A Report

“Mommy, what happened to this girl?”

I turn around to see my 7-year-old daughter sitting on the floor with the latest issue of Rolling Stone. In less than 30 seconds, she’s managed to flip from an innocuous cover featuring Dave Grohl’s uncontroversial face to the image of a girl, looking at the ground, her body covered in red handprints.

“Why is she sad?”

Do you remember where you were the first time you read the story about a University of Virginia student named Jackie? I do. I was sitting on the train, heading home from a long but mundane day at work. When the issue first showed up in the mail, I remember seeing something about “sexual assault” and “college” on the cover and thought, well, obviously, I’ll need to read that. I mean, it’s sort of one of my things.

But when I finally opened to the story later that day, I wasn’t expecting what happened next. I mean, besides nearly missing my stop.

Now, I work in a college health clinic. I’m one of the people that sexual assault survivors on a college campus might find themselves talking to, after. The fact that sexual assault is happening on our college campuses is not news to me.

But I don’t work in an emergency room. I don’t even work in the campus urgent care clinic. I’m the clinician you might see in a routine visit days, or weeks, or even months after it happened. When you finally muster up the courage to see a medical provider in the hopes that they can run a few tests and tell you that physically, at least, you’re okay.

What this means is that most of the time, before they even end up in my exam room, my patients have usually decided that they don’t want to file a formal report against their assailant.

When I first started working in college health, honoring this decision was hard for me to accept. Really hard. But prevailing wisdom won me over. We want survivors to feel comfortable coming forward to access all of our carefully planned support services, right? Wouldn’t mandated reporting and the specter of unsolicited disciplinary action serve to silence, to an unknown degree, those survivors who need help, but haven’t yet found the courage – and believe me, it takes serious courage – to enter into the unknown and very scary legal side of their already traumatic experience?

So instead, I would be a sympathetic ear. I would help them give a name to their experience, using the words “sexual assault” or “rape” if they hadn’t yet used it themselves. I would slowly and thoroughly walk them through all their options, from the medical side to the administrative side to the legal side. I would give them lists of phone numbers, or call them myself if they’d let me. I would tell them that, legally, I had to file a report (check out the Clery Act if you’re not already familiar with it), but that if they so chose, the report could remain anonymous.

The day after I read the UVA article for the first time, I found myself waking up in the middle of the night, unable to get back to sleep, unable get the story out of my head.

At first, I wasn’t entirely sure why. I mean, Jackie’s story is, without question, horrifying, and really hard to read. If you don’t find it affecting you in some way, well, no offense, but you’re probably kind of a bad person. Just saying.

But there was something else nagging at me about the story. And then I realized what it was.

That administrator that the author calls out, in no uncertain terms, for her – and by extension, her institution’s – inaction after Jackie came to her for help? The one that you, as a reader, find yourself condemning for being part of the system that fails to protect and seek justice for Jackie and other UVa survivors? The one that, for some reason, is seen by survivors as such an ally on campus?

I saw myself in that administrator.

Well, I mean, to a point. There are pretty strict confidentiality rules that limit what information medical providers are legally able to share with others. Even when it comes to discussing patient information with other university officials outside the clinic’s walls, signed consent on the part of the student is needed. But still. I bought into the spirit of the law here, not just the letter.

And then, a few months ago, I moved to another state. One of the only states in the country that mandates that health care providers make a formal report to local law enforcement (I’m talking the real deal, not the campus PD) every time they’re made aware of a “suspected violent injury”.

At first, I complained. All the native Californians I now work with, who never knew any differently, were a little baffled. Um, hello, it’s a crime, right? Shouldn’t we let the cops know? But this idea, that the best way to honor the survivor was to honor their wishes when it comes to reporting, was lodged in my brain.

And beyond the theoretical, I was afraid of what this would look like in real life. What about the patient who decided that morning that the most she was up for was a quick visit to the campus clinic to get STD testing? What would she say when her profoundly difficult – but clinically relevant and necessary – disclosure was met with the news that a full, non-anonymous report would be filed with the local police, with or without her consent? Would this idea of a mandated report deter survivors from accessing the care and services we might be able to provide?

