Martin Luther King at Mt. Zion. This was King’s only visit to Seattle.
    • 1963–McKinney led a march of 400 to promote and end to Seattle’s housing segregation.
    • 1966—500 children attended a Freedom School at Mt Zion during the Seattle schools boycott. This Freedom School was one of 7 churches and 2 YMCAs participating, for two days (3/31 and 4/1) when about 4000 children boycotted the public schools, protesting the segregation of the schools and the quality of the education.

Throughout the years Reverend McKinney and Mt. Zion have maintained their activist activities. And for many years we could watch Reverend McKinney, along with Patronella Wright and the Total Experience Gospel Choir perform Langston Hughes Black Nativity at the Intiman.

For more information:

Blackpast.org. http://www.blackpast.org/aaw/mount-zion-baptist-church-seattle-washington-1890

Seattle School Boycott of 1966. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seattle_school_boycott_of_1966

The Reverand Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Key Note at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Seattle

I am pleased to post this guest blog by Barbara Thomas, who I am lucky to know because about 22 years ago we started to work together as doctor and patient. Barbara is a brilliant and creative artist, writer, and so much more.  A view of what she creates and shares is on her web site here. This year, on January 16, 2015, she was the keynote speaker at the Reverand Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Seattle. It is important to note that Mt. Zion has played an important role in the Seattle civil rights movement since at least 1940 (more about that in another post).  For today, here is Barbara’s speech.

          Dream and the Dream Catcher–MLK Day—Barbara Earl Thomas –

January 16, 2015

I am humbled and amazed to be here today to speak in honor of the day and on the occasion when we all pause for a moment to consider what this day means to us and our nation. I thank first Jill Wakefield, Chancellor of the Seattle Colleges for the invitation, Earnest Phillips, Seattle Colleges Executive Director of Marketing and Communications for the great support and Senior Pastor Aaron Williams for continuing the grand tradition of having this address at the Mount Zion Baptist Church.

I am additionally honored to stand at the podium in Mount Zion Baptist Church, led so long by our very own Samuel B. McKinney, who in 1961 arranged and hosted the one and only visit to Seattle that Dr. King would ever make. They stood together two human beings—with all the other human beings stated their case, shaped the vision that has sustained us all of these years. Just imagine: the humanness of their being—mere mortals (like you and me) facing that Mount Olympus-sized dream.

In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. expressed a dream so eloquently that we are often left speechless in its wake.   When he told us that, “This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality—1963 is not an end but a beginning,” that is where I have to start every day. We stand, each one of us, as a link in the line from that place Dr. King called the beginning. On that day we were given a vision, hope and a star to reach, not knowing in that moment, in1963, all that would befall us as a people or nation. Even as we mourned the assassination of Medgar Evers we could not foresee the assassinations of John F. Kennedy nor take in the possibility that Dr. King would himself be mowed down, his death, killing hope in its wake.   We could not imagine the depths of Vietnam and all the wars that would bring us to September 11, 2001 when the world as we knew it stopped, stunned into the realization that it had come to this. If we didn’t know before, we know now we are in this spaceship together.

At the moment Dr. King delivered those now immortal words—“I may not get there with you,” he faced thousands of hopeful people who helped to make that particular moment possible. I do not diminish Dr. King when I say he (we) would not have gotten here without all of those who took up the seemingly small but crucial tasks. Today we must remember the John Lewises and Fredrick Reeses, the Ralph Abernathys, Ella Bakers and Bayard Ruskins who worked tirelessly off the podium, to the side, out of the spotlight. Dr. King was carrying their torch and he spoke for them. I pay homage to all of those who got on buses, on trains or in their cars to mark that moment. But I also remember the mothers and fathers who were unable to attend but kept the home fires burning, attended their children, kept the school doors open, worked their jobs, and guarded the voting booth or gave a hand to the less strong along the way.

When I think of the small steps, I start with my very own existence by way of my grandparents, Doc and Ethel Lee, and people like them, who came here in the early 1940s would eventually send for the daughters – in my case, Lula Mae who would become my mother and, her sister, Annie. They, like the grandparents and parents of so many, migrated here from Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas and all parts south to start anew.  They came looking to work hard and find that American Dream. My father would arrive by way of the military, having completed the 9th grade and my mother the 11th. One might say why did she quit? She was so close, only a year away from graduation. Ah, that was a subtle custom, a brutal dream killer. If you were Black, in that place, the 11th grade was as high as you were allowed to go. She was stopped, sure enough, but she did not quit. She simply lifted her dream and moved it forward to her children. Little did I know that I was her/their dream-catcher. I held their dream, never knowing how full I was of their hope. I, and most of my classmates, could not in our young lives appreciate or imagine the gravity of what we represented to those people who sent us out of the house everyday. We could not decipher the pride on their faces, the lilt in their voices as they spoke among themselves about us.

When we graduated it was not an individual accomplishment but a family triumph. Only years later would I understand and feel the magnitude of what now seems like such a small thing to hope for a child. I did not suffer the hardscrabble, sharecropping, cotton-picking life of my parents and grandparents. This was, by no means, luck on my part, but a well-laid plan, seeded by a grandfather’s courage when he struck out into the unknown. I did not experience the segregated south or Jim Crow trains but I understood, as many of you here do, that my small accomplishments were part of a larger hope passed onto me, not always in words, but through a look, a sigh, and the embodiment of their hard work.   It was my/our job to get the goods, grasp the knowledge, the word, and the secret of the system and bring it home and share it with whoever needed to know.

Today with the ubiquity of the Internet, Facebook, Instagrams and Tweets the big moments now come to us in an instant, cause a momentary explosion of comment, only to be replaced by another startling world event. The good news is it is ever more clear that we are bound together and responsible to each other. As we share the human spectacle no transgression is hidden for long. The bad news is that the repetition of the images can cheapen even the most fantastic human event. We stand stunned in the face of impending environmental disaster; global and local terrorism; the images and sounds of the suffering confront us. As they happen, we are dwarfed in the shadow of their enormity.

What can we in our smallness do? We who glean the fields today gather those shafts of wheat left behind. In grief from so much loss, this work may be our salvation.   Our job, in these days of “endless blogs” and “lives gone viral”, may be again to find the sacred in the mundane act of everyday living.   As ordinary as it sounds when we send our children off to school each day—we re-enact a sacred ritual for which people have risked beatings and death to achieve. It is an impulse rooted deep in our human make up to embark on this eighteen year commitment –where one day builds the week, month and years that culminates in the moment when all the small steps add up to one well-prepared life. As each educator stands in front of the classroom he or she will struggle with the inadequacies of the resources, but daunted as that teacher is he/she finds a way to connect with the student who is somebody’s child and the future of us all.   When we resonate, as we must, during brief flashes of clarity, we grasp that each and every one of us matters, because without the work, hope, love and dedication of the many, that moment in 1963 would never have happened.   Who knows, if we will in our life times, have that kind of moment again? But I say, maybe this is the time not of the one, but of the many.

I am grateful to those of you who have raised your families when you might rather have been doing something else; those of you who helped a young person who was not your own child; given money and time for the betterment of your community even when you got little or no notice—you may not be thanked but you will do it regardless. I want to thank those of you who have gone into teaching when it was clear that it was no place to make a fortune, but it remains one of the most important professions for any community who knows what is truly at stake.   Our next big challenge as a community and nation will be to reclaim higher education as an affordable right for the many, not a luxury for the few. We have to take it back from those lending institutions that would bankrupt our families and children, mortgage their futures.

