The dentist

My parents took me to a dentist when I was very young and the experience traumatized me. The effects of that are still with me today.

I believe that he didn’t knowingly traumatize me. He thought he was a very good dentist. It turns out he wasn’t as good as he thought and in many ways he wasn’t a very good person. If he’d really thought about what he was doing then none of this would have happened.

He caused me immeasurable pain and terror because he didn’t use anesthesia when he worked on my teeth. He thought he could be very gentle and delicate and that he didn’t have to give me anything. He also thought that simply seeing the needle (needles for dentists are very large) would frighten me.

Ideally, he would have given me a shot anyway and explained the benefits of it. Ignorance leads to fear which leads to pain. Seeing the needle could be frightening sure, but that is when you explain why it is long (to reach inside your mouth) and how it will help (to make sure you don’t feel any pain).

Without a shot, I was in fact in pain. But also, I was in terror, because I knew that if I moved I could be very hurt. One wrong slip with that drill and he’d be drilling my cheek and not my tooth.

Strangely, he didn’t even have an assistant. So there was no one else in the room to look in my eyes and see the terror and suffering, both physical and mental.

Because my parents took me to him, I thought this was normal. I thought this was part of going to the dentist. I thought surely they wouldn’t make me go through this terror and pain for no reason.

People don’t really understand how traumatizing this is, that this authority figure caused me pain and my parents, other authority figures, took me to him. This means that what he’s doing to me is accepted and okay and normal and in fact, they’re paying him to do it.

No one warned me what was going to happen. That just adds to the pain. Any time something new is going to happen to anyone – but especially a child, explaining it beforehand is a kindness. It is all about thinking about the other person and their emotional needs. They don’t know what is going to happen. They don’t even know what to ask. It is the medical professional’s duty to remember that even though s/he has performed that procedure a thousand times, this is the first time for this patient. Not only is “informed consent” important, it is also simply kind and humane and compassionate to make sure they know what to expect.

I’m so grateful that I’m realizing all of this. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t have the strength at the time to stand up and say “No you can’t do this to me.” or “You have to tell me what you are going to do to me before you do it.” But at least now I’ve noticed it and I can start to make changes. If I didn’t notice it then it would mean that I would continue to suffer and say nothing.

Hopefully by my writing about this, you will gain strength too and learn to ask for what is going to happen before it does if your doctor doesn’t think to tell you. Hopefully you might start to understand the root of some of your distress as well. Uncovering this root has really helped me in understanding some of my behavior and attitudes. This early experience badly affected how I related to and experienced the world. Now that I’ve uncovered it, I can heal myself from that point onwards.

Is art right for you?

11 x 14 canvas.

Acrylic paint, gold oil pastel pencil, under-words from a prescription insert for a nose spray, warning labels from prescription bottles, magazine clippings, label from a box of multi-vitamins stamps, silver and black Sharpies, decoupage glue, rubber stamps, ink, watercolor.

Please message me if you are interested in purchasing this one of a kind artwork.

About how art is better for you than prescriptions.

Full image –
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Real medicine

I knew a lady who was cold. It was early in the morning and she was shivering. She asked her daughter to get her a hot cup of coffee. She hadn’t slept well all night. We have been in a camping event so there wasn’t any central heat. She hadn’t brought enough blankets either. I looked at how she was sitting – all hunched over, hugging her arms to herself. This was a physical coldness and it didn’t need to be fixed by putting something into her, especially a stimulant. That would make her feel worse with her lack of sleep.

Her hair was thinning a little so I offered her a knit cap. We lose most of our heat through our heads. She put the cap on and within 10 minutes she was visibly warmer. She relaxed her shoulders and rested her arms on the table instead of hugging herself. She was a lot more comfortable. It was a simple fix that didn’t require coffee.

I had a coworker who had a headache one day and he asked for a Tylenol. I gave him one. Two days later he said he had another headache. He asked for another Tylenol. I didn’t give him one this time. He was young and needed to learn how to take care of himself. By that I mean more than just buying his own supplies instead of expecting other people to supply his needs.

More importantly, he needed to learn how to take care of himself by fixing the cause and not the symptom. The symptom just points to the cause. I told him to go drink water. If he didn’t feel better after 20 minutes (which is about the same time that a Tylenol would take) then I would give him a Tylenol. He went over to the water fountain had a sip. I said “No, keep drinking until I tell you to stop.” He needed to have 16 ounces of water, not a sip. I watched him drink and counted off the time and then told him to stop.

