Health and Psychology

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This blog covers current events, brain injury, general psychology, health psychology, medical psychology, testing, and general issues.

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Sexual Assault

Posted by Margaret Donohue on October 9, 2016 at 9:50 AM Comments comments (0)

I don't believe I know any woman over the age of 15 that hasn't been sexually assaulted, inappropriately gropped, fondled or touched without her consent by someone.  So I'm not surprised that when @kellyoxford asks women on twitter to share their first sexual assault stories that there are more than 1 million responses with most of the events starting in childhood.


While the tipping point in the conversation about the prevalence of assault against women may be the latest video clip about Trump, it started earlier with the story of the rapes on campuses across the country, the victim letter from the Stanford rape case, the film The Hunting Ground, and the dozens of women talking about Bill Cosby assaulting them.   It started with Anita Hill talking about sexual harassment at work before congress and that conversation about how a reasonable person and a reasonable woman might have different perspectives.  


On Friday President Obama signed into law the Sexual Assault Survivor's Rights Act that allows rape kits to be preserved for up to 20 years or the State's maximum statue of limitations.  It also lets survivors be advised in writing 60 days before their rape kit is destroyed and lets them request preservation beyond the scheduled destruction date.


Sexual assault is one of the most unreported crimes.  Reading through the responses to Kelly Oxford's post on twitter, men apologize, point out that Bill Clinton did bad things too, or talk about how people are innocent until proven guilty.  They blame the media and point out that men are sexually assaulted as well.  


To men out there, you don't need to apologize or deflect.  What you need to do is to speak out.  The conversation Trump had in 2005 is common.  It's not okay and it normalizes inappropriate behavior.  It's your turn to speak out against the men that talk like this.  Get offended.  The men that talk this way prey upon your mothers, sisters wives and daughters.  Talk to the women that have been assaulted.  Find out for yourself that it's almost every woman you know and often most girls you know.  You have to get horrified before you support tremendous change.

Herxheimer Reactions

Posted by Margaret Donohue on September 24, 2016 at 12:35 AM Comments comments (2)

Jarisch-Herxheimer Reaction also known more simply as Herxheimer or Herx reaction sometimes occurs after antibiotic treatment causes a large die off of bacteria, fungus, yeast, or other systemic infections. initially described by Adolf Jarisch in 1895 and later by Karl Herxheimer in 1902, the reactions have been found in syphillis, sarcoidosis, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic lyme disease, leptospirosis, relapsing fever and candidiasis starting within an hour or so of taking the antibiotic to several weeks later and can last for a few hours to weeks.  


Symptoms of a herxheimer reaction include:

  • Flu like illness
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Low grade fever
  • Bone pain
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Mental Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Neurological Symptoms
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Changes in heart rate or rhythm
  • Heart palpitations
  • Rashes

It's important to recognize that the reaction is the result of the toxins being released by the bacteria, fungus or yeast dying off and not the result of a side effect of the antibiotic.  The reaction is generally mild, but may be severe and may require medical treatment to lessen the severity.  Treatment may consist of corticosteroids, IV fluids, blood pressure medication, and even dialysis.

If you think you may be having a Herxheimer reaction check with your physician.  In most cases the reaction subsides without incident in a day or so.

If you have quyestions about any medical condition we can assist with information, research and support.  Feel free to contact us at 818-223-4116.

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome

Posted by Margaret Donohue on September 6, 2016 at 9:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Jessica Jacobs died in August. She had Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. She is also described as having Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. I say described because I’m not sure I believe that. I think she had Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome with Autonomic Dysregulation and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome is just a part of that. She lived most of her adult life in Washington, DC but moved back to Twain Harte, California when she became too disabled to continue working. She wanted to be closer to her family.


Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome has several variants. The symptoms can consist of a variety of any of the following: hypermobility of the joints, thoracic outlet syndrome, early onset of osteoarthritis, degenerative joint disease, long slender fingers with swan-neck deformity, boutonniere deformity of the fingers, tearing of tendons or muscles, scoliosis, kyphosis, a tethered spinal cord, muscle pain, joint pain, trendelenberg’s sign (balance instability), Osgood-Schlatter disease, fragile skin, atrophic scarring, easy bruising, multiple skin folds, subcutaneous spheroids, molluscoid pseudo tumors, valvular heart disease, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, arterial rupture, aneurysm of the ascending aorta, Raynaud’s phenomena, heart murmur, heart conduction abnormalities, hiatal hernia, gastrointestinal dysmotility, dysautonomia, the ability to hyperextend the tongue to touch the nose, anal prolapse, collapsed lung, Arnold-Chiari malformation, platelet aggregation, pregnancy complications, sleep apnea, chronic pain and insensitivity to local anesthetics., drooping eyelids.


