January 25 is Bell Let’s Talk Day.
One day a year the world comes together to help end the stigma of mental illness.
One day a year, a large corporation donates $0.05 for every tweet and hashtag that says “#BellLetsTalk” towards funding mental illness.
Meanwhile the province I live in is underfunding mental health across the board. I can’t get a delusional/psychotic patient timely access to a psychiatrist without sending him to the ER or placing him on a Form 1 (ie involuntary 3 day hold). I can’t get the chronically depressed and suicidal middle-aged woman a psychiatrist to follow her and manage her 3 psychotropic medications.
So yeah, let’s talk about mental illness.
Why don’t psychiatrists actually do what they are trained to do? Why don’t they follow patients and see those that need weekly psychotherapy? Why doesn’t the Government adequately fund mental health?
How about we talk about mental illness every day of the year and not just one day?
2017 came in with a vengeance, for me at least. New Years Eve day started out with my three-year-old up chucking his applesauce then spiking a fever for most of the afternoon. While the older two kids were on their way to my in-laws, it was touch and go whether the baby would be staying home and changing our NYE plans or going to my mom’s for the night. Thankfully with some Advil and Gravol, he perked up enough to be sent there for the night.
As my husband and I prepared to go to our friend’s place for the evening, I had a fleeting thought of “What if I’m the next one to get hit with the stomach flu?” I forgot to mention that my eldest got hit with the stomach bug two days before.
The evening started out great. We brought all the fixings for a cheese fondue and it turned out great but shortly after starting to eat I felt the distinct uncomfortable rumblings in my lower stomach that signaled something wasn’t right. Sure enough, an hour before midnight I was hugging the porcelain god and wishing I were dead. The stomach virus that gently hit my children assaulted me with a vengeance. Minutes after midnight I was lying in an upstairs spare bedroom shivering with chills. So much for my new year’s eve plans.
Why is it that the holidays bring on such horrible illnesses? This is the second year in a row that my family has been plagued with a stomach virus over the holidays. I myself have had more of these bouts of illness in the last 5 years than I can remember for most of my life. Is it the kids? Are they the germ factories?
It’s downright awful.
Even after spending almost the entire day in bed yesterday and sleeping close to 14 hours I am still not 100% today and feel like I could be on the verge of intimacy with the porcelain gods again. As I write this I’m lying in bed with three children arguing for my attention.
Time to sign off …
“Hi Doc,” she said, in a hoarse voice.
“What brings you in today?”
“Wow, you sound terrible. Are you sick?”
“Oh, you know, ’tis the season.” I cleared my throat, turned to cough in my elbow, then returned to the patient. “So, what’s going on with you today?”
“I lost my voice a few days ago and it’s just not getting better,” she said.
After a thorough exam, I diagnose resolving laryngitis.
“It’s a viral infection and will get better over the next 5-7 days.”
“Can you give me something to speed up the process?” she implored me.
“No, I’m afraid not,” I said, turning to cough again. “It’s a virus and will run it’s course. Drink plenty of fluids, get some rest and you should be better in about a week.”
“Oh, okay I guess. You probably shouldn’t be working, you sound terrible.”
And you don’t need to see me for a cold either.
It’s Saturday night, I think. Honestly this week has been a blur. I feel terrible complaining because I know for a fact there are others struggling with a lot more this time of year (a few of them are my own patients), but I have to say this has been one of the crappiest weeks I can remember.
It started off with me getting some kid of flu/GI virus that decimated me for close to 36 hours, then I get the phone call that my dad is going to the ER and after spending 15 hours at the hospital he gets admitted. I missed seeing a theater performance of Cinderella with my daughter and my aunt that day. (I’m still really bummed about that). When I got home that night, around 1am I found my husband in bed with shaking chills. He spent the vast majority of Wednesday in bed. Despite exhaustion, I took my older kids to an indoor play center to blow off some steam. Later that night my brother, wife, stepdaughter, and my best friend came over for an already-planned Christmas Eve-eve dinner. Husband and I were exhausted but it was wonderful to have family over and they helped out by wrapping all of our kids’ Christmas presents.
Christmas eve saw husband going out for last minute gifts, still unwell. I took one of the kids to see Pappou in the hospital. The kids watched Santa on Norad as he made his way from Morocco to Ireland, we set out milk and cookies for him and the kids went to bed with zero fuss. Husband and I settled in to watch our annual holiday classic, “Die Hard”, and promptly went to bed around 10pm.
Christmas morning the kids were up early, as expected. Christmas gifts were opened in a frenzy. I had planned on taking all the kids to see Pappou in hospital, so after breakfast everyone got ready, except husband who was still not feeling great. Over the course of the morning, my older son, the 4.5-year-old, started complaining of a tummy ache. He barely touched the apple juice he got from my mom, nor the donut. He looked pale and complained even more about his tummy so we left the hospital after a short visit. The entire car ride home the little guy was moaning. As soon as we arrived home, he was curled up on the couch with his new Star Wars blanket. Ten minutes later, he’s running to the bathroom calling for me and threw up.
Merry f*&king Christmas.
We were expected at my brother-in-laws house for Christmas dinner later that evening. I called my mother-in-law and told her everything. I wasn’t sure we should bring my son so I warned her that he and my husband may be staying home.
As it usually is with stomach flu, once you throw up you start feeling better. My son seemed to make a pretty fast recovery and I spent the afternoon watching him build Star Wars Lego. The 7-year-0ld was happily entertained with her new Nintendo 2DS from Santa.