I forgot about keeping time on purpose. An hour later I pointed out to him that he hadn’t asked for a Tylenol again. His headache was gone.

Likewise, we have a guy who is studying to be a doctor who is there every day at the library. He’s a doctor in another country, but America won’t take his credentials. He has to take the exam here to be licensed here. He’s been studying every day and he’s not been taking care of himself. It is starting to show.

His hair isn’t brushed, his clothes are rumpled, and he now is saying that he can’t sleep and he has a headache. He asked me for a Tylenol. Rather than give him that kind of medicine, I gave him real medicine. Whether he takes it or not is up to him.

Real medicine is to suggest he take time off, go eat healthy food (all he eats is meat and rice), go exercise, and spend time with his wife. He says that he can’t leave his studies. He doesn’t get that if he doesn’t take care of himself, then it doesn’t matter what he studies – it won’t go in.

We’ve talked about preventative medicine before and he blows me off. He’ll make a fine western doctor if he passes. They treat the symptoms and not the cause too.

I tell him about friends of mine who are now off their diabetes medicine because they eat healthy food, exercise, and have lost weight. He thinks I’m lying. He says it isn’t possible.

He even brings his food to the library. Somehow they have an understanding in the department he studies in. He’s got a little crock-pot that he plugs in to heat up his food. He doesn’t even have to cook it. He gets it from his in-laws. When I say he needs to take time away from his studies and go outside the library for lunch, he says he can’t eat anywhere else because he has to eat food that is halal because he’s Muslim. I point out that you can eat vegetarian food and be perfectly safe. He wrinkles his nose at me.

It is hard to watch people drown.

Sure, I could give him a Tylenol. But that is aiding and abetting.

I’d be like the doctor who gave my Dad a prescription for cough medicine, knowing that he smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. Of course he coughed. Cough medicine isn’t the right medicine. Real medicine would be to refuse to treat him until he stopped smoking. Real medicine would be to direct him to smoking-cessation programs. Real medicine would be to help him learn better ways to deal with stress than smoking.

Real medicine involves hard work, not a pill. Real medicine involves being mindful and disciplined. It features daily exercise, no stimulants, no refined sugar, and lots of vegetables. It includes focusing on breathing. It includes learning to speak up for yourself. It includes being creative. It includes making time to rest. It includes working towards your dreams. It isn’t easy.

Becoming conscious is a lot like becoming sober.

Just a pinch.

What is it about doctors who say that “This is just going to be a little pinch”? It never is a pinch. Sometimes it is more like a punch.

Perhaps they think that if they warn you, you’ll tense up and it will hurt more. Perhaps they don’t know what that procedure feels like for themselves. Perhaps they just aren’t thinking at all.

I remember when my father in law went for a bone marrow test. My Mom had been through the same procedure many years earlier and I remembered how it was for her. I asked him if he wanted to know and he said yes. I told him that it was not going to be “a little pinch”. It was going to feel like a mule had kicked him in the hip.

A bone marrow test is like a core sample of your hip. They put a huge needle straight into your hip bone with only topical anesthesia. It is an in-office procedure. It is done if they think cancer has spread to your bone marrow.

He sat with that knowledge for a bit. He didn’t quite believe me, but he trusted that I would have no reason to exaggerate or lie to him. After the procedure he said that he was grateful that I had told him. Otherwise he said he might have punched the doctor because the pain was so surprising.

I had an experience recently that wasn’t as physically painful but it was still upsetting. I’d gone to the dentist because my night guard had broken. I wear it because I have TMJ. They had changed the way that they make them and the assistant had to make an impression of my teeth.

The only problem was that it has been a long time since I’ve had an impression done and I’d forgotten. The last time was at least 30 years ago when I got braces.

She made the mold, asked me to open my mouth, and then put it in. She asked me to move my tongue and then she put her fingers on the mold to hold it in place. And then she stood there, like that, with her fingers in my mouth, for probably five minutes.

I couldn’t ask how long it would be. I couldn’t ask anything. I was a little freaked out.

It is very intimate to have someone’s fingers in your mouth, especially a stranger. It is very overwhelming if you have sensory processing disorder. I don’t have a strong case of it, but it is still there.