Jessica Jacobs was an advocate for the disabled and a blogger that wrote about her poor medical care and lack of coordination of her medical treatment. The types with dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system, and bleeding disorders are at risk for sudden death. Jessica noted all the places that were not accessible to her in a wheelchair, including her hospital room bathroom. She attempted to ensure that all her doctors could share medical records but carried around a binder of them because they couldn’t. She found her primary care physician dumping her onto uncoordinated specialist care abhorrent. Unfortunately, this is a common practice with any rare medical condition. It’s a bit more common with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.


She’ll be missed.

Pulse Nightclub and the Stanford Rape Case

Posted by Margaret Donohue on June 18, 2016 at 7:10 AM Comments comments (0)

I am as appalled by the media coverage of the Pulse Nightclub massacre and the Stanford Rape case as I am of the events themselves.  I'm chairing a dissertation on rape and I have a clinical practice that is LGBTQIA friendly.  The media turns these events into single incidents rather than common place occurrences.  The rape case stands out only because of the articulate first person account of the victim.  Rarely do we hear the words of the victims.  And 7000+ words not only captured the nation but put focus on the judge for handing down the light sentence to Brock Turner.  And there is a discussion about rape culture and the misrepresentation of men like Brock as boys and just drinking too much, and not as the face of the rapists they are.  So that discussion is well needed.  But the sentence itself is common.  The rapist I saw a week or so ago was given 3 years for breaking a woman's jaw twice during her rape.  He was out in less than two years.   He's already violating his parole.  I'll see 2 or 3 more just like him over the next few months.  It's common.  So women don't get to feel safe because we know.  We know that reporting gets nothing more than a slap on the wrist.  That going to court gets a laughably light sentence.  That we will be blamed for the rape instead of the rapist.  We know that.  I was told my rapist couldn't be convicted so no charges were brought.  He raped acquaintances.  I know three other women he raped.  There were no charges brought by the State.


The massacre at the Pulse Nightclub is marked by the lack of media coverage of it being a place of safety for people within the transgender drag Latinx community.  It was a continuation of the violence that has been historical from the time of colonization on.  It was the continuation of violence against the community that occurs within a daily basis.  This is a community that wakes up knowing people want to kill them every day. It's not about guns or Muslims.  It's about a massacre that normally happens piecemeal.  The media usurps the community by not naming them. By not calling this what it was, part of the ongoing massacre of people of color, of the homosexual and transgender communities, of the marginalized.


My cisgender white male friends of privilege do not understand.   They think nothing of walking outside, alone, at night.  They think nothing of going to a nightclub and maybe having a drink.  They do not understand why I own a gun, why I'm afraid, or what it means to be a survivor of crime.  A survivor of rape.  They think the police the police will help if something bad happens.  They think the police will come.  But what the media gets so wrong is that as members of these communities, we know the police will not come, if they do come they will come late and ineffectively, they will blame the community, and if we defend ourselves we will be vilified.  The script the media endorses is that these are gun crimes or terrorist activites or the problems of mental illness.  No.  They are the problems of marginalization and dehumanization.  There are countless murders and countless rapes.  It's not about guns, or terrorists or the mentally ill.  It's about a lack of safety and a lack of awareness of how often these crimes are occuring.

Medical Psychology

Posted by Margaret Donohue on May 3, 2016 at 8:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Depending on the study, somewhere between 58 and 79 percent of all psychological diagnoses have a substantial medical component.  That's a very alarming statistic.  In the 1970's the field of medical psychology was created to address this need.  By the late 1980's it had all but dissappeared, replaced by the less medically intense health psychology field or the broader behavioral medicine field.  


When I first went into practice I worked with a family practice physician.  My office was located in his office.  The referral question was simple: "This person has been seeing me (the MD) for 4 or more visits and the diagnosis is unclear" or "This person is not responding to treatment."  Of the hundred or so people I saw over the first year, I diagnosed about 30 cases of cancer, 20 cases of heart disease, and 35 cases of endocrine disorders.  The rest were a mixture of psychological conditions and non-compliance with complicated medical treatment.  My private practice geared to work with heart disease and cancer was starting to be filled by men with what would eventually be diagnosed as HIV/AIDS.  I drove to San Francisco on the weekends to be with a client who was being treated at San Francisco General.  I stopped counting the deaths at 175 and closed my practice to start working for one of the insurance companies.  