My first venture into college was at what was then called Seattle Community College—as an evening student, where I took my very first English class. My mother and her best friend Viola who was also my hairdresser, dropped me off on Summit Avenue Annex at 6pm and picked me up at 9pm. I don’t know what those two young ladies did when they left. I know they didn’t sit outside and wait for me for 3 hours–but I never asked. It never occurred to me that they wouldn’t be there.

Today I ask you to remember the aspiration, the small steps needed to arrive. It’s not okay to say that because we can’t do the monumental that our individual contributions don’t matter. Who are we to say that our “one” vote means nothing? Who are we to overlook the life of even one child lost in violence or despair? In these days when we are overwhelmed by the wave of the Michael Browns, Trayvon Martins or the child who kills himself or another, none of it is okay and I say that every small thing matters.

In this light, Dr. King’s speech is a love letter sent to a future that he would not see. And, it is a message, for all of humanity. In 2015 when the gravity of poverty yet exists— and societal injustice brings no relief from the violence we heap upon each other—we wonder if we have moved the needle of progress at all. When in doubt, take the harvest from your fruit trees to the food bank—volunteer at your local school whether you have children or not.

When my grandfather decided in the 1940s to move his family from rural Shreveport, Louisiana to Seattle, it was no small move. These former sharecroppers and cotton pickers were the sons and daughter of those who passed on a direct memory of slavery. They were the many un-graduated from any high school with no diplomas offering up hands in labor and arms in defense of the only country they knew.

Today let us remember the individual stories, the small kindnesses of he who opens the door, holds the train, shares the food, the knowledge, the kind word— In 2015, I am charged with remembering the gifts of all those who came before me. These individuals were part of the raw stuff of the dream to which Martin Luther King, Jr. would refer. As I stand in Mount Zion Baptist Church, I must speak of Reverend Samuel B. McKinney, who in 1961, met with Martin Luther King Jr. right here in Seattle. He, himself a 1949 graduate of Morehouse College, was exemplary to all in his parish of the value of education, the power of voice matched with reason. As the church was one of the pivotal symbols of unity in Seattle’s Central District, the core of the African American community and continues to be that for many. We were neighbors who held a tightly knit community together and the businesses that served them and us. In 2015 we lament many of the changes but we also take heart and are charged with naming the successes of those who have caught the dream and moved it forward. We still stand for uplifting the race, community and the country. My grandfather used to say “If you live long enough you gonna see some of everything.”

Many of us have lived long enough to remember Sam Smith, the first Black City Councilman; the election of Norman B. Rice as our the first Black Mayor of Seattle; Ron Sims first King County executive; Larry Gossett, County Council; Dr. Charles Mitchell a Seattle Colleges Chancellor; Judge Charles Z Smith and Charles Johnson and Richard Jones all exemplary leaders; and Dr. Ben Danielson at Odessa Brown; Charles Johnson, author, National Book award winner and MacArthur Genius; Octavia Butler, award-winning science fiction writer; and August Wilson, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright spring from our culture to live among us to tell their and our stories. And, yes there is Barack Obama, the first Black president of the United States of America.

I pray, let me never be so overwhelmed or habituated to the grand gesture that miracles such as these no longer impress me. I say we are here today to engage in the “mindfulness” that recognizes these are still events for which we should and can be grateful every day. There is a place for, and merit in being the second, even third or fourth–Mayor, City or County Council person, community leader and National Book Award winner, scientist and doctor. These achievements remind us that there was a time, not so long ago, before that first, when we never thought we would live to see the day. Our job now is not just to pass the dream on, but to take it out, brush off the tarnish of any personal disappointments and pass it on as we ourselves receive it, in all its fresh wonderment. Today let’s remember to re-appreciate and re-engage and be amazed. This may not be the moment for the one—but it just might be the time for the many.

The insanity of it all.

A team of four residents (maximum of two at a time in 12-15 hours shifts at the hospital) and an Attending/faculty doctor cares for our family medicine patients when they are hospitalized. Other services have other team structures. Our patients come from our clinic and a number of satellite clinics and are adult medicine patients, women in labor, new moms and their newborns, and some women with prenatal problems requiring hospitalization. The residents are first year (interns) and senior (second and third year).  Our residents are generally smart and attentive and work well with our patients, treating them as individuals with lives outside the hospital and with careful management of the reasons they are in the hospital.  They do a good job running between laboring and delivering women and our very ill internal medicine patients.

Recently when a friend was the attending on the service, a patient with complex medical and psychosocial concerns was admitted.  The team created the time and space to really unearth some of the underlying physical and social challenges faced by this patient.  This led to a carefully orchestrated discharge plan, including where and when she would be seen for ongoing care and what elements that care might contain.

Once again our health care system snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.  The patient’s insurance covered our hospital, but it turns out it did not cover being seen in our neighborhood clinic, which is part of the same health system.  The patient did not get the necessary outpatient care and was readmitted to the hospital.

Last night I heard that one of the major insurers in this area dropped a contract with a major hospital that is used by many physician groups.  Instead they are contracting with another hospital that has its own multispecialty group.  Now all the medical groups who have used the other hospital are rushing to see if the approved hospital will give them privileges to hospitalize their patients. If not, their patients will have to be hospitalized at the approved hospital by doctors who do not know them and whose electronic medical records do not communicate with those of the outpatient doctors from the other hospital.

What has always been clear to me:  the insurance companies will keep their profit margins.  (Oh yes—hospitals and doctors’ groups want to do the same.)  None of this is the recipe for improving health and health status or for curbing health care costs.

The task of trying to provide continuous seamless care for our patients just gets harder and more insane.

Every major country with good health outcomes has lower costs.  Take a look at the expenditure tables in this Commonwealth report.   Look also at : 1) the tables on mortality from index cancers, 2) hospitalizations, 3) deaths in hospital.  For all we spend, we do no better than other industrialized nations spending much less.  According to The State of the Worlds Mothers 2013 report, we are 30th in the world for newborn deaths on the first day of life. 30th!  The top ten with the lowest rates are Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Netherland, Denmark, Spain, Belgium, Germany, and Austrailia. Our spot, 30th, is worse than any industrialized nation.  Life span, you might ask?  We are 48th in the world, despite our spending.  Each of the industrialized nations with better outcomes than us also has significant government involvement in setting prices and policy, which our electorate continues to fight.

I am far less concerned with the troubles of the ACA website; gee, my electronic medical record crashes on me all the time when I am up late at night doing my charting.  I have to live with it, boot it up again, and still get the job done.  Even fewer choices of where to get care is ok with me.  That may be a price to pay to get more people covered, at least the way we have chosen to go about it in this country.  But if fewer choices and inadequate technology are accompanied by insane lack of coordination of care across locations AND by rising profits of insurance companies, well then, I continue to not understand how Americans can fear a single payer plan.

Living and Limits

I am posting a woman’s entire post below because I found it helpful and provocative.  If you want some other sources that suggest we should really hear this story, look at Josh Freeman’s blog today.  He is talking about what it will take to improve health (and that will also lower health care spending) in our country. He links his thoughts to an earlier post of his, Capability; Why people may not adopt healthy behaviors. That earlier article contains some useful references to rattle your brain.  On a personal level, what really drives each of us in the choices we make?  Some of his references take a scholarly look at that question. None are quite as honestly blunt as the post I quote below.  While I might see the choices available to the writer as more numerous than the writer sees, that is not the point.  And of course my job is to offer what I see and seek ways to steer someone to more healthy choices that might improve their health status, regardless of the givens of their daily life, burdens, and realities. The point is that if we want to improve health, we sure cannot do it from a perch of I never really sat on your perch.  I hope you will read Josh’s post today and his 2010 one along with the one below and savor the richness of who we are as people/individuals.  We each are trying to get through a day, live a life, always in the midst of the expectation that we also make healthy choices.