And then, I started seeing patients. And guess what? So far? Not even remotely an issue, as it turns out. Every patient I’ve had to have this discussion with has completely, 100% understood. Even, almost, as if there’s a sense of relief in the decision being out of their hands. As if it clarifies the fact that it was, in fact, an actual crime that took place.

So that’s the me that read this article. The me that had already started to come full circle on the idea that initial university respondents to reports of sexual assault should be required to, at a minimum, formally report every act of suspected sexual assault to come to our attention to local law enforcement.

And that’s the me that found herself trying to figure out how to answer a first-grader’s simple question about a magazine article.

After giving some half-assed answer, shoving the Dave Grohl issue to the back of a tall dresser, and wrapping up bedtime posthaste (parenting fail, probably), I found myself thinking about the big girl my little girl will someday be, and the world she’ll be living in. Would I want the school staff tasked with keeping her safe and healthy to turn around and dump the decision of whether or not to report a potential crime back in her lap? Hell no. That’s their job.

If we, as university administrative and clinical staff, aren’t doing everything possible to protect the survivors, and ultimately, other students, under our care, then we’re not doing our job.

Transitions

Ah, September. Back to school, and the end of summer – those three months of overheated bliss, where stress tops out at coordinating a weekend BBQ schedule and dealing with beach traffic.

Unless you’re me!* Hi, world. I just moved my entire family 3500 miles across the country.

I won’t bore you with the details – except to say that moving out of a house that you’ve filled with far too many personal belongings, driving across the country with two teensy kids, finding a place to live in one of the toughest real estate markets in the country from afar, and transferring all your various NP-related licenses to the most administratively labyrinthine state in the history of forever had me doubting my sanity in very real and discomfiting ways (/rant over) – but as I get settled in the new digs and come out of the fog, a few reflections:

1. Making a long-distance move? Drive it. And take your time. All that “flyover country” has a lot of awesomeness to offer. One example: It turns out that Sioux Falls totally rocks. Those falls (not just a name) are straight-up gorgeous. And some of the best Mexican food outside SoCal can be found in a tiny taqueria tucked in the shadow of a huge meatpacking plant. Who knew? I mean, besides the South Dakotans?

2. Traffic is bad everywhere; the badness just has different flavors. Boston has volume + poorly marked roads. California has volume + commuter rage. (she says from the comfort of her road-rage-free seat on public transportation)

3. Beaches are awesome. Never turn down the opportunity to live near a beach if it’s remotely possible. The sight of the ocean greeting you as you drive home makes #2 (see above) worth it. (Sort of.)

4. Starting over is hard. All the awesome stuff you did in that last job might have gotten you the new one, but it doesn’t buy you much capital on the clinic floor. You’re still the new guy. Hazing, mostly of the subtle variety, may or may not ensue.

And tomorrow? Actual patients. In my schedule. Because I have a schedule.

I may still find myself getting lost on the way to the bathroom, but I have a schedule.

Wish me luck.

*and, I’m sure, the majority of human beings… but a girl can dream, right?

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Being a grown-up is overrated

You know it’s true.

Like, way overrated.

I mean, I guess there are some upsides. Wine. There’s an upside. Unlimited cake. There’s another.

But right now I’m having trouble remembering all the others.

Today, I had to turn down what sounded like a really cool job. I turned it down because:

1 – it paid peanuts (when really, cash is my preferred currency)

2 – it had a fairly crappy retirement package compared to my current situation (and this proves just how grown-up I am – I seriously didn’t even bother signing up for the retirement plan with my first few nursing jobs because the stack of paperwork was intimidating and besides, I was pretty sure I was never growing old, like never ever), and

3 – it didn’t provide as much schedule flexibility, which suddenly matters when there are these small people living with you that share your DNA who kinda want you to show up for recitals and book fairs and ice cream socials, many of which happen at times and in places that conflict with your typical full-time job + 10 days of paid vacation time per year.