At a risk management seminar I was sitting at a table of physicians.  They presented a case of a woman with persistent neck pain.  The cardiologist at the table and I were arguing over the diagnosis. The case was presented in pieces, just like it is in a medical office.  She had been cleaning the shower and her neck started hurting.  It felt better after some rest but still didn't go away.  She thought maybe she had the flu.   I was telling the cardiologist the woman had a heart attack.  He was telling me I wasn't a doctor.  After the third visit for neck adjustment the woman collapsed at home.  She'd had three heart attacks.  I explained to the cardiologist that women experience heart attacks differently than men and they have different symptoms mainly neck and jaw pain, fatigue and muscle aches.  Almost all my heart patients were women.  Almost all were misdiagnosed in medical offices or even at emergency rooms.


The endocrine diagnoses were worse.  Almost all my endocrine patients were misdiagnosed with depression, anxiety, or personality disorders.  Some had endocrine tumors.  Some of those tumors were malignant.  Just trying to get the correct tests done or imaging studies done was challenging.  Eventually I had physicians I worked with because we knew each other, and they understood what I did.  For physicians not trained in clinical medicine, they decided I was psychic.  For physicians trained in clinical medicine, they honed their skills and trusted them more than the lab studies they treated like oracles.  


Now I tend to work with more neurological symptoms, recent head injury or abnormal test results that don't seem to correlate with any illness.  When the Dr. House series was on television it was easier to explain what I did.  That was a show about clinical medicine.  I like the puzzle.  I like figuring out what's going on.


If you don't have a diagnosis and have seen your physician for more than 4 visists, or if you aren't responding to treatment, contact me.  I'm likely to be able to help with diagnosis and treatment.

Patient Shaming

Posted by Margaret Donohue on April 24, 2016 at 12:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Patient shaming. This time it happened to/about my cat. This happens by physicians (or vets) when they don’t know what is going on and all the treatment options they know of have been exhausted. It usually happens to people on the fourth visit either when there isn’t a diagnosis or the treatment is ineffective.

I ‘ve had Tatum since she was just under 2 years old. She was a hot mess. She was in several foster homes. The rescue organization referred to her as medically fragile. She had a couple of common cat conditions, namely cat acne, and bilateral herpes of the eyes. But she was ripping her face and ears open and the go-to diagnosis was some sort of unseen parasite. She was subjected to scrapings, dips, multiple medications and a food diet so extreme that she was only eating one brand of cat food and only turkey pate at that. She still had all the conditions. The rescue person dropped her off, did a cursory look at the house and ran out yelling “Start the car. They took the cat.”

I kept up with all the craziness for a year. Then I stopped the pills. I stopped the drops. I kept her eating out of ceramic or glass dishes. I started varying her food. No change. She ripped her face open and I took her to two vets. No parasites. It’s stress. Cat self-harm. Cat trauma. New people trigger it. Sometimes the other cat triggers it. Sometimes it’s a thunderstorm. She eventually gets over it. She’s been fine for the last several days.

She just turned five and I took her to the vet. New vet. “She should be on L-Lysine twice a day” she said.

“I did that,” I said. “It does nothing.”

“She’s ripping her face open because of the cat acne. It’s painful” she said.

“No,” I said. “She rips her face open when she’s psychotic.”

“We can treat that. There’s medication for it” she said.

“I’ve given her creams and drops for a year. It does nothing. No thank you.”

“So you want your cat to be in pain. I guess you know everything.”

“She’s here for vaccinations. Can you do those?”

“Yes,” she said.

Stalemate.

It’s annoying. It happens because doctors are taught in medical school that they have to know everything. For many it hinders later collaborative practice. They blame patients with chronic medical conditions that don’t respond to typical treatment. They blame parents for children not improving. They blame people when they can’t diagnose. They refer to therapy as a last resort rather than as a first line of options. Switching doctors happens with disgruntled patients or being referred out to specialists is the common practice for physicians. It fragments treatment, limits history, and results in poorer medical care. As more physicians integrate psychologists into their practices hopefully this will lessen.

Disability

Posted by Margaret Donohue on April 19, 2016 at 9:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Disability is a complex system of insurance companies, state regulations, federal regulations and governmental bodies with competing and differing codes for determination. It’s confusing to a lot of people. Our office can help with all forms of evaluation.

DEFINITIONS

A disabling condition is a physical or emotional illness or collection of symptoms that impairs the ability to function in one or more areas of life. Accommodations are methods to assist someone in performing tasks so they can function better.