Now when I normally go to the dentist, I know what to expect. I know how to prepare myself mentally. I kind of go away in my head. It works. But this was new to me, and I didn’t know what to expect. Nor did she think to tell me. It was routine for her. It wasn’t routine for me at all.

The feeling of the mold in my mouth was a little much. It took up a lot of space in my mouth. Fortunately the smell of the material was a bit like Fruit Loops. That helped a lot. But still, I had a stranger’s fingers in my mouth for a lot longer than I’d expected, which was not at all.

I don’t know why she didn’t tell me what was going to happen. It seems logical to prepare people.

My chiropractor told me exactly what to expect when he was going to adjust my hips for the first time, and again when he was going to adjust my neck. I’m grateful for it. He told me that he does that because he remembers when he was adjusted for the first time when he was eight. He said that the first time his neck was adjusted he cried, and he doesn’t want anyone to have to go through that trauma. He’s very considerate, and that is part of why I continue to go to him.

I have a dream that all doctors will understand what life is like from the perspective of the patient, and stop seeing us as products, but people.

Psych test – how to get sane in spite of your doctor.

I make no bones about the fact that I go to a psychiatrist. I was diagnosed as bipolar about fifteen years ago and I take medicine for it. At least I admit that I need help and I take it.

Many years ago I was getting free health insurance. I wasn’t employed and we had a sort of state run system. Essentially, you got what you paid for. It was better than nothing. I’d had several different doctors when I lived in Chattanooga, but when I moved to Nashville I didn’t have as many choices.

The only doctor that was listed for mental health did not speak English as his first language. It might not have even been his second language. While I’m OK with a doctor knowing multiple languages, I feel it important that if you are going to be a psych doctor, your first language needs to be the same as the patient you are supposed to be helping.

There aren’t any non-language tests for the psych doctors. It isn’t like they can listen to your brain with a stethoscope, or hook you up to a machine to see how you are doing. They have to talk to you and listen to you, and be able to understand what you say. They need to also be able to understand nuance and idioms. All of this is lost if they don’t share the language.

One day the doctor said that if I “felt special” I should take this certain pill. I think he meant if I felt like I had special powers, because it was an antipsychotic medicine. But with what he said, he basically wanted me to feel like crap most of the time.

He sure succeeded with that one. One of the medicines he had me on was Depakote. What a terrible drug. It took me four hours to get to sleep, and then I’d sleep for ten and twelve hours. When I was awake I couldn’t concentrate on anything. There was no way that I could return to the working world or even consider going back to school on that medicine. If I kept taking it, then I’d have become indigent and perhaps homeless.

When I told him about these problems, he said “That’s normal.”

That isn’t normal. It might be the normal for the medicine. But it isn’t normal for a functioning human. Perhaps his goal was to make me a zombie. He was making good headway on that one.

One day he set me up with a graduate student and he wanted to give me a test. For some reason I knew the questions for the test and how to answer it. I guess I’d already come across them somewhere. I felt it was so tedious and insulting. I didn’t want to do it. I refused to take it, but he wouldn’t continue on the exam (or give me my prescription) unless I did it. So really, I had no choice.

As a last-ditch effort to get out of this pointless waste of time I pointed out that I was properly oriented as to day and time – I was there for my appointment. He wasn’t buying it.

The questions that I remember include: spell “world” backwards. Count backwards from 100 by sevens. Recite the president’s names in order, as far back as I can remember.

He also gave three words – perhaps they are pen, doorknob, and spoon. I had to repeat them back to him. But then about ten minutes later, after other questions, he asked me to say them again.

None of this had anything to do with if I could cope with reality. None of it had anything to do with how I was managing on a day to day basis.

I stopped going to this doctor after this. Because this was a state-run scheme, I didn’t have another option at the time. I slowly tapered off on my medicine and then just went on my own for a while. I did fine for a bit, but when I crashed, I crashed hard. I’d been self-medicating with pot and that seemed to do the trick for a while but then I decided to stop smoking that. It didn’t take long before things started to get really weird again and I needed help.

The mental health doctors I’d seen hadn’t taught me how to take care of myself. In fact, they had taught me how to be dependent on them. This is very common with medicine the way it is run these days.

In the meantime I found another doctor, and another kind of medicine. It was like a veil had been lifted from my eyes. I could sleep well, and I could think again. No crazy highs and lows.