Despite these very material issues, this new job sounded super exciting. I’d have had tons more responsibility (plus/minus?) and a fancy title. Fancy titles feel like the emotional equivalent of a sparkly tiara. I love tiaras. Yes please.

So there I was, considering this peanuts-paying but sparkly-tiara-providing position where I’m being told how awesome all these strangers think I am, and yet at the same time…

being told by my current powers-that-be that – you know what? Maybe you’re not so special after all. I mean, don’t get me wrong, we’d like you to keep doing what you’re doing (and then some, and then some, always more please) but don’t get any ideas about getting a tiara of your own someday.

You know what pre-grown-up LB would do? She’d tell her current tiara-withholding powers-that-be to go screw off, and take the crappy-paying tiara-providing position elsewhere. Just to make a point. Fine, some might call it a tantrum. A tantrum with consequences.

But just to prove what a grown-up I am, I did the thing I knew I had to do. I looked at the numbers, realized I really didn’t have any other choice to make, and I turned down the elsewhere-tiara, trudging back to Land of Mediocrity Celebrated.

I know it was the only choice I could make. But it still sucks.

Because being a grown-up is overrated.

But at least I still have 2:1 matching on my 403B. And that’s certainly something.

 

*****

 

(Besides, that tiara was probably made out of twisted aluminum foil and stick-on plastic gems anyhow. Right? Right?)

 

*****

 

(Btw – I promise to get back to writing about actual health care stuff here soon. The last 6 weeks of my life have been dominated by professional uncertainty. Now that a few of those question marks have been taken care of, I’m getting back in the saddle.) (So to speak.*)

 

 

*no actual saddles will be harmed in the writing of this blog

The beginning of the end/the end of the beginning

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The same thing happens to me every year.

I’m heading to work in the same sleepy way I start pretty much every day. (I wish I could say I WAKE UP EVERY DAY READY TO TAKE ON THE WORLD! but that would be a dirty lie. Plus, annoying.)

So there I am, riding the train with all the other groggy commuters as we all zone out, staring at the free paper the guy pushes in our hands on our way in, or at our various depersonalizing digital devices, or at nothing at all, eyes unfocused until the conductor calls out our stop.

Eventually, my stop is called. I get up, moving forward slowly with the zombie-walking masses onto the platform and up the escalator.

As I emerge on to the main level of the station – which just so happens to double as a footpath through campus – I remember that it’s not a routine, mundane day at all.

It’s graduation day.

And every year, the sight of those no-longer college students, those-not-so-young-anymore young adults, dressed in their grown-up best with black polyester gown flapping open in the late spring breeze, gets me.

Now sure, I may also have been known to tear up at a really well constructed Coca-Cola commercial, BUT STILL. It’s a pretty amazing sight.

I mean, think about everything this moment – wearing the respectable yet still-uncomfortable heels Mom insisted you’d need for job interviews and carrying the mortarboard hat you stayed up until 2am decorating with scrapbook material from Target – represents.

It doesn’t only represent the end of your childhood. It represents the beginning of the rest of your life – the part where you start down the path you’ve chosen over the past 4-6 years, and continue down that path until…maybe…forever? AND EVER? Let’s hope you made the right choice (nervous laughter). BUT NO PRESSURE. Enjoy your day!

Oh right. That’s where that glint of terror in their eyes comes from. It’s hiding behind the breathless anticipation of all the pomp and circumstance, sure, but it’s there.

There’s an exuberant finality to this Hallmark-approved milestone that makes graduation both really, really exciting and really, really scary, all at once.

When I was a kid, I always thought of adulthood as this time where you’d become A Thing – a doctor, a lawyer, the president, a rock star – and then you did that Thing for the rest of your life.

But speaking as a Certified Grown-Up (GU-C) myself, I think we need to rethink our thinking on this. Mentally committing yourself to one profession for the rest of your life at the age of 22 feels a little like preparing for years to climb Mt. Everest, finally making it to the top, and then pitching a tent (presumably a very small one) and staying there FOREVER.

