Since my last post, I have recovered from illness, though spasms of coughing still occasionally overtake me. Other circumstances have changed, too, that have highlighted to me the importance of spending time with people we love. American culture often focuses on becoming financial millionaires when becoming time millionaires is vastly more important.
Here are some things I read while recuperating that may be of interest to you:
The Politics of Paying Real Rent Duwamish. This is of greatest interest to people who live in the Seattle-King County area. After reading this article I stopped paying Real Rent. The tagline is accurate: “Why a simple act belies a complicated history.”
Generation Connie. I am a bit older than the cohort of Asian American women who were named Connie (and my father said that my parents never considered the name Connie for me), though I definitely remember seeing Connie Chung with Dan Rather when I was growing up. Fun photos in the article.
A Killing on the F Train. Of all the writing I’ve read about Jordan Neely, the man experiencing homelessness and psychiatric symptoms in NYC who died when another subway passenger restrained him (via chokehold), this piece by John McWhorter resonates the most with me. His perspective is kind, nuanced, and empathic. Highly recommended.
I still think one of the most valuable skills psychiatrists have is to help distinguish psychiatric illness from “delirium”, which, for the purposes of this post, we can call “acute brain failure”. Other organs can abruptly stop working for a variety of reasons. Hepatitis infections can cause acute liver failure; dehydration can lead to acute kidney failure; we’re all familiar with acute heart failure, too.
Delirium is a symptom of an underlying medical condition. It’s like a fever or a cough: Many conditions can cause fevers or coughs, so you have to seek out the “real” reason. When people develop delirium, their thinking, behavior, and levels of consciousness change abruptly. People can get confused about who or where they are; they might start seeing things or hearing things that aren’t there; sometimes they seem to “space out” for periods of time. These are all vast departures from their usual ways of thinking. (The abruptness here is key; people with dementia may have similar symptoms, but those typically develop over months to years.)
(Fellow psychiatrists and hospital internists recognize that delirium isn’t always that dramatic. Sometimes people are lying quietly in bed, hallucinating and feeling confused, but never behave in a way that would suggest otherwise.)
Because I spent a few years working in medical and surgical units (where the risk of delirium is higher than in the community), it is still my habit to consider delirium when I am meeting with people. Given the disease burdens that people experiencing homelessness and poverty face, this is prudent. (Fellow health care workers might also more likely to believe a psychiatrist when we report that someone might be delirious, rather than psychiatrically ill.)
I wondered if there is any evidence to support that psychiatrists are more likely to detect delirium compared to other health care professionals. Enter ChatGPT.
ChatGPT cited two papers that reported that, yes, psychiatrists are more likely to detect delirium, though shared only the journal and the year, along with a summary of results. I asked for a list of authors for one, thinking that might help narrow down the search. It did not. So then I asked for the title of the two papers.
I could not find either title on Pubmed. This was curious. And concerning.
I then asked ChatGPT to share with me the Pubmed ID (a number assigned to each article) for each paper. Here’s what happened:
ChatGPT said that the first paper, “Detection of Delirium in the Hospital Setting: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Formal Screening Tools”, was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in 2018. ChatGPT said that the ID was 26944168. In PubMed, this leads to an article called “Probable high prevalence of limb-girdle muscular dystrophy type 2D in Taiwan”.
The second paper reportedly had the title of “Detection of delirium in older hospitalized patients: a comparison of the 3D-CAM and CAM-S assessments with physicians’ diagnoses”. (CAM stands for Confusion Assessment Method, which is a real, validated tool to help measure delirium.) ChatGPT said that the ID was 29691866. In PubMed, this leads to an article called “Gold lotion from citrus peel extract ameliorates imiquimod-induced psoriasis-like dermatitis in murine”. (I did learn that “gold lotion” is “a natural mixed product made from the peels of six citrus fruits, has recently been identified as possessing anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory effects.”)
It makes me wonder how ChatGPT generated these articles and their titles, where it created the summaries from, and where it found the PubMed ID numbers.
Indeed, ChatGPT is artificial, but not so intelligent. And it will take me a bit more time to find the answer to my question.
Some media recommendations for your consideration:
Three Years Into Covid, We Still Don’t Know How to Talk About It. This article is one of the few that resonated (more) with my experience of the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite my professional training and expertise as a psychiatrist, I still can’t find the “right” words to describe what happened to me, the people around me, and the world. Without adequate words to create a coherent narrative of my experience, I still don’t fully understand what happened. (I hope that I will not give up trying.)
Freedom House Ambulance: The FIRST Responders. Did you know that the first modern ambulance service in the United States was developed in a Black neighborhood in Pittsburgh? The Freedom House Ambulance served as a model for the rest of the world.
This Book Changed My Relationship to Pain (title of the podcast, not my comment). Dr. Zoffness explains the bio-psycho-social nature of pain in an engaging way with plain language. (I am one of the many people she describes in the podcast who developed chronic pain during the pandemic; I have known since its arrival, both as a professional and as a human being, that there is significant a psychological component.) Pain is not all in your head AND the state of our minds affects how we experience pain.
Mathematician Explains Infinity in 5 Levels of Difficulty. I have always found math interesting. What I particularly enjoyed in this video is the skill Dr. Riehl shows in teaching the concept of infinity to different audiences. This is something I aspire to (and have mused about doing something like this for myself for psychiatry, à la the “Feynman Technique“). I also appreciated the similarities between the explanations she provided at level one and level five.
Salve Lucrum: The Existential Threat of Greed in US Health Care. When I read things like this, I see yet another pathway that someone can unwillingly tread upon that will result in homelessness. (Some people think they are immune to homelessness; that’s just not true.) “… unchecked greed concentrates wealth, wealth concentrates political power, and political power blocks constraints on greed”, and “[g]reed harms the cultures of compassion and professionalism that are bedrock to healing care.”
(I know it’s the holiday season and I promise I’m not actually a grinch, but here’s your warning: This is going to be kind of a bummer of a post.)
Some recent scenes for your consideration:
The sliding wooden gate did nothing to dampen the sounds of traffic on the boulevard. Inside the wooden gate was a parking lot that was now occupied by around 40 small sheds, each painted a different color. At one end was an open-air shared kitchen and a set of small bathrooms. It was snowing, the kind of wet, clumpy snow that doesn’t stick, but instead seeps immediately into clothes, hats, and sleeping bags. Though people in this “village” are still technically homeless, they were at least protected from this unusual Seattle weather. Within a few minutes of my arrival, a skinny kid, maybe eight or nine years old, wearing a sweater, shorts, and sandals, ambled outside alone to look up at the sky. Later, another skinny kid, maybe thirteen or fourteen, came out, his hands shoved into the pockets of his sweatpants and his eyes fixed on the ground. I wondered what their ACEs scores were and hoped that, as adults, they would escape and remain out of homelessness.
As I threaded my way through the city and the morning chill, I kept a mental tally: One man wearing a tank top and making grand gestures at the sky; another shirtless man pacing in tight circles; one woman wearing a soiled hoodie, with either black ink or a black substance smeared across the bottom half of her face, picking up trash from water pooled in the gutter; a man hobbling with a cane and screaming a melody; a man emerging from a collapsed tent to fold up a crinkled black tarp; a woman with bare legs and swaths of bright green caked on her eyelids who, in slurred speech, offered me a wristwatch dangling from her fingers.
I do believe that hope is a discipline. It’s hard to practice every day. But this is why I still question whether my expectations were too high. God spared us—you, dear reader, and me—during this pandemic. For what reason? What can and should we do with the gifts of our lives?