But better, I had learned something about how to take care of myself. I’d learned that avoiding caffeine and sugar helped a lot. I learned that healthy eating and getting regular moderate exercise helped. I learned that making sure I get a decent night’s rest was essential. I learned that staying away from people and situations that agitated me was very calming.

No doctor told me this. They wanted to test me with irrelevant questions and give me pills that made me stupid. They didn’t care about me as a person or my future.

It is very hard to fight for yourself when your doctor is turning you into a zombie. Then again, when you are in your right mind it is hard enough to stand up for your rights against a doctor. There is the idea that they are the authority – they know best. They aren’t working with you to get healthy – they are dictating what pills to take. They are treating symptoms and not causes. They aren’t promoting health. They are treating diseases. They have it all backwards.

But when your mind is what is affected, it is even harder to stand up for yourself.

Doctors should ask these questions instead – What are you eating? What are your hobbies? What do you do for exercise? What do you do for a job? What do you read? What do you do when you hang out with friends?

All of these things can indicate if a person is off balance. Fix those and the person will stop having such wild mood swings. I propose that bipolar disorder is a reaction to being overstimulated in an unhealthy way. I propose that it isn’t a disease so much as a symptom of an imbalance in life. Fix the balance, and you fix the problem. Perhaps it is more common among highly sensitive individuals. Perhaps if doctors address the cause, they’ll find the cure.

In the meantime, we the patients have to take matters into our own hands and get going with taking care of ourselves.

Exercise disclaimer.

Have you ever read this? “Before doing this exercise or participating in any exercise program, please consult your physician.” They wrote it to cover their butts. Really, they should write “Don’t sue us if you hurt yourself doing this” because this is what they really mean.

People aren’t very good at thinking ahead and thinking for themselves. Remember we live in a time where you can win a lawsuit against a fast food company because you spilled hot coffee on yourself.

It doesn’t do you any good to consult about exercise with your doctor. Western doctors treat symptoms rather than cause. If you started exercising and eating well, you’d put them out of business.

Rather than encourage my father to stop smoking, his doctor gave him a pill to stop his coughing. Rather than connect patients with nutritionists and exercise coaches, doctors give out diabetes medications. There are ads telling us that we can “eat like a kid again” meanwhile the person is at a state fair eating corn dogs and funnel cakes. It may be fun to eat this, but it isn’t food. Doctors should not be enablers. Doctors should “Do no harm” like their oath says.

I went to an ENT this year because my throat and neck hurt. He put a tube down my nose to look at my throat and saw evidence of acid reflux. Rather than suggesting lifestyle or diet changes, he put me on an antibiotic and an antacid. My neck still hurt, and obviously the acid is still there. He didn’t even want to tell me what the problem was. He didn’t want to spell out my condition, which was a symptom, not a disease. He wanted me placid and docile. He wanted to be in charge.

It took a trip to my chiropractor (who is also a nutritionist) to find out that I have arthritis in my neck. I now use a special pillow for my neck. What a simple fix. A comment to him about my experience at the ENT resulted in his entirely different theory that the problem isn’t too much acid, but too little. He says that we produce less acid as we get older and we need to supplement it or our food does not properly digest. I did a simple vinegar test and now know how much acid I need. I feel a lot better, and I’m even losing weight.

I wonder if Crohn’s and IBS and many other digestion maladies can be solved in this simple way? I doubt that regular doctors will even entertain this idea.

More doctors need to engage their patients in their own health care. More doctors need to understand that they work for the patient, and stop treating us as if we are ignorant children.

And we need to wake up. We cannot be passive about our lives. We can’t keep on thinking that we can eat whatever we want and not exercise and we won’t get ill. We know what we have to do. It isn’t a surprise.

It isn’t easy to switch from drinking sodas to water. It isn’t easy to switch from all meat to mostly vegetables. It isn’t easy to go from fried to steamed or baked. But it is worth it. Food does indeed taste better when it isn’t salty, deep fried mush. It takes about a week for your taste buds to relearn this.

It isn’t easy to start exercising. It isn’t easy to stick with it. But it is worth it. You won’t see the benefits right away, but the payoff is better energy, better rest, and better strength. The payoff is a stronger heart and increased resistance to disease.

If we are concerned about changes in health insurance, then we need to do what we can to improve our health so that we don’t need it. We have to stop thinking that doctors have all the answers. We have to stop thinking that we can do whatever we want and then just take a pill or have surgery to counter our mistakes.