Yes, graduation day is exciting. But it’s really just the beginning of the rest of your life – just like every day is the beginning of the rest of your life. (Except this one comes with a really good party and thirty years of loan repayment.)

I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re not sure you’ve found your Thing by the time you’re standing there with that heavily decorated cardboard square on your head, don’t let it get you down. Even those of us who thought we’d found our Thing by the time we graduated from college, or grad school, or insert-milestone-here, later realized that the person we’d become wanted to do another Thing altogether.

Because that’s life. Life is evolution. The person we are at 22 might not be the person we are at 30, or 40, or 55. Each of those people has learned some new stuff about themselves and the world, and the super fun thing about all of this is that each of those people gets to decide to change course and start doing a completely different Thing if they feel like it. It might not be easy, or cheap, but it’s your choice to make.

So with that, here’s to all my soon-to-be-former patients: enjoy the party, tell Sallie Mae I said hello when she comes calling, don’t forget to get that repeat Pap in 6 months – and in the meantime, just do the Thing you think you’re meant to be doing, right now. The rest will sort itself out in the end.

Resilience

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I have this baby at home. He’s super cute, as babies tend to be. Fairly uncoordinated, as babies tend to be.

Not surprisingly, falls are a regular occurrence in this house. Maybe there was an unfair wrinkle in the rug, or an unattended Duplo sitting in just the right spot, or an imagined breeze. But whoever it is that’s to blame, the results are the same: you’re walking along, bothering no one – no one! – and all of a sudden you’re on the ground, and you hurt. Much high-decibel sadness immediately follows.

But do you stop walking?

Well, maybe for a few minutes. Hell, your head still hurts. Like, a lot. And who knows exactly WHY this terrible thing happened? It’s scary putting one foot in front of the other when something that seemed so routine ended in tears just a few moments ago.

But no. After a quick comfort snuggle, you get back up and keep toddling across the floor, with renewed zeal fueling your quest to plunge your hands into that ficus planter soil, maybe even tasting its earthy deliciousness one more time before the tall people catch you.

I think I know how he feels.

A year and 24 hours ago, we were bundling up the kids for a crowded T ride into the city, heading for a friend’s apartment on the marathon route to enjoy some fantastic company and a beautiful spring day, and to cheer on a bunch of runners we’d never met. They’d write their names on their jerseys in Sharpie, so we could call them out by name: “Go Sarah/Bill/Melissa! You’re doing great! Wooooooo!” (Our older kid is particularly good at this last part.)

And then a year and 12 hours ago, everything felt, somehow, fundamentally different. The fear of an unknown future following a major terrifying event can seem immobilizing. Even though we knew, deep down, the marathon would continue next year, and the year after that, and the year after that – because you can’t defeat the world’s oldest annual marathon that easily, PLEASE – would we go? As a random spectator, would it feel easier, safer, just to stay home and enjoy the day off from work?

But a lot can happen in a year.

This weekend, our marathon route friend was over for our baby’s first birthday party. She looks at me. So what are you guys doing for the marathon? I pause to think for a moment. Then, with a smile: Nothing…yet. She, also with a smile: Want to come over to our place? We can grill, the kids can hang out…

That sounds awesome. We’re in.

Human beings are pretty f-ing resilient creatures. It’s fundamental to our success as a species. When we stumble, when we feel pain, or fear, obviously we tend to react, at least immediately, with avoidance. Clear evolutionary advantage here: you don’t want the entire family sauntering back out of the cave when just moments ago Grandpa was eaten by the lion that’s still standing outside.

But once you have some time to take stock, reassess the level of risk, make your process a little safer if need be, we tend to get right back to it – whatever “it” might be – even more focused and determined than we were before. We can be capable of some pretty great things, and it’s our stubborn resilience in the face of adversity makes these great things possible.

I mean. It’s not like that ficus soil is going to eat itself.