From killermartinis.kinja.com

“There’s no way to structure this coherently. They are random observations that might help explain the mental processes. But often, I think that we look at the academic problems of poverty and have no idea of the why. We know the what and the how, and we can see systemic problems, but it’s rare to have a poor person actually explain it on their own behalf. So this is me doing that, sort of.

Rest is a luxury for the rich. I get up at 6AM, go to school (I have a full course load, but I only have to go to two in-person classes) then work, then I get the kids, then I pick up my husband, then I have half an hour to change and go to Job 2. I get home from that at around 12:30AM, then I have the rest of my classes and work to tend to. I’m in bed by 3. This isn’t every day, I have two days off a week from each of my obligations. I use that time to clean the house and soothe Mr. Martini and see the kids for longer than an hour and catch up on schoolwork. Those nights I’m in bed by midnight, but if I go to bed too early I won’t be able to stay up the other nights because I’ll fuck my pattern up, and I drive an hour home from Job 2 so I can’t afford to be sleepy. I never get a day off from work unless I am fairly sick. It doesn’t leave you much room to think about what you are doing, only to attend to the next thing and the next. Planning isn’t in the mix.

When I got pregnant the first time, I was living in a weekly motel. I had a minifridge with no freezer and a microwave. I was on WIC. I ate peanut butter from the jar and frozen burritos because they were 12/$2. Had I had a stove, I couldn’t have made beef burritos that cheaply. And I needed the meat, I was pregnant. I might not have had any prenatal care, but I am intelligent enough to eat protein and iron whilst knocked up.

I know how to cook. I had to take Home Ec to graduate high school. Most people on my level didn’t. Broccoli is intimidating. You have to have a working stove, and pots, and spices, and you’ll have to do the dishes no matter how tired you are or they’ll attract bugs. It is a huge new skill for a lot of people. That’s not great, but it’s true. And if you fuck it up, you could make your family sick. We have learned not to try too hard to be middle-class. It never works out well and always makes you feel worse for having tried and failed yet again. Better not to try. It makes more sense to get food that you know will be palatable and cheap and that keeps well. Junk food is a pleasure that we are allowed to have; why would we give that up? We have very few of them.

The closest Planned Parenthood to me is three hours. That’s a lot of money in gas. Lots of women can’t afford that, and even if you live near one you probably don’t want to be seen coming in and out in a lot of areas. We’re aware that we are not “having kids,” we’re “breeding.” We have kids for much the same reasons that I imagine rich people do. Urge to propagate and all. Nobody likes poor people procreating, but they judge abortion even harder.

Convenience food is just that. And we are not allowed many conveniences. Especially since the Patriot Act passed, it’s hard to get a bank account. But without one, you spend a lot of time figuring out where to cash a check and get money orders to pay bills. Most motels now have a no-credit-card-no-room policy. I wandered around SF for five hours in the rain once with nearly a thousand dollars on me and could not rent a room even if I gave them a $500 cash deposit and surrendered my cell phone to the desk to hold as surety.

Nobody gives enough thought to depression. You have to understand that we know that we will never not feel tired. We will never feel hopeful. We will never get a vacation. Ever. We know that the very act of being poor guarantees that we will never not be poor. It doesn’t give us much reason to improve ourselves. We don’t apply for jobs because we know we can’t afford to look nice enough to hold them. I would make a super legal secretary, but I’ve been turned down more than once because I “don’t fit the image of the firm,” which is a nice way of saying “gtfo, pov.” I am good enough to cook the food, hidden away in the kitchen, but my boss won’t make me a server because I don’t “fit the corporate image.” I am not beautiful. I have missing teeth and skin that looks like it will when you live on B12 and coffee and nicotine and no sleep. Beauty is a thing you get when you can afford it, and that’s how you get the job that you need in order to be beautiful. There isn’t much point trying.

Cooking attracts roaches. Nobody realizes that. I’ve spent a lot of hours impaling roach bodies and leaving them out on toothpick pikes to discourage others from entering. It doesn’t work, but is amusing.

“Free” only exists for rich people. It’s great that there’s a bowl of condoms at my school, but most poor people will never set foot on a college campus. We don’t belong there. There’s a clinic? Great! There’s still a copay. We’re not going. Besides, all they’ll tell you at the clinic is that you need to see a specialist, which seriously? Might as well be located on Mars for how accessible it is. “Low-cost” and “sliding scale” sounds like “money you have to spend” to me, and they can’t actually help you anyway.

I smoke. It’s expensive. It’s also the best option. You see, I am always, always exhausted. It’s a stimulant. When I am too tired to walk one more step, I can smoke and go for another hour. When I am enraged and beaten down and incapable of accomplishing one more thing, I can smoke and I feel a little better, just for a minute. It is the only relaxation I am allowed. It is not a good decision, but it is the only one that I have access to. It is the only thing I have found that keeps me from collapsing or exploding.

I make a lot of poor financial decisions. None of them matter, in the long term. I will never not be poor, so what does it matter if I don’t pay a thing and a half this week instead of just one thing? It’s not like the sacrifice will result in improved circumstances; the thing holding me back isn’t that I blow five bucks at Wendy’s. It’s that now that I have proven that I am a Poor Person that is all that I am or ever will be. It is not worth it to me to live a bleak life devoid of small pleasures so that one day I can make a single large purchase. I will never have large pleasures to hold on to. There’s a certain pull to live what bits of life you can while there’s money in your pocket, because no matter how responsible you are you will be broke in three days anyway. When you never have enough money it ceases to have meaning. I imagine having a lot of it is the same thing.

Poverty is bleak and cuts off your long-term brain. It’s why you see people with four different babydaddies instead of one. You grab a bit of connection wherever you can to survive. You have no idea how strong the pull to feel worthwhile is. It’s more basic than food. You go to these people who make you feel lovely for an hour that one time, and that’s all you get. You’re probably not compatible with them for anything long-term, but right this minute they can make you feel powerful and valuable. It does not matter what will happen in a month. Whatever happens in a month is probably going to be just about as indifferent as whatever happened today or last week. None of it matters. We don’t plan long-term because if we do we’ll just get our hearts broken. It’s best not to hope. You just take what you can get as you spot it.

I am not asking for sympathy. I am just trying to explain, on a human level, how it is that people make what look from the outside like awful decisions. This is what our lives are like, and here are our defense mechanisms, and here is why we think differently. It’s certainly self-defeating, but it’s safer. That’s all. I hope it helps make sense of it.

Additions have been made to the update below to reflect the responses received.

UPDATE: The response to this piece is overwhelming. I have had a lot of people ask to use my work. Please do. Share it with the world if you found value in it. Please link back if you can. If you are teaching, I am happy to discuss this with or clarify for you, and you can freely use this piece in your classes. Please do let me know where you teach. You can reach me on Twitter, @killermartinis. I set up an email at killermartinisbook@ gmail as well.