Accommodations may include a device such as a computer that recognizes speech, or converts speech to text, or reads text aloud. It may be a wheelchair or a cane. It may be a device that helps to put on socks, or grab items, or button. It may be a device that helps someone hold a spoon, or fork, or pencil. It may be a cell phone or tape recorder. It may be a system of applications that says what color something is, what denomination of money someone has, or a prompting system to help with memory. It may be a medical device to test blood sugar, blood pressure, temperature, pulse. It may be extended time on exams, a private room, natural lighting, a test given on computer or a paper based test. It may be a service animal or emotional support animal. It may be voice activated door bells, light switches, smoke detectors. It’s not an advantage, but it may be an equalizer.

An off work notice. This is a letter to an employer indicating a disabled person is not able to function in their usual and customary job as a result of a temporary disabling condition. This usually needs to come from a physician (psychologists count as physicians in this regard). The person is expected to undergo some form of treatment to return them back to their usual and customary job.

Evaluation of disability by a treating provider. This is a letter or report of the symptoms and a description of functional impairments. This may be requested by an employer or by an insurance company handling a disability claim. This letter does not have to be written by a physician.

Evaluation of disability for the Social Security Administration. This is an evaluation of how an individual is able to function in their ability to perform simple work in the general labor market. The is not an evaluation of their ability to perform their usual and customary job. This is simple work. Examples would be the person who bags groceries at a grocery store and retrieves shopping carts, or the helper that waters plants at the local nursery. It involves some degree of judgment such as not putting the gallon of milk on top of the carton of eggs.

Evaluation of disability for accommodations. This is a complex evaluation involving multiple layers of documenting what is required and what is available. For conditions such as ADHD, or for tests such as licensing board tests these evaluations are lengthy and extensive.

We perform all tyes of evaluaitons on all age groups and write letters as part of those evaluations.  Feel free to contact our office.

Complex Trauma

Posted by Margaret Donohue on April 14, 2016 at 8:00 PM Comments comments (0)

I explain complex trauma to my students by telling the story of my cat Tatum.  I met Tatum through a cat rescue organization.  Tatum was described as a fragile medically ill cat.  I picked her up in my arms and she jumped out of my grasp.  The rescue group had me sign several forms and gave me her medical history.  Three foster homes in her six months of life.  Countless medical visits.  Found in a cardboard box in a McDonald's parking lot in Lancaster, California.  She was prescribed multiple medications, creams, pills, a special diet, and she couldn't get along with other animals.  She was "slow to warm up."  "She's not to go outside.  She gets terrified.  She responds quickly to being sprayed in the face with water if she's doing something you don't want her to do."


The first time she ripped open her face I assumed what everyone had, that she had mites, or an infection, or some sort of parasite.  The first vet didn't find anything but prescribed medication anyway.  The second vet didn't prescribe because she was already on medication and nothing was changing.  So I asked if it was possible it was just self-injurious behavior.  "Oh, we call it delusional parasites"  the vet said.  So I did research.


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder occurs commonly in animals. 

PTSD symptoms in pets can include:

  • Uncharacteristic aggressiveness
  • Fearfulness, trembling
  • Increased agitation
  • Decreased appetite and weight loss
  • Reduced interest in playing, going for walks, or interacting with other pets and/or people
  • Hypervigilance (an intense, “on guard” awareness of surroundings)
  • Tendency to be easily startled
  • Urinating or defecating inside (when previously housebroken)
  • Increased neediness or attachment
  • Unprovoked whining or crying
  • Excessive barking or meowing
  • Destructive behavior
  • Extreme escape behavior to avoid a stressor (such as chewing through drywall to attempt to flee during a thunderstorm)
  • Sudden changes in temperament
  • Hiding for no reason
  • Excessive panting
  • Pacing
  • Fear of being alone
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Avoidance of people, places, or things associated with a traumatic event

Once I decided Tatum was suffering from PTSD, I changed everything I was doing.  The first thing I did was set up cardboard boxes all over the house.  She investigated all of them.  She would jump in a tall one and scratch frantically at the bottom.  Eventually I realized she was digging to try to get to her lost litter mates.  She made friends with a neighborhood cat that the neighbors could no longer keep and now lives with us.  The older cat helped Tatum go outside, calm down when there was a noise, and learn to tollerate being around another animal.  

I started taking her outside in the backyard.  It took months to get her comfortable to go outside.  Initially she could tolerate 30 seconds.  Now she can stay out for an hour or more.  

I stopped all the medication.  It was doing nothing.  I stopped the special diet.  It was doing nothing.  The face ripping lessened.  If she gets stressed she rips her face or ears open and it heals in a day or so.  She'll use the cardboard boxes if she's stressed, or hide on top of the kitchen cabinets.  When not stressed she purrs, and cuddles.  I have a predictable schedule.  She has a predictable routine.  Anything out of the ordinary and she starts ripping her ears or her face.  Those events are infrequent now.