Dear too-many colleges: here’s why you’re next in line for a Title IX suit

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Another week, another famous institution of higher learning in the news for mismanaging cases of sexual assault on campus.

This time, it was Harvard. The most common response, from what I can tell, seems to be summarized thusly: “Oh myyyyy – even at Hahvahd?” (eyebrows raised in surprise, mouth forming a delicate “o” of prim concern).

The morning the story broke in the local news, I happened to be having lunch with these two guys who work in administration at a nearby college. Guy #1 says to me, “So, have you heard about Harvard? And the sexual assault case?” Why yes, yes I have. Guy #1 continues, in a voice of genuine concern: “So, what can we do to keep people from drinking so much?”

Guy #2 murmurs in agreement, eyebrows knitted with empathy.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. EXHIBIT A. This, right here, is the crux of why colleges keep finding themselves in trouble when it comes to dealing with sexual assault.

I know, I KNOW. It’s not like Guys #1 and #2 are alone in their thinking here. Just read the comments section of any article on the college-sexual-assault topic for a primer on the latest and greatest in victim-blaming. The idea that intoxication negates one’s ability to provide consent seems to be a logical stretch for quite of few of the world’s armchair analysts.

But here’s the thing. I don’t really care if some random dude with a laptop disagrees with whether rape is rape when alcohol is involved. I mean, I don’t like it, but one guy with an opinion just doesn’t matter all that much. The extent of his power ends once his opinion’s been expressed.

However. If you’ve made a career for yourself in college administration or college health, and you continue to think that the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses is really about excessive drinking and morning-after regret, don’t act shocked when your school is next to hit the news with a Title IX suit and a bunch of unflattering media attention of your own.

Yes, you could be the next Harvard. Or Dartmouth. Or Mizzou. Because sexual assault is happening on college campuses EVERYWHERE. It has, without question, happened on your campus. And if this common-yet-ultimately-wrong-minded perspective frames how you choose to respond to a sexual assault survivor’s case once it’s been brought to your attention, there’s a good chance that survivor will feel justifiably wronged. And, if they’re feeling brave enough, they just might decide to take this dissatisfaction with you and your colleagues public. Very, very public.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not denying that there’s a problem with binge drinking on college campuses that we need to address. But it needs to be addressed as an issue that’s separate and distinct from that of sexual assault. After all, just because it might be easier to mug someone who’s walking home late at night after they’ve had few drinks with friends, it’s not like the mugging itself isn’t still a crime.

I mean, someone who’s been attacked and robbed isn’t told by the authorities that their mugger didn’t REALLY commit a crime, because, y’know, you WERE pretty wasted, after all, and maybe sorta kinda asking for it by walking down the street in the middle of the night. I mean, who’s to say you didn’t HAND that aggressive stranger your money when he asked nicely? Who knows? He said, she said. You know what? Let’s just chalk this one up to youthful indiscretion and a lesson learned.

Hell no. Safety bulletins are sent out, city and campus police start patrolling overtime, and no one rests until the assailant’s been caught.

Intoxication may make a predator’s job easier. But it doesn’t make them NOT a predator.

In a perfect world, everyone would GET THIS, and this tortured public debate over what-is-or-isn’t-rape would cease to exist. I’m not naive enough to think that sexual assault wouldn’t still happen – because some people are terrible human beings – but society would deal with it the way it does any other violent crime. Meaning a) those who choose to commit a crime are consistently removed from the community for the safety of others, and b) the threat of criminal charges and incarceration might make some of the would-be assailants of the world think twice before committing assault. Both of which would result in less sexual assault. And I’m pretty sure we can all agree that less sexual assault = GOOD.

Those of us who work on college campuses need to be held to a different standard than Random Laptop Guy. You can’t hold regressive and harmful views on a topic as important – and yes, public – as sexual assault, with those views shaping your institutional response to individual reports of rape, and NOT expect that it might come back to bite you someday.

Unless, of course, you’d been hoping to end up on the front page of the Globe someday. In which case, vaya con Dios, my friends.