This piece has gone fully viral. People have been asking me to write, and how they can help. After enough people tried to send me paypal money, I set up a gofundme. Find it here. It promptly went insane. I have raised my typical yearly income as of this update. I have no idea what to say except thank you. I am going to speak with some money people who will make sure that I can’t fuck this up, and I will use it to do good things with.

I’ve also set up a blog, which I hope you will find here.

Understand that I wrote this as an example of the thought process that we struggle with. Most of us are clinically depressed, and we do not get therapy and medication and support. We get told to get over it. And we find ways to cope. I am not saying that people live without hope entirely; that is not human nature. But these are the thoughts that are never too far away, that creep up on us every chance they get, that prey on our better judgement when we are tired and stressed and weakened. We maintain a constant vigil against these thoughts, because we are afraid that if we speak them aloud or even articulate them in our heads they will become unmanageably real.

Thank you for reading. I am glad people find value in it. Because I am getting tired of people not reading this and then commenting anyway, I am making a few things clear: not all of this piece is about me. That is why I said that they were observations. And this piece is not all of me: that is why I said that they were random observations rather than complete ones. If you really have to urge me to abort or keep my knees closed or wonder whether I can fax you my citizenship documents or if I really in fact have been poor because I know multisyllabic words, I would like to ask that you read the comments and see whether anyone has made your point in the particular fashion you intend to. It is not that I mind trolls so much, it’s that they’re getting repetitive and if you have to say nothing I hope you can at least do it in an entertaining fashion.

If, however, you simply are curious about something and actually want to have a conversation, I do not mind repeating myself because those conversations are valuable and not actually repetitive. They tend to be very specific to the asker, and I am happy to shed any light I can. I do not mind honest questions. They are why I wrote this piece.

Thank you all, so much. I don’t know what life will look like next week, and for once that’s a good thing. And I have you to thank.”

This post first appeared on killermartinis.kinja.com

Food for Action

The 2013 Farm Bill is now in conference committee (a meeting between the US House and the US Senate to reconcile differences between the two bills that emerged, one from each chamber). At stake are food stamps.  The House version of the bill has a 20 billion dollar cut.  The Senate bill has a 4 Billion dollar cut.  What does this mean?https://i1.wp.com/www.caritas-waco.org/logo%202%20SNAP_LOGO_eng_acro.JPG

1 out of 6 Americans have inadequate access to food. 21% of households with children have what is now called food insecurity. Over 50 million Americans have difficulty keeping food on the table. 1 in 5 children are at risk for hunger; for Latinos and African American children it is 1 out of every 3. 

Take a look at Jennifer Ensign’s post on her blog Medical Margins.

Could you live on $4.20 a day?  Want to take the challenge and try?  Then will you let the media in your town and your congress people know your experience?  Below is a sample letter and ideas for implementing.  We suggest you send it to a Senator or Congressperson on the committee, challenging them to live on the food stamp allotment until the bill is out of conference.  Then, if you take the challenge, share your experience with the press, blogs, and your congresswomen and men.  Below the sample letter is a list of all on the conference committee. The time to act is now; they have been in conference since 10/30/13.

To:  Representative (or Senator)…
Fr:  your name
Re;  The Farm Bill Conference
November 23, 2013

Dear Representative (or Senator) fill in name

We are writing to you in your role as (_________) state’s conferee on the House-Senate Farm Bill Conference.  As individuals from (_________________), we are gravely concerned by the cuts already taken – and being considered – in food stamp benefits. We assume you want to do
what is best for your constituents, and thus might welcome a first-hand understanding of your actions.

This letter has two parts.
(1)  We are calling on you and your conferees on the Farm Bill to limit your spending on food to the current Food Stamp allotment for an individual for the duration of the Conference Committee.   We know that you may have taken a one-week “food stamp challenge;”  we believe it is particularly appropriate that all of the Conferees “take the challenge” for the duration while deciding whether to restore, or further cut, food stamp benefits. We know this will be difficult, given an average benefit for one person in Washington State is just  $4.20/day.   It is not only not easy, it can be harmful – e.g., to people in physically-demanding jobs, while pregnant or recovering from surgery or illness, or dealing with many of life’s challenges.

(2)  At the same time, we will be limiting our own food spending to that same amount.   To aid your deliberations, we will be reporting regularly on the results to your office, and to others throughout our communities.

Indeed, some those who write you may already rely on SNAP and thus live with the reality of food insecurity.  I hope you also hear their stories. As you and your colleagues debate whether or not to make cuts to a program which is necessary for many to get by, we seek to remind you there are people behind the numbers.  In that spirit, we wish to share our stories with you and will do so.

Those of us who are not limited to a food stamp allotment believe that food security is a right and no person should be denied access to adequate food and proper nutrition.  We wish to stand in solidarity with those who face food insecurity and who will be deeply affected by the actions of you and your colleagues.

Some people will feel they cannot participate (e.g., if it would endanger their health or the health of their families).  In those cases, we will share their stories with you.

We look forward to working with you on this issue.

Sincerely

(your name)

___________________________
Why do this:  We believe it would help committee members in the understanding of food insecurity if they were to have even a limited experience in what it is like to have no more than $4.20/person/day (the average benefit in WA) to spend for food.

And, since we realize it may be difficult for a sitting member of Congress to do this, we are asking others to also do this – for as long as the Farm Bill Conference meets.  By signing this letter, you will be agreeing to do the following:

1)      Confine your food consumption to what you can purchase on $4.20/person/day.
2)      Send regular reports to your Senator’s or Representative’s office, telling her how it feels, and whether it is easy or hard.  E.g., whether it affects energy levels; whether you can afford healthful food; how your attitudes are affected.
3)      Send regular reports to others:  social media, traditional media, colleagues, neighbors, family, friends.
4)       If you believe it would be harmful to you or your family to limit food spending so drastically (e.g., if you are diabetic or pregnant or recovering from an illness or surgery), we ask that you send that information to the Representative’s office.   (Food stamp recipients are not given higher amounts if they hold physically demanding jobs, or have special health conditions.)

If this sounds like something you are willing to do (or at least try), please copy this letter, sign it, and send it to the appropriate person for your state or to the chair of the committee.  And then, begin the pledge.
______________________________________

Who is on the committee:

The Senate conferees include:

Democrats:

  • Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee
  • Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
  • Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA)
  • Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)
  • Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
  • Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO)

Republicans:

  • Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee
  • Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS)
  • Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
  • Sen. John Boozman (R-AR)
  • Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND)

The House conferees include:

Republicans:

House Committee on Agriculture conferees:

  • Rep. Frank D. Lucas (R-OK), Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee
  • Rep. Steve King (R-IA)
  • Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX)
  • Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL)
  • Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-TX)
  • Rep. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-PA)
  • Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA)
  • Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR)
  • Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL)
  • Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD)
  • Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA)
  • Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL)

Leadership conferee:

  • Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL)

House Foreign Affairs Committee conferees:

  • Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman
  • Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA)

House Ways & Means Committee conferees:

  • Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), Chairman
  • Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX)

Democrats:

House Committee on Agriculture conferees:

  • Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), Ranking Member of House Agriculture Committee
  • Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC)
  • Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA)
  • Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN)
  • Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR)
  • Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA)
  • Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA)
  • Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-CA)
  • Rep. Filemon Vela (D-TX)

The vote

I started three different posts tonight and cannot decide on the order.  Which first?  Which second?  Which third or not at all.

This blog has 150 “followers.”  Now is your chance to weigh in.  Here are the choices for the next few.  What do you want to hear?