You know how Jesus said “Go forth and sin no more”? That. But with health. The “sin” is continuing to eat whatever we want and refusing to exercise and then thinking we will be rescued by modern medicine. It is far better to not need to be rescued at all. There is no diet. There is only what Michael Pollan suggests in his book “Food Rules”. His mantra? Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. For a further explanation, read the book. I suggest getting it from your local library.

Occupy your health

Perhaps the Occupy movement needs to teach us something else – don’t wait on the government to take care of us. We need to do it ourselves. While we are all holding our breath about the Affordable Care Act and whether Congress will get over its collective snit fit and start working again, we can do something ourselves.

Let’s not wait for tragedy to strike before we take care of ourselves. We’ve already seen that the government doesn’t really care about taking care of us. Instead of getting upset about it, use it as an impetus to not need to be taken care of. Remember, prevention is cheaper than cure.

The insurance companies, sadly, don’t think like this. Yet.

I remember one time when I lived in Chattanooga. There was a tree that was leaning too close to my house. I could see that any time now the thing would topple over and destroy my roof and everything under it. I called the insurance company and asked if they would pay to have the tree cut down. Nope. They would pay to repair the house and for a hotel room for me to stay in while the repairs were going on. But prevention? No. Prevention was a lot cheaper and faster. They would rather wait for the inevitable to happen and clean up the mess.

Insurance companies are doing the same with our health. Let’s spend a lot of money on a cure for cancer. Let’s spend a lot of money on diabetes supplies. They don’t think to encourage exercise and eating well.

If the government really wants to regulate health, it needs to ban cigarettes and vending machines. Ideally, we’d have enough self-control to know that we need to not smoke and not eat processed “food.” Obviously we don’t. So we have way too many people dying of entirely preventable diseases.

Sometimes the government does us a favor. Remember when you would go into a restaurant and they would say “smoking or non-smoking”? It really didn’t matter what section you went to – if there was smoking in that place, it travelled all over the whole restaurant. You were in the not-as-much-smoke section, but not the smoke-free section.

Sure, people have the right to smoke. They have the right to kill themselves that way. But they don’t have the right to take other people out with them when they do it. That is where the government stepped in and made it illegal to smoke in public buildings, and for that I’m very grateful.

I remember a lady who got really upset when she heard that she was no longer going to be able to smoke in restaurants. She got mad at the government telling her what to do. I was glad that finally they did something to protect me. But we can’t expect the government to take care of us all the time. We have to step up.

This should be an idea that will appeal to all the people who think government needs to get out of our lives and let us live the way we want to. This should be an idea that will appeal to all the do-it-yourselfers.

Let’s not sit around and wait for the government to do anything for us in regards to our health. We see what they have done with education. Why let them dumb down something else? We don’t need our health reduced to the lowest common denominator.

If health insurance is going to live up to its name, it needs to insure health. Paying money to restore what has been lost is backwards. Health insurance should pay us to go to the gym and eat well. We should go to nutritionists and personal trainers more than we go to doctors. We should all get stress-reduction training before we even are stressed.

We go to the dentist every six months to get our teeth checked. This prevents bigger problems. We brush our teeth three times a day to prevent problems too. Why are we so reluctant to take care of our bones, our muscles, and our hearts? We can get replacement teeth. Replacement bones, muscles, and hearts are another matter entirely.

People say they don’t have the time to exercise. That is all in your head. You have the time. You don’t want to do it – just be honest. You’d rather spend the time playing videogames or drinking beer or watching “reality TV”. I do all of these things to – well, except for the TV part, but I do them in moderation. And I exercise. I realized that my health was more important than my leisure time. If I didn’t take care of my health, I wouldn’t have any leisure time in a few years.

We have to change the way we think.

People say they don’t need health insurance and they shouldn’t be forced to buy it. OK, so do they have a card on them so that when they are in a car crash that they don’t get rescued? They don’t get their bones set? They don’t get a blood transfusion? If we all don’t pay into it, then we all don’t get to benefit from it. That only seems fair. But it isn’t the way we do things.

We have a way of thinking in America that if someone is hurt, they will be taken care of and that we’ll just sort it out later. So do you need health insurance? Yes, but not the kind that we currently have. Take matters into your own hands. We need insurance for accidents, but not for the things we can do for ourselves.

We are looking at the problem backwards.