The end of (quote-unquote) supervision?

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You may already be familiar with how truly, madly, deeply annoying I find the term “supervision”.

I mean, not in its appropriate context, obviously. My daughter, despite being quite precocious for a kindergartener, still requires supervision while using grown-up scissors. My son, who seems to think he’s capable of essentially any physical feat imaginable, needs pretty much constant supervision, since he’s nearly always wrong. Not at all developmentally inappropriate for a toddler, but still. If we want him to survive childhood, supervision is definitely required.

Clearly, supervision has its place. But some problems arise when we start using the word to describe a mandated relationship between a physician and a nurse practitioner. Not the least of which is the fact that I tend to take issue with the intentional misuse of language. It’s kind of a pet peeve.

I wrote something about why exactly I find the word “supervision” so annoying a few months back. (Go ahead, I won’t judge you for clicking.) Afterwards, an NP from another state read it and said something along the lines of “Huh. Supervision? Is that still a thing in some places?”

Yeesh. Why yes. Yes, it is still a thing. In some places. Apparently.

Thing is, I never dreamed that moving to an uber-progressive state would mean I would still be subject to outdated laws that don’t make any logical sense. Maybe that whole no-buying-alcohol-on-Sunday-mornings thing should have tipped me off?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like you’d have any idea there were any restrictions on my practice on a daily basis. I go to work and see my patients, order my labs, write my prescriptions, write my notes. Pretty mundane, actually.

Except for this one annoying thing where all my prescriptions have a second name on them: the name of my “supervising physician”.

And even though my “supervising physician” is pretty great, this bugs her as much as it bugs me. And I totally get it. I’d probably be super annoyed too if there were a bunch of prescriptions out there with my name on them that I had nothing to do with writing. Risk exposure much?

Ah well. I’d just assumed it was something I needed to get used to. Just like I got used to the sight of seeing tarps thrown over the beer section at the supermarket whenever I happen to find myself grocery shopping on a Sunday morning. (Actually… nope, still haven’t gotten used to that either.)

But then I finally opened one of the emails that the Massachusetts Coalition of NPs has been sending me to find out WAIT, WHAT? There’s an actual, real-life bill at the State House RIGHT NOW that could fix this?

True story! It’s called HB2009/SB1079, or “An Act Improving the Quality of Health Care and Reducing Costs”. And it’s pretty great. (Even if it could really use a new name.)

I’ve heard that some of the arguments that legislators are hearing against the unfortunately-named bill sound like this:

  • “NPs and CRNAs are not educated enough.”
  • “Patients will be harmed because they don’t know what they don’t know.”
  • “They need continued oversight in order to be safe for patients.”

Here’s the thing, people-who-either-said-these-things-or-wish-they-did. I hate to break it to you, but that ship has left the dock. The train has left the station. The car has left the carport. NPs are already seeing patients and making diagnostic decisions and prescribing stuff – lots of stuff! – on their own, every single day. Whether you like it or not. It’s already happening! You’re too late!

And that’s why I have such a hard time understanding why physicians would be AGAINST removing the supervision language from the books. If my name is going to be attached to someone’s actions, I want to be sure I had something to do with it. But “supervising” MDs? They get all the risk that comes with clinical decision making and prescribing, with none of the power to actually make those decisions. How does this sound like a good deal?

Well, maybe if your income was affected by how many NPs you “supervise”, it would sound like a great deal. As long as that whole risk-under-your-name thing doesn’t bother you too much.

…But wait a sec. If you’re confident enough in the abilities of the NPs you “supervise” to feel comfortable with this level of risk, one might surmise that maybe you don’t actually, deep down, think NPs are all that unsafe after all… which would suggest that all these protests about “safety” may be just a teensy bit disingenuous, no?

In conclusion: this bill rocks, and its time has come. So if you live in Massachusetts and agree with my pointed use of quotation marks around the word “supervision”, please – figure out who your rep is and call, or email, or carrier-pigeon over your thoughts on the matter.

Thank you. That is all.