1. Parenting as a noun (vs verb), a back slide (car ride Wed night)

2. life on the other side, eg in the bed as patient

3. Counting on the Latino vote

4. Getting quiet with yourself

Tomorrow will be one of those. If you weigh in, that will decide which.

Awakening in the USA

Some ask, what do all my posts,  health policy mixed with family, memoir,  have to do with moments?  We live in them!  Moments have content.  These current times will be remembered when most national elected officials from both parties share some of history’s lowest approval ratings. Moments, where we live, how conscious and intentional we are, how we use them, are really all we have.  Relationships happen within them.  Relationships end within them.  Both lead to change and either forward or backward movement. I am a generalist and have many domains in play at any given moment.  There are many who can attest that I cannot be narrowed: my parents and grandparents, my college advisor, my grad school advisor, the specialists who wanted me to pick their field during med school, and on and on and on.  For me the threads connect. My hope is that readers will see what the moments mean when I write (and maybe want to read the book if someone takes it and it moves from manuscript to book, Life Lessons, What Our Patients Teach Us)

Today and this week  the press is reminding us of 1863 and 1963.  The events they remember were touchstones in my life. 1863 was having its hundredth anniversary in 1963 when many moments were pivotal for me.

There I was, a recent transplant (August 1962) from California to Virginia, sophomore in high school.  Me: a pudgy teen with acne and a decent brain in the throes of who am I, though I did not know it.  There were existential crises like when I found out my friends would think I was a snob when I did not recognize them because I was too vain to wear my new glasses.  I had my first real boyfriend, a congressional page.

My world turned on the events of 1963 in ways that shaped me.  I am sure there were the foundations laid by other circumstances in our lives, like having an older brother whose brilliance I accepted and being a young girl in the 60s whose guidance counselor told me, because I was female, that my aspirations should aim at state teachers college “and not higher” or my mothers flight of fury to take on this woman for trying to limit my dreams.  I can write more about all of that and my development in those contexts, but tonight is about 1963.

To get there we need to fast forward to 1964.  It was the World’s Fair in New York.  My brother was off to college. My parents, my two younger sisters, and I boarded a bus to NY to meet my mother’s parents, see New York, and do the World’s Fair. On the bus, I was working on a talk for my “expository speech” in debate club.  Titled “Building Bridges,” I called for racial equality and inclusivity. I showed it to my mother.  She actually asked if I had written it or copied it from somewhere.  I was taken aback, furious, and with a typical 15 year old posture, I cried, “How could you even think that?” silencing those in the seats nearby. This was the most original piece I had ever written. How dare she? Did she know me so little that she could not understand from where this came?  She imagined I plagiarized it?  Really? It came from her upbringing of me…and 1963.  She raised us with  “all are equal; we are the same.” The 1963 opened my eyes.

1963

January of 1963 was the 100 anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation (1/1/1863).  We were studying the civil war in class.  It was on the news.

I was that teen with my first boy friend, that Capitol Hill Page whose dad was a congressman from somewhere.  We would go to DC for dinner, me with my fake id, have steaks and wine and cigarettes.  There was the luau at LB Johnson’s house, then Vice President, because Lucy Bird was also dating a Page. That made me a grown-up, right?

June of 1963: John F. Kennedy issued a proclamation ordering the Governor Wallace of Alabama to comply with the 1954(!) law of school desegregation. When Wallace blocked the entrance to the University, JFK brought in the National Guard and Wallace stepped aside.

Dulles Airport had been built and sometimes my friends and I would drive out there, all dressed up, just to be in that space, new with driver’s licenses, acting adult.

August of 1963, with the 100 year anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation (1/1/1863) and of the Gettysburg Address (11/19/1863), Martin Luther King and 200,000 others marched on Washington.

August of 1963, my brother was leaving for college on the left coast and I was convincing my parents that I could have his room and paint it pink, (which by the way was on a different level, allowing me to both sneak out and smoke cigarettes with the window open and, I thought, be undetected.)

Also in 1963 the Beatles hit the US.  They were not on Ed Sullivan until 1964, but as my musically talented brother validated my more visceral very positive response and said:  “this is very talented and complex music.”

November of 1963: I was sitting in a class when the announcement came.  “The President has been shot.” JFK was dead, just weeks before he could have hoped to have the civil rights bill passed, or would it have been?  How did that moment bring history forward with a big tradeoff?

Regardless of that answer, for me it was a year of awakening to a larger world, to the imperfect union we have, to the work we still face, as Lincoln noted in the Gettysburg address. In this week and year 2013, the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address and the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death, I sit here knowing what the cumulative moments of 1963 did to grow me and they feed me still.  And you?

Students’ eye towards the future

What we know from many studies is that most medical students enter medical school with a stated altruism, many wanting to work for social justice, to serve the underserved, and in primary care careers. And then the attrition starts, moment by moment, and it is down hill from there.

By graduation, the students going into rural and underserved careers drop the majority of those initially interested.

Think of it as a pipeline.  It has a diameter to hold all of the students going who, at entry, want these careers.  At graduation there is a much smaller trickle of those going into primary care and of those, a few drops choose rural or urban underserved practices. I won’t bore you with all that we don’t know about how to impact this; suffice it to say that it matters to some of us medical educators and health policy nuts and so we keep trying.  There are of course the extrinsic factors (like “specialty bashing” or remuneration differentials that select procedures over time spent with a patient in life style conversations) and we don’t control those. And we keep trying to impact what we can.

Tonight, maybe seventy-five people were in the room, ranging from deans to first year medical students with faculty, staff, and second, third, and fourth year students in between.  Two thirds were students. The states of Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho (WWAMI) were represented with both deans, students, and staff.  A few “out of states” students were there as well, at least one from California.

Some of us have spent a good portion of our work lives developing and feeding that pipeline I mentioned above and then nurturing the students in it to continue their commitment to careers caring for rural and urban underserved communities.  The WWAMI states have 28% of the US land mass and only 3.5% of the population, of which 35% are rural residents.  And what we might call rural in Washington is considered urban in Montana, Wyoming, Alaska.

The University of Washington Medical School serves those five states, through the WWAMI Program.  Two recent initiatives to nurture that pipeline are the Underserved Pathway  (UP) and the TRUST Program. The UP is a program any student can join, providing structure to students for planning their curriculum, mentorship, and on-line educational modules.  The TRUST program admits a cohort of students to be scholars (now 10 a year in Montana, 5 in Eastern Washington, 5 in Western Washington, 5 in Idaho, and soon some from Alaska and Wyoming) from an applicant pool who have both the credentials for admission to the school of medicine and those that support a stated desire to have a career in rural or underserved health care. TRUST scholars have a longitudinal relationship with one rural community for the entire four years of medical school. They spend two weeks in their community before first year classes even begin, visit during the years one and two, a month in the summer after first year, and 4-7 months in third year, returning for elective work in fourth year.  All complete the UP.

The regional deans from Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Eastern Washington and Western Washington are in town this week for a variety of meetings purposely packed into one week.  As part of this visit, they like to spend time with the students from their state and we (TRUST and UP) want to pull them all together for an educational session.  That was tonight’s gathering.

After a Kaiser Foundation video on the ACA and a clicker response quiz, small groups formed to discuss hopes, fears, impacts, and real stories these students have already witnessed.  Each state dean gave an overview and update of what is happening in their state.  While Washington is the only of the five with medicaid expansion, several are on board with exchanges and several are having ongoing medicaid expansion discussions with strong support from groups like physicians, hospitals, business, labor, and others.

