Thursday, January 22, 2009

Boiling Frogs

I finally managed to see my primary care doctor yesterday about the stomach/back/belly pain I've been experiencing. Since I saw her partner for a sick appointment the last time, I had to bring her up to speed on the whole scenario of what happened and what tests I've had so far. Every test has been normal, yet the pains persist.

Of course she asked me what my level of stress has been. I said, "Heh," and briefly outlined what's been going on my personal life for the last three years. She gasped here and there, and stated that it sounded like a traumatizing level of stuff. In addition to giving me a referral to a gastroenterologist, she suggested I should take antidepressants and possibly seek more counseling, since I haven't gone to any therapy since right before Little A's birth.

I expected she'd refer me to a GI doc, but the antidepressant discussion totally threw me. I get that GI problems are often linked to anxiety and stress. I'm absolutely sure some part of my stomach problems are stress, given that they began around the time of Little A's lung CT scan. And I appreciate being asked how I'm coping.

BUT ... the thing is, my doctor didn't actually ask how I was doing. She just listened and said, "You look really sad and tired. And when you were just talking, your body was really tense. You just don't look well. I think you should seek psychological counseling and possibly medication to help your mental state."

"Um ... I am tired," I stammered. "I've been up since five a.m. with my sick toddler. And I'm in pain. For three months."

"Wabi," she said. "I worry that you're a boiling frog."

I wasn't aware of the analogy, so I asked her to explain it.

"If you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, he'll try to jump out immediately. But if you put him in a pot of cold water and warm it up gradually, you can boil that frog alive and he'll just lay there and let you."

My mouth dropped open. There was so much I wanted to say, but it was all jammed up behind a huge WHAT THE FUCK that had to come out first. So I just took the referral and left, mulling and simmering for the rest of the day.

Seriously though, WHAT THE FUCK?

1) Is she saying that I'm a retarded frog just happily paddling around the boiling water, completely oblivious to the roil? Because I kind of recall telling her that I was well aware I was under lots of stress.

2) Doesn't the frog die in either scenario of the analogy?

I bet I did look stressed telling about my life. But frankly, it would have been a little bit less awkward and, well, stressful if my doctor seemed to have any memory of our last exchange about these subjects. Because we've talked about my medical history before. Then I must have done a better job at keeping my voice from cracking, because the other time her reaction was, "SQUEEEEE! Weird medical mishaps -- tell me all the details!"

Which was also disconcerting. For different reasons.

I'm the first to admit that the last couple months I haven't been twirling on a mountaintop singing with Julie Andrews. Aside from a fabulous summer, 2008 sucked. And lord knows, I've got my scars and mental tics. But I also don't drink heavily, snort coke, or smoke anything. I don't beat the kids or daydream about driving my car into the ocean. I'm basically ok. Functionally disfunctional, and cracking jokes along the way. Enjoying the kids and trying my best.

I thought I was some sort of a success at this. Moving on and getting over. And then she went and decreed I wasn't. It made me wonder if I was completely dellusional -- am I just telling myself I'm ok, when I'm really hanging by a thread?

So ... What is your idea of "good mental health" after a trauma and a tragedy? Do you have to be able to talk about it 100 percent of the time without feeling it? Do you have to stop thinking about it, or just stop minding that you think about it?


Susan said...

Doctors are not terribly good with dealing with anything that cannot be fixed with meds, a band-aid, or surgery. Don't worry about (such a lame) her comment...what you are doing, writing, dealing, moving forward, swimming through your life, is how you do it.

Aurelia said...

Weeell, she did say that you should just be referred to a mental health professional, and *possibly* have meds, so she isn't like writing you a scrip right then and there.

And yeah, stomach issues are actually very heavily connected to serotonin, so maybe she is worried.

But she should also have run some physical tests because while you have been in and out of all these hospitals, you could have picked up a stomach bug. Perfectly reasonable assumption, so I hope that gets done.

Anyway, I think that you have to have the ability to talk about it without getting hysterical, just like upset, in some capacity with some people, like trusted friends or relatives or the spouse. Thinking about it occasionally is fine, ruminating every detail over and over again, is not.

Ann said...

It really irks me when medical types assume that being stressed out is somehow abnormal. Everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, has lots of stress in their lives. Loss, money issues, marital distress, sick name it. This does not mean that everybody needs to be on medication.

I went to see a chiropractor a couple of weeks ago (whom I have subsequently fired). He talked about how stress can affect the body. I admitted that I had been under significant stress recently. He then proceeded to tell me how much stress he has in his life, but how he handles it so incredibly well. Apparently, I am inept at handling stress. WTF?

Wabi said...

Ann, YES -- that same sense of "You are sooo deluded lassy, thinking you have a stomach problem when really your brain is half unscrewed from its socket."

Again, I totally appreciate her asking about how I'm feeling. But the way she went about it cheesed me off.

Lori said...

I read this a couple of times and haven't been able to think of what to say because it really does sound like an odd exchange. That said though, it is hard for any of us to know what it was really like without being able to see her body language, hear her tone, or know what your past encounters with this doctor have been like. Which is why I trust your judgment that something about this whole scenario was a little out of whack.

That analogy is so bizarre though I can't help but think two things: a) she uses this analogy frequently because she thinks it is so clever b) she recently heard of this strange frog boiling phenomenon and has just been waiting for the opportunity to use it in an effort to, again, sound really clever. I'm sorry, something like that doesn't just slip off your tongue.

Which Box said...

I've been thinking about this post since the day you put it up. I mean seriously, since it's all about me, when is my stomach going to explode? OR when will I be boiled alive? Good grief.

I've heard this story before and it does have applications. But it certainly sounds like Lori is right - doctor just heard it and wanted the chance to use it!

Good mental health - I guess it's just being able to function within a modicum of what others would call normal. By that definition, I'd pass. By any of the options you offer, I fail. Spectacularly. Hmmm.