You Can’t Pee!

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NaBloPoMo 2017: Field Notes from a Life in Medicine

When my son was little we lived in an apartment where the kitchen was a separate room, with only a small window through which I could see what he was doing in the living room while I cooked.  Once when he was about five months old, I looked out and he was lying on the mat in the middle of the floor, playing happily with the toys dangling from arches overhead.  I swear I only turned around for a minute, and when I looked back he was gone.  Empty mat, toys still dangling, no kid, no sounds.  I can’t remember what I was doing, but it felt like a slow motion eternity getting out of that damn kitchen to find him.  Something heavy must have fallen on him or he was otherwise suffocating or dying, for sure.  …He had just learned to roll over, and he had rolled and rolled and rolled himself into the space under the air conditioning unit near the window.  He was turning over a dried jasmine leaf he’d found on the floor.  Not long after that I decided I had to buy food preparation gloves.  Just in case my kid needed me anytime I was handling raw meat, this would save me the infinitude of time it would take to wash my hands—I could just pull the gloves off and bolt!  Because you know, 30 seconds could mean life or death for a toddler in his own living room.

Please laugh—I did today when I told the story to a friend.  It came up as we explored the phenomenon of moms putting everything for their kids before themselves.  We compared notes on how long we had ever held our urine.  What mom has not done this?  You can’t pee!  Because you never know which minute you’re not with your children will be the one during which your neglect will kill them.  Thankfully children grow and become more independent, and we can free our bladders again eventually.

It’s not just moms, though.  One of my teachers in the hospital gave herself a urinary tract infection as a resident.  She had so much to do every day, so many patients who needed her that she felt guilty taking time to pee.  I did the same thing in clinic for many years.  I could not justify making patients wait another minute when I was already 15 (usually more) minutes late seeing them. I don’t do this anymore.  In a fit of efficiency last week, I stepped into the restroom after I set my lunch to microwave for 2:00.  It literally takes only a minute to pee.  I don’t usually run late these days, but even if do, now take care of my needs first.  It’s better for me, and better for my patients, whose doctor is not distracted by preventable physical discomfort and dying to end the interview or exam to get some relief.

Our culture still expects moms, doctors, nurses, teachers, and many others to sacrifice selflessly in service of our charges.  UTIs are the least important consequence.  Over 50% of physicians in the US report at least one symptom of burnout, and 400 doctors kill themselves annually.  That is the equivalent of my entire medical school, dead, every year.  It’s not all because of the job, but the obligatory selfless-giver mentality in medicine definitely contributes.

So whatever helping profession you are in, please take time to take care of yourself.  We need you whole and healthy to take care of the rest of us and our children.

Go pee.  I will wait.

#AtoZChallenge: VAGINA! No Fear of Words, Please.

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Sexuality can be hard to talk about.  I think this is true for adults far more than for children.  Children are naturally curious and nonjudgmental.  They just want to know, what is that, what’s it for, why are yours different from mine, and why does he have one of those and I don’t?  It’s we adults who squirm and dodge, deflect and bolt.  From a very early age, children learn that it’s not okay to talk about certain things because it makes the grown-ups uncomfortable.  I want to change that.

My kids have known formal names of body parts forever—breast, vagina, penis, femur.  They also know what the parts do, how they ‘go together,’ etc.  Anytime they ask a question, I try to answer as honestly as possible, in an age-appropriate way.  For instance, I have had to clarify that babies do not come out of a woman’s ‘butt.’  First I had to clarify the general use and meaning of ‘butt.’  Then I explained that men have two holes down there, and women have three, and the baby comes out of the middle one, between where pee and poop come out.  Maybe it’s because my husband and I are both doctors and science nerds—we say these words all day long and never think twice.  I think also it’s because I’m a terrible liar, and everybody can tell.  It’s just not worth telling one story now, only to recant and revise later.  Moreover, even if they don’t challenge the fib I’m telling today, their intuition that I’m not being fully forthright undermines my trustworthiness.

There are important parallels here for physicians and patients, too.  In medical school we learned how to take a sexual history.  I think most of us handled it fine, but there was some blushing and gnashing of teeth at times.  Again the key is repetition and getting comfortable with saying the words without embarrassment or judgment.  “Are you sexually active?  With men, women, or both?  How many partners do you have now?  How many in your whole life?  Ever have anal sex?  Receptive, insertive, or both?  Do you use condoms?  Every time?”  It also applies to other aspects of the social history.  “Do you or have you ever used recreational drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin?  Acid, mushrooms, PCP, MDMA?  Anything else?”  The underlying implication is, ‘tell me anything, I really want to know, and I will only judge the risks to your health, not you as a person.’  Once I get to the end of these lists, patients can see and feel that I am comfortable talking about anything related to sex, drugs, and whatever else, and I make no assumptions.  They are much more likely, then, to tell me honestly about their behaviors and experiences.  I can then make a more accurate assessment of their health risks, and give more relevant advice.  As a bonus, we often establish a deeper connection, because that sense of safety now likely extends to other things they may want to disclose.  This is often when stories about sexual assault and relationship abuse surface.

I want my children and my patients ask me about sex, drugs, cancer, death, Alzheimer’s, depression, anxiety, and all kinds of other things.  All of these topics can render us deaf, dumb, and blind so often, just by virtue of the acute discomfort they induce.  But if we as parents and physicians cannot tolerate them, despite our responsibility in these relationships, how can we expect our children and patients to navigate them successfully?  Yes, there is a plethora of information on the internet.  Much of it is actually accurate and helpful, and I Google as much as anyone.  But when it comes to such personal and emotional topics as these, people need more context and interaction than a screen can provide.  Google does not know your unique situation.  It cannot help you sort through your emotions, your family dynamics, or the implications of your decisions today on your future and the future of your loved ones.  We all need a human connection to do that—a safe, trusting, and loving connection.

When parents and physicians share freely our knowledge and expertise, in words that children and patients can understand and apply to their own experiences, we empower them to make decisions in accordance with their core values and highest goals.  We partner with them in service of their own self-determination.  Our role is supportive, guiding, ancillary.  We help demystify the process.

My goal is to help my children and patients be responsible, autonomous individuals who exercise good judgment for their own health and that of those they love.  Since words are my primary mode of communication, I cannot afford to be afraid to use any of them.

 

Of note:  My family and I recently discovered the book, It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley, and I (sing-song voice) loooove it!!  We own the 20th anniversary edition, updated to include information on sexuality for this digital, online, social media age.  This book appeals to me because it totally demystifies the body and sexuality, and does so with objectivity, openness, inclusion, and good humor.  We highly recommend it!

 

#AtoZChallenge: Presence and My iPhone: A Poem

IMG_0313In this Post-Post-Paleo Parenting Period

The Prevalence of devices Purturbs me

iPhones, iPads, their Pervasive disruptions

Of Personal interactions and attention

 

Even as I Persevere to Prevent myself

From Peering at the screen

I lose Precious time with my Progeny

Whenever I look away from them toward the Phone

 

Away from the Petite and Precocious Mei

Away from the Pensive and Pragmatic “Guh” (older brother)

They are mostly Patient

Sometimes Peeved

 

They deserve more than a Perfunctory Parent

They are Primary

They require my full Presence

 

I hereby Proclaim and Profess

To Practice Purposeful Pauses and

Curb my Propensity for screen-Peeping

 

This is my Parental Pledge

 

So Please, my Peers, be also my Patrons

Pass not your judgment

But Provide your Pardon

And Partner with me on this journey

As we all Proceed to Pattern

For our children

The People we wish for them to be