In the wrap up it was clear that these medical students see their lives as having a social context and contract to improve health and  access.

They worry about their capacity and acknowledge we need new models of care.

They know that whether they are activists or not, they are being political, which opens a discussion of how to be active effectively.

Many believe that universal single payer insurance will be the only thing that will work.

They are realistic that change is hard and will be incremental.

I worried that this would feel like a downer.  From the energy in the room and the comments after, I think it was energizing.  Lesson for me:  hard topics with no easy solutions are less so with the support of others.

And me:  I am deeply touched by the realism, passion, energy, and clarity of these students.  They seem up for the task.  And there are more of them than were in my generation. If our programs keep their fire kindled, I will feel success.  If one of each of us elders fosters two or more who take on the mission, I will feel success.  Tonight I am grateful to be part of the effort and to our students who keep me with some modicum of focus and youth.

Code status continued

Sharon M. posted a comment that I had informed Eva’s son and it was ultimately up to him.  True that he was key in this process.  He was the voice for Eva. If he chose, is everyone who cares for Eva bound by his decision?  What if the harm of resuscitation outweighed the benefit? What if it is a different story and the patient was in an accident and is in a coma.  The doctors think aggressive treatment can save her, return her to a functional life with quality (and who gets to decide that anyway)?  The surrogate says, no, do not intubate.  Whose decision should carry the weight?  How would YOU decide?

What could I do?  What should I do with Eva’s case?

We were taught certain key values in ethics classes:

Autonomy: Every person has the right to self determination.  This would include the surrogate decision maker, like Eva’s son, acting on her behalf.

Beneficence: We are to act for the good of the patient

Non-Maleficence: “Primum no nocere”  or First, do no harm

Justice: This calls for the fair distribution of scarce resources and fairness and equity in delivery of care (not a hallmark of the US Healthcare System)

Respect:  Every person should be treated with dignity

Honesty and clarity: Informed consent comes from this concept.

There is a four box methodology for sorting through all this, which is copied from here 

MEDICAL CONSIDERATIONS
The Principles of Beneficence and Nonmaleficence

  1. What is the patient’s medical problem? Is the problem acute? Chronic? Critical? Reversible? Emergent? Terminal?
  2. What are the goals of treatment?
  3. In what circumstances are medical treatments not indicated?
  4. What are the probabilities of success of various treatment options?
  5. In sum, how can this patient be benefited by medical and nursing care, and how can harm be avoided?
PATIENT PREFERENCES
The Principle of Respect for Autonomy

  1. Has the patient been informed of benefits and risks, understood this information, and given consent?
  2. Is the patient mentally capable and legally competent, and is there evidence of incapacity?
  3. If mentally capable, what preferences about treatment is the patient stating?
  4. If incapacitated, has the patient expressed prior preferences?
  5. Who is the appropriate surrogate to make decisions for the incapacitated patient?
  6. Is the patient unwilling or unable to cooperate with medical treatment? If so, why?
QUALITY OF LIFE
The Principles of beneficence and Nonmaleficence and Respect for Autonomy

  1. What are the prospects, with or without treatment, for a return to normal life, and what physical, mental, and social deficits might the patient experience even if treatment succeeds?
  2. On what grounds can anyone judge that some quality of life would be undesirable for a patient who cannot make or express such a judgment?
  3. Are there biases that might prejudice the provider’s evaluation of the patient’s quality of life?
  4. What ethical issues arise concerning improving or enhancing a patient’s quality of life?
  5. Do quality-of-life assessments raise any questions regarding changes in treatment plans, such as forgoing life-sustaining treatment?
  6. What are plans and rationale to forgo life-sustaining treatment?
  7. What is the legal and ethical status of suicide?
CONTEXTUAL FEATURES
The Principles of Justice and Fairness

  1. Are there professional, interprofessional, or business interests that might create conflicts of interest in the clinical treatment of patients?
  2. Are there parties other than clinicians and patients, such as family members, who have an interest in clinical decisions?
  3. What are the limits imposed on patient confidentiality by the legitimate interests of third parties?
  4. Are there financial factors that create conflicts of interest in clinical decisions?
  5. Are there problems of allocation of scarce health resources that might affect clinical decisions?
  6. Are there religious issues that might affect clinical decisions?
  7. What are the legal issues that might affect clinical decisions?
  8. Are there considerations of clinical research and education that might affect clinical decisions?
  9. Are there issues of public health and safety that affect clinical decisions?
  10. Are there conflicts of interest within institutions or organizations (e.g. hospitals) that may affect clinical decisions and patient welfare?

Back when I first was a student and resident, we involved patients and families in discussions of code status.  Usually we agreed.  If we did not, we would continue to talk with patients and families and tell them if we thought the person was a “no code.”  This process became more formalized in the places I practiced, but there still were still times when the patients and their families did not agree with us, the doctors.  We talked and inevitably we agreed, always, in my practice, erring on the side of letting someone stay in the full resuscitation category.

Never before Eva had I reached this block.  Take a look at the four boxes.  What do you need to know in Eva’s case?  How would you approach this?  If it is totally Eva’s son’s right to decide, do I have an obligation to perform CPR and advanced life support measures, even if they go against what I think I took as a physician’s oath?

In all ethical crises, two or more values come into conflict.  In this one it is where autonomy comes into conflict with beneficence/non-maleficence. Can you weigh in?

Code Status

Curled up like a little child taking a nap, she seemed even smaller than her ninety pounds.  She was clean, her hair in a tidy braid, her skin soft and moist, and she had no signs of skin breakdown or bed sores, the absence of which told us that her son clearly took time bathing her, using moisturizers, and frequently turning her to prevent prolonged pressure on any one area.  Sometimes she would open her eyes but they did not register any recognition — even of her son, even when he called her name, Eva.  Mostly now at 88 years of age, she just lay there all curled up, no longer able to uncurl, eyes closed.  https://i2.wp.com/farm5.staticflickr.com/4080/4823054554_b0ebf60d20.jpg

 We could get no response from Eva unless she experienced pain.  Turning her would sometimes bring a cry and trying to stretch her contracted limbs always brought one.  She wore a diaper that was changed regularly by her son at home and by our staff when she was in the hospital.  A few years earlier she would wake up and could be fed.  That ability had slowly vanished and her son elected to having a feeding tube placed as her sole way to receive nutrition.  He wanted to keep his mother alive as long as he could.  Her diagnosis?  Advanced and advancing dementia, a combination of Alzheimer’s and small strokes.

Eva’s caregiver was her son, a man in his fifties who immigrated with her, leaving his position in their home country. His only income was the state support as his mother’s caregiver.  Every few months Eva would develop some malady—a cough, a urine infection, or mysterious fevers. We would hospitalize her, noting that during her stays, her son rarely visited. This limited our ability to form a relationship, a partnership with this important person in Eva’s life, but we believed everyone needs a break. For that reason, his absence did not bother our interns and residents or me and the other faculty doctors. Usually after several days, we would pronounce Eva well enough for discharge and he would come and get her or be at home to receive her when the cabulance brought her home.

When Eva’s condition progressed to the unresponsive curled up, unable to uncurl or respond being, we initiated a conversation with her son who had durable power of attorney for health matters. If her heart stopped, what would he want for her? What would she want?  He was adamant that he wanted full resuscitation.  We talked with him about how she was in the terminal stages of Alzheimer’s and asked him about the quality of her life.  He remained firm:  resuscitate her if she needed it.