The students will ask what made her get crazy.   And I explain that her world was a very scary place when she was a kitten.  She was with her litter mates then suddenly put in a cardboard box in a noisy parking lot and separated from them and her mother.  She was moved from one house to another.  She had lots of painful and annoying medical treatments.  Things changed constantly.  She went to a noisy rescue with lots of other cats and was terrified.  The only thing that seemed to stay the same was her food because she was put on a special diet.  So the rescue thought that was what helped.

The same thing happens in people.  They get in situations that are frightening, unpredictable and out of their control. They can't self-soothe. They revisit the trauma over and over trying to master it.  We have good treatment for people with trauma.  But trauma is exceptionally common in rescued pets.  The story helps the students understand a bit better.





Concussion

Posted by Margaret Donohue on February 28, 2016 at 8:50 AM Comments comments (0)

In 2006 I and a colleague stood up in an auditorium in San Jose at a California Psychological Association convention and spoke about what it was like to have a head injury, and how the research, done mainly by psychologists working for insurance companies and personal injury attorneys, was flat out wrong.


In 2006 basic information about concussion included the following INCORRECT information:

  • Concussion is a minor thing. 
  • Everyone improves within a couple of weeks. 
  • People who don’t get better either are faking or have preexisting problems. 
  • Multiple concussions aren’t significant. 
  • If you didn’t report loss of consciousness then you didn’t have a concussion. 
  • Brains have a fixed amount of nerves and don’t increase or change nerves so rehabilitation isn’t needed. 
  • Football players have multiple concussions and are fine and can continue to play after concussion. 
  • Most people function like football players. 


We’ve come a long way. Here’s what we know now:

  • Concussion is a traumatic brain injury with a change in brain function. It doesn’t require loss of consciousness. 
  • Seizures can occur within 18 months of a traumatic brain injury. 
  • Headaches decrease in intensity and severity within 5 years of a minor traumatic brain injury. 
  • Brains grow neurons throughout the lifespan, in response to environmental demands. Cognitive rehabilitation helps increase neurons. 
  • One concussion increases the likelihood of another concussion. 
  • Formal cognitive rehabilitation improves brain function. 
  • Informal cognitive rehabilitation is done by almost everyone following a brain injury and may help people get back some degree of functioning. 
  • While many concussions are from sports related injuries, there are numerous people with concussion unrelated to sports. 
  • Football players with multiple concussions can develop long-term cognitive impairment due to repetitive brain injury. 


 It’s 2016. Here’s what we need to know:

  • In what ways do women and children with brain injuries from concussion differ from men or professional athletes with concussion. 
  • We have statistics on emergency room visits for people with concussion. How many people never go to the emergency room following concussion? Is this similar or different from the population of people that do go to the emergency room? 
  • What types of cognitive rehabilitation produce the most benefit for various types of injuries? 


Our office evaluates people to provide information on neuropsychological functioning. If you need an evaluation feel free to contact us at 818-389-8384.

The Zika Virus Probable Complications

Posted by Margaret Donohue on February 2, 2016 at 10:35 PM Comments comments (0)

The new information on the Zika virus is that there is a confirmed case of sexual transmission of the virus in Texas.  This means that anyone, male or female, traveling to an area where the virus is epidemic, or anyone who has flu like symptoms following being bitten by a mosquito should:

  1. Not donate blood.
  2. Not engage in sexual activity without using a condom.
  3. Be closely monitored if you or your partner become pregnant following symptom development.  An ultrasound at 20 weeks to check head size for microcephaly may be indicated.

It would be appropriate to ask the CDC to do something to protect the blood supply.

It would also be important to identify anyone that has tested positive for the Zika virus and develop a data base to evaluate long term sequela.  Zika is a virus that can be expected to produce long term complications following infection.  For many people this may simply be arthritis and may be quite mild.  However, given the affinity of this virus for nerve cells in fetuses causing microcephaly, it would not be a stretch to expect that it may produce complications in nerve cells in adults.  

Possible complications:

  1. Arthritis.  This has already been found in people with the virus.
  2. Neuropathy, that sensation of pins and needles people experience when their arm or leg falls asleep.  
  3. Multiple sclerosis like symptoms from changes in nerve cells.
  4. Guillain-Barre syndrome, an ascending slow paralysis or weakness already associated with the virus.
  5. Muscle pain and weakness, already associated with the virus.
  6. Since the virus and vector are similar to Dengue fever, hemorrhage, thrombocytopenia, or other blood disorders may also be complications. 


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