Later that afternoon, with the two boys (husband and son) feeling better we piled into the car and headed west to my brother-in-law’s house. We were going to arrive about 2 hours late, but I had called my mother-in-law to explain. When we were about 10 minutes away I suddenly remembered that we, well I, had forgotten the dessert. Among the chaos of the week, I had gone out to buy two pies and ice cream as we were expected to bring dessert. We found an open Shoppers Drug Mart and were saved. Cheesecakes and eclairs to the rescue. (Seriously though, could this week end already?)
Christmas dinner was lovely. Husband and I ate but neither of us were particularly hungry. For me it was likely due to the stress of the week, my appetite has been shot. For husband, well, he was still recovering from the illness. An hour after dinner, my older son started turning pale again and complained of his tummy hurting. With profound apologies, we piled back into the car and drove home. Thankfully he wasn’t sick in the car but he did fall asleep and didn’t wake until almost 9am the following morning.
Boxing Day. Another trip to the hospital to see my dad. A relatively uneventful day and I was beginning to think the worst was over when the 2-year-old started screaming. Husband went to see him and called out – “He threw up.”
That poor little boy emptied his stomach over the course of the next 5 hours. I slept on a cushion on the floor of his room and he finally stopped dry heaving at 2am. He was awake at 6:30am as if nothing happened. Meanwhile husband is curled up in bed, moaning.
What the actual f&#K?
I’m ready for this week, hell, this year, to be over.
Only one person has been spared so far … my daughter.
Pray for me.
It’s two days before Christmas. We haven’t quite finished getting the kids’ presents and nothing has been wrapped.
I had a fitful 4 hours of sleep last night while husband lay next to me with the chills. As if things couldn’t get worse he is sick with whatever flu-like illness I had a few days ago.
The kids have been cooped up so this afternoon I took them to an indoor play center so they could run around and you know, be kids.
On the way there, I told the older kids that their Pappou (grandfather) is sleeping at the hospital and that I was there very very late last night when they were sound asleep. Of course the older one asked why and I tried to explain.
My 4.5-year-old son: “Mommy you should have told me you were home. We could have talked and I would have gone back to sleep.”
The 7-year-old daughter: “Wow, mommy that sounds like a long day.”
Sometimes I underestimate my kids. They understand a lot more than I give them credit for.
Waiting in the ER as a family member is boring and nerve-wracking. Waiting as a family member and a physician, watching your parent wince in pain is excruciating.
When I arrived he was seated in a wheelchair in the “Green Zone”, where the sprains and strains are waiting. He looked pale and sweaty and his heartrate was about 110. (Normal is 60-80). I found the nurse, explained who I was (daughter, not doctor) told her in medical terms what I had found when I saw him. She did an ECG (normal except for the fast rate) and moved him into the main ER. And two hours later we are still waiting to see a doctor. He is triaged as “back pain” and so we wait.
I finally couldn’t take it anymore watching him wince in pain and asked a nurse if we could get him something for pain and moved to a bed. About twenty minutes later the doctor shows up and my dad is lying down in a bed. He’s still sweaty and in pain. He also says he’s a bit winded and has a bit of chest discomfort.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Percocet on board and labs drawn.
And the worst of it? I was supposed to be with my daughter and Aunt watching a live production of Cinderella.
December is not a good month to be a family doctor, or any doctor for that matter. I have lost count the number of bad diagnoses I have had to give before Christmas. What an incredibly shitty way to end a year.
“I’m so sorry to have to tell you this, but that lump in your groin is lymphoma.”
“The biopsy has confirmed it’s malignant melanoma.
“Unfortunately, your baby stopped growing around 9 weeks of pregnancy.”
“The lump in your breast is suspicious for cancer.”
January is sometimes even worse. Who wants to start a new year with bad news?
Every year I feel like I’m back here lamenting the fact that it’s supposed to be a magical time of year, these “holidays”, and I’m forced to give more people more bad news. Can’t I just have one year where everyone is healthy? Is that really too much to ask for?
I’m really trying very hard not to feel like a complete idiot right now.
I attended another appointment with my parents today. It was a follow up with the physician that made a diagnosis last year of minimal cognitive impairment (MCI). Since we were seen there last year there’s been some worsening of his memory and behavior and we were assessed by a different neurologist to rule out a structural brain disease called Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus. It was at that appointment a few weeks ago that the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s dementia was made.
At today’s appointment I sensed a bit of push back from the geriatrician as to why we were seen at a different clinic. After explaining, I then asked her a few questions about disease progression and whether starting medication last year might have helped. I didn’t think I was being critical but when the physician turned to me and asked, “Well, you’ve read the literature, right?” I felt like she went on the defensive. I said I had, (and I had read about minimal cognitive impairment last year!) she asked me what I remembered.
Um, excuse me? This wasn’t a teaching moment. I’m not her resident. I’m asking as a daughter, not a physician. I couldn’t believe she was treating me that way, and in front of my parents. I don’t care if she was pissed off that we went to another hospital and got a diagnosis, she had no right to treat me like that.
I was honest and said I couldn’t recall. She then answered my question. 10-15% of patients with MCI progress. Sadly my father is one of them. And starting medication earlier would not have been indicated. In fact it could have made things worse. As she related the information to me it started to come back. Still, I felt stupid for not remembering it and even more stupid for asking the questions. All I can see is my dad and his diagnosis. I should have the intellectual capacity to look clinically at the literature and apply it to my dad but you know, I can’t.
I’m just his daughter today.
I debriefed with my colleagues today and they agreed that it really wasn’t appropriate the way the specialist treated me. I have to get over my anger because this is the person who will be caring for my dad. I have to find a way to put it behind me. But right now, I can’t.