There often are family fears around this discussion of what we call the “code status” (the do or do not resuscitate).  Will we give antibiotics if needed?  Are we stopping all treatment?  Will we be less attentive to someone who is a “DNR” (do not resuscitate) than to someone who is “full code” or do resuscitate? Where is the line drawn?  We emphasized that our care would be ongoing and we would aggressively treat the reason she was in the hospital. The question was a what if.  What if her heart stopped?  What if she needed to be intubated?  He did not change his mind. He wanted her to be a “full code.”

Medical futility is a situation when intervening is not likely to have a good outcome or to produce good quality for the person.  There are easy examples: should a person with advanced lung cancer, with spread to other organs, be given an organ transplant?  When we think about the rususcitate or not question, age and other medical conditions influence the predicatbility of success. For Eva, if her heart stopped, indicating she was basically trying to die, the likelihood of surviving a full resuscitation was less than 1%.  And “codes” are brutal:  ribs get broken, livers and spleens lacerated, lungs punctured.  This is certainly not all the time, but the older and more frail a person is, it is more likely that it will result in what feels to us like torture and it is least likely that the person will survive.  Some states allow a physician, with certain protocols to say it is medically futile.

There have been times when it is clear to me that a family knows they do not want to prolong suffering and yet are incapable of making the decision to have an order of “do not resuscitate.”  When I talk about the odds for the patient as being exquisitely low and say I can sign the form saying and documenting why it is medically futile, they are grateful.  This was not the case with Eva’s son.  He wanted the “full code.”

What could I do?  What should I do?

_____________________________________________________

The image is a sculpture by Ron Mueck called Old Woman in Bed can be found here. 

 

Ethical questions

Why did I write that story yesterday?

Several conversations brought it back to mind.  One was with Steph Cooper, the ER doc I mentioned, who told me about the piece she wrote on “ethical crises in clinical care.”  (I am still waiting for the link Steph to share it here and increase your readership.)  A second was with some faculty and students with whom I am working to address needed development of our “learning environment.”  We have ongoing discussions about how to make it safe for students, staff, faculty, and residents to report what they perceive as unprofessional behavior, abuse, or mistreatment.  Even defining what is abuse and mistreatment or unprofessional behavior is fraught with large gray zones.  Add to that the differential ranks and our students often don’t feel they can directly give feedback to someone who is going to grade them, especially before the grade is submitted.

I understand that vulnerability and that is why we are creating many avenues for conversation and/or reporting.  At the same time, maybe all people have a line in the sand where, if crossed, they would be willing to stand up in the moment and speak.  Many ethical dilemmas are much smaller than the story I told yesterday and some are larger. Each asks us as individuals to make a determination whether to stand, where to stand, how to stand, speak and walk, and about the direction action or inaction will take us as individuals and as communities.

 These challenges happen in everyone’s lives. I will have some more examples from clinical care over the next few days. Please,  share ones you have faced.

Maria did not have tubal ligation surgery that day.  My colleague and I definitely wondered if we were outliers, which is what the chief resident wanted us to believe. I have no way of knowing how other students would have responded, but would have liked to believe, would still like to believe that my classmates and others would have the same response that we had.

In those days, at that hospital, the on-call attending faculty doctor was not always in the operating room with the chief resident. He was however in the hospital.

One of us stayed in the operating room, threatening to lie across Maria and prevent the surgery.  The other went to call and find the attending doctor and report the incident.  He came immediately, stayed for the cesarean section, and told the chief that he could not perform a tubal ligation. He later spoke with us individually and with the chief resident, making it clear that this incident could not be repeated and that the impact on our performance evaluation from this incident would be neutral from the chief’s perspective and positive from his.

Challenged

It was a typical night on call, if you can name any night on call for a third year medical student as typical. And as much fun as our obstetrics rotation was, this night was would turn out to be neither fun nor typical.

There were probably a couple of patients in labor. Though I don’t remember, that would have been the usual scene.  What I do remember is one woman I’ll call Maria.  Maria arrived having painful contractions three minutes apart for the prior several hours.  This was going to be her 7th birth, which had the other student and I almost gleeful that one of us would actually get to help with a vaginal delivery that night.  If we were lucky, it might even be early enough to get a little sleep in the call room. The “call room” would be better named the bunk-house, with its four bunks and central location a few uninsulated feet from and not out of earshot of anyone in labor.

When she arrived, Maria said her pregnancy had been quite normal although she didn’t have all the prenatal care that was recommended back in 1977.  She recently moved from El Salvador to San Francisco with her husband and 4 of their children, leaving two behind living with grandparents.  They spoke no English.

She was indeed in labor and her cervix was starting to dilate and with each contraction she would concentrate, close her eyes, wipe some sweat from her face and breathe slowly.  The thing we students could do best was coach a woman in labor, but Maria was a pro and clearly could have taken over our job if she were not busy right in those moments. After a bit she and her husband went for a walk around the ward, stopping for each contraction, hoping the labor would speed up. She went from bed and some fetal monitoring to walking every hour or so for many hours.  She did not dilate further.  After many hours and into the middle of the night, “we” (that would be the resident on the service) decided to augment her labor with oxytocin, a medicine that strengthens uterine contractions. Her contractions got closer together and the continuous fetal heart monitoring showed the baby to be tolerating the stronger and closer together contractions.

The head would not descend in her pelvis.  That’s not too unusual for a woman who has had several pregnancies and births, but at some point the cervix needs to dilate and the head needs to descend.  She made it to 6 centimeters dilation and we realized the head was not in a great position to descend.  Usually the head is either occiput anterior (the baby facing the floor if the mom is on her back) or occiput posterior (the baby facing the ceiling, or sunny side up, if the mom is on her back).  This baby was facing one side, or occiput transverse. Babies in this position often have difficulty navigating the birth canal.  We were not able to rotate the head and the head remained too high to safely break her bag of waters and see if then we could rotate the head or if it would descend on its own.  There was another aspect to this labor. Her other babies, born in El Salvador were in the 6-7 pound range and we estimated this baby to be about 9 pounds.

The senior resident discussed the lack of progress with Maria and her husband and she signed the consent for a caesarian delivery.  The operating room was set up and she was taken back and given an epidural anesthesia. I was a bit glum that there would not be a vaginal birth, but along with my fellow student, I was glad to be there and assist with the surgery.  While walking to the operating room with the chief resident, he was talking us through the steps of the surgery.  And then he said, “While she is open I am going to tie her tubes.  She has had plenty of children and does not need more.”

Game changer.  Here we were mere mice in a sea of dragons.  We had been trained to accept our position in the pecking order (though the women in my class were a bit rebellious about this and the many comments made about women invading medicine).  But we KNEW where the power was.  He was in his fourth or fifth year of residency, a full 6-7 years ahead of us.

And he was saying he was going to sterilize a woman who had not given consent.

The year our class entered medical school 3% of the classes nationally were women.  My class at my school was 30% women.  And we were an older and proud to be there and cantankerous group who knew the laws about reproductive health.  Maria had Medicaid and the federal law had been passed a few years prior that required a 30 day period between signing a consent for tubal ligation and the surgery happening (unless for instance there was a premature delivery).

This is called an ethical crisis in medicine.

What should we do?  What could we do?

We told the resident he could not do this.  He told us it was not our decision.  We told him he could not do this.  He said he would have us fired, kicked out of school if we tried to stop him.

What should we do?  What could we do?

