Recently, I had the opportunity to explore addiction in the simplest of terms.
For 2-3 days, I have walked around in a fog wearing crap color glasses, with a headache, stomach ache, whole body ache and zero energy despite needing lots. If I were any good at self-care, I would have called in sick.
I also noted that my super sensitive nature was on steroids. I have always been hypersensitive to any stimuli. I smell the potatoes when they are just thinking of going bad, a seam or tag will ruin my day, background noises are like kryptonite, and I can taste Stevia in my coffee if the spoon wasn’t rinsed after stirring Richard’s. I can spot a personality disorder in the produce department and there are a few people that I have a visceral reaction if I have to share space with them. I apologize to all the people in my life that have put up with this not so endearing trait and understand now those who chose not to! But these past few days, whoa!
Being the astute clinician that I am, I came up with a differential diagnosis that includes a brain tumor, Lyme’s and/or sudden onset of manic depression. But still, I searched for an easier answer, mostly because my most precious luxury, coffee, didn’t taste right in the morning. Richard is the Commander and Chief of our coffee, endearing me all the more to him. “Did you change the coffee lately?” I asked Tuesday morning. “Maybe I didn’t use as much coffee”. On Wednesday, “Are you sure there isn’t something different with the coffee?”, “Positive”. And today, “You didn’t change us to decaf did you?” “Absolutely not!” I drank the coffee, fell back to sleep for 3 hours, woke up still feeling like I had a whole body migraine. Not even a run revitalized me. Thank goodness Richard is so easy to get along with as I nagged him again, “I don’t see the decaf bag in the pantry, are you sure you didn’t use decaf?” He fetched the bag out of the trash – it was indeed the dreaded DECAF. He quickly brewed a rescue cup of full strength and after a shower, I feel as if I am coming back to life.
But I am not just writing about this experience to glean sympathy (well that’s part of it!) What the past few days really provoke is the desire to examine what so many people face in addiction. My discomfort is so paltry when realizing what patients with addiction experience, over and over again. As a physician, I reflect how I interact with these patients. On my best days, I am present, compassionate, and willing to help. Some days, I fake all the above and am relieved to get out of the exam room. As a human, I don’t do nearly as good and avoid those with addiction at all cost.
Yet the news, social media and medical journals are full of pleas to help with the opioid crisis, to dig deep to address the issues leading to addiction. We are being challenged to consider Mental Health Diagnosis, Early Childhood Trauma, Post Traumatic Stress Disorders, the Impact of Poverty, and Adult Children of Alcoholics/Narcotics. We are being urged to treat addictions as an illness versus a character flaw. We are asked to identify our prejudices and resolve them. All of these are the right things to do, but…
As health providers, we are caught in the middle as we are increasingly graded on patient satisfaction, asked to treat more patients in less time with less resources, and suffer fatigue/hopelessness as nothing seems to work.
So, maybe as I transition to a new community, new clinic, new life, I can pick up the torch and do more. I hope! But for now, pardon me, I am off in search of my next cuppa Joe!