I was visiting with a friend, Steph Cooper, an ER doc who writes beautifully about this work we do and its challenges (she has a great piece in the manuscript I am trying to publish). I hope she will send me the link to the narrative she published recently about ethical crises.  They can be big or small.  They are real.

This story:  to be continued.

 

Vulnerabilities

Pia and Zach posed some interesting questions. Thanks for those.  Here is what they asked:

“i’m interested in hearing your take on the intersection of gender and race. my impression is that race and gender become important in situations of vulnerability, that is when these categories are noticed — what do you think? in my experience, a narrative has to arise in order to explain this position of vulnerability/inferiority, but do you think it could also arise out of a situation of perpetuating superiority/privilege? for me, race and gender are often interchangeable categories of hierarchy, and are hard for me to separate, but perhaps they are separate. additionally, do you think that we (even the learned liberals ;) ) perpetuate disparities in health, in salaries, in social position? what’s your take on that? lotsa questions!”

Race and gender in my mind are not interchangeable but they can definitely intersect.  Is race real?  We all have a racial identity and that colors both opportunities and perceptions of self and others and is often a major contributor to policies that differentiate access, opportunity, and position in the social structure.  Given what we know now about biological diversity, is there good science behind race?  We know that most racial classifications are based on pheontype (skin color, hair type) and not on genetics and that there is more racial diversity within “racially classified groups” than between two different groups. Race is better understood as a social construct from which other policies and definitions have emerged.

There are social constructs about gender and there is a biologic basis for assignment in most cases, but not for beliefs about differences in capabilities.

Both gender and racial beliefs can play into health and health status, because much of what makes up health is from the social determinants. Health, defined by the World Health Organization in 1948, is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease of infirmity.”

If by vulnerable you mean at risk for poor health outcomes, less opportunity for optimal social and physical health, yes both race and gender can result in some group relegating based on “race” or gender to a status that has vulnerability.  First around the world, racial designation and gender are factors in what is being called social exclusion or having a lesser relationship than another group in the social, cultural, political, and economic domains.  This exclusion  results in less access to opportunities and resources, which impacts health.  Second, gender inequalities result in poor outcomes for women and children of both genders and we know that education of women plays a major role in improving the economic health of a country.  The drawing below from Dalgren and Whitehead (1991) outlines what impacts health; clearly there is much more than from genetic burden of disease.https://i0.wp.com/www.scattergoodfoundation.org/sites/default/files/social_determinants_of_health.jpg

 

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Why are there health disparities?

It is getting late and I want to post this soon.  I brought up race yesterday and implied (with the study I did) that is is not likely about biology when we think about the differences in the health of different communities.  Today, let’s look at some of the differences in health, just in our country.  To what might you attribute these?

The following is a cut and past from the Center for Disease Control

“Health Disparities – Examples

    • African American women and men 45-74 years of age in 2006 had the largest death rates from heart disease and stroke compared with the same age women and men of other racial and ethnic populations.
    • From 2005-2008, people with the largest prevalence of hypertension were 65 years and older, African American adults, U.S.-born adults, adults with less than a college education, and those with public health insurance (64 years and younger), diabetes, obesity, or a disability compared with their counterparts.
    • Among many sex-age groups, the prevalence of obesity from 2005-2008 was lower among White Americans than among African Americans or Mexican Americans. Among females aged 20-39 years, the prevalence of obesity was largest among African Americans.
    • Infants of African American women in 2006 had death rates twice as large as infants of White American women.
    • Adolescent and adult African Americans ages 15-59 years in 2007 had the largest death rates from homicide, as compared with other racial and ethnic populations of the same ages.
    • HIV infection rate among African Americans in 2008 was the largest rate compared with those of other racial and ethnic populations.

Mother and Child

  • Hispanic American and African American adults aged 18-64 years had substantially larger percentages of uninsured populations compared with Asian/Pacific Islander and White Americans.
  • Colorectal screening obtained in 2008 by African Americans, Hispanics, and American Indian/Alaska Natives was lower than screening obtained by White Americans.
  • During the 2009–10 influenza season, lower influenza vaccination coverage was observed among African American and Hispanic American adults than among White adults.
  • In 2009, high school completion among African American adults was the second lowest (second to completion among Hispanic adults and similar to the completion among American Indian/Alaska Native adults).
  • In 2009, the percentage of African American adults living in poverty was among the largest compared with other racial/ethnic populations (similar to percentages among American Indians/Alaska Natives and Hispanic Americans).
  • In 2009, African American adults more often lived in inadequate and unhealthy housing than White adults. The percentage of African American adults living in inadequate housing was similar to percentages among American Indian/Alaska Native and Hispanic adults. These populations had the largest percentages of adults living in inadequate housing.”
 
 

From where do some stories come?

      One of my Hedgebrook friends wrote me and said, “Great blog. I’m interested in the medicine and social justice side. it’s intriguing. If I landed on it and didn’t know you that would draw me. and thanks for plugging us all.” I said I would answer questions so I guess we seque to talk about a topic that will come soon, maybe even tomorrow unless I take a twist to a different direction: health disparities and stories found there. First though, what do you think about when I mention the word RACE.  I do not mean marathons, or automobiles, or Olympic sprints.

     Do you personally identify with a race?  What is your narrative about race? Not an ethnicity, either, but a race? What makes up race in your mind? When were you aware of race?  How?  How do you think beliefs about race influence policy? Is there good science behind that?

     A few years ago I did a study with colleagues.  It is well known that African Americans are more likely to die from colon cancer than their White peers.  The prior two hypotheses were:  1) they get diagnosed later (hmm is that lack of access, cultural beliefs about screening, not being offered screening at the same rate as Whites?) and 2) there is a biological difference.  Our study found that controlling for stage (so all those with stage II and III were in the same boat, presumably found at the same time), IF African Americans received the appropriate treatment (the “standard of care” of the right surgery and 6 months of chemotherapy), their 5 year survival was the same.  Now the question of why some do not get the standard of care is still open, but I think the biology question has at least one response. Health disparities is a huge topic for discussion, but first, where do they come from?

     If you live in the Puget Sound Region, listen up.  Currently the Pacific Science Center is hosting “Race, Are We So Different?” We are one of 25 or so cities to host it, and we are, so far, the only city/county to host intentional conversations about race, diversity, inclusion that draw viewing the exhibit beyond the individual experience.  The exhibit presents conversation about race from three perspectives:  history, human variation, and lived experience.

     King County and the City of Seattle Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) are supporting groups to meet before viewing the exhibit and again after viewing it.  They have trained facilitators who will come and meet with any group for the two sessions, for free.  I participated in the pre-exhibit session, will now go to the exhibit, and then participate in a post-exhibit session. While the material might not be new for some of us, the conversation was invaluable and the more conversations we have, the more we might move ourselves forward as humans.  

     It is easy to register groups. 

              From the website:“Each Group Workshop has two components: a 75-minute pre-exhibit session and a two-hour post-exhibit session.These experiences are designed for groups to use the exhibit to expand and apply their understanding of racial equity. There are many ways that groups can use Group Workshops, including: to initiate or deepen work around racial equity, diversity and inclusion; as a training or team-building activity; to lay the groundwork for new or revised programming, policies or initiatives.To register for a Group Workshop please visit RSJI site.”

     If you are in the area:  invite a group from work, family, community and let’s get the conversation going.  If you are not close enough, you can visit this site and pull groups together to watch and discuss the material.  www.understandingrace.org.