Squeezed: Four Decades of the Juice Myth

Matt Freeman DNP, MPH

Tamara

I used to live down the street from a juice stand named “Tamara.” The juice was mouth-watering: whatever combination you could imagine. The passion fruit had a perfect tang, the grapefruit was sour, the oranges were ripe and sweet. Situated at the corner of Dizengof Street and Ben Gurion Boulevard, “Tamara” was the ideal location in Tel Aviv. It was easily accessible en route to the beach, on the way back from the beach, or while out for a stroll.

“Don’t you wish we invented, Tamara?” asked my friend, Ariel. “They just have a shack, some fruit, and they hire good-looking students to serve up the juice for the equivalent of US $6.

Ariel and I would chuckle at the juice bar across the street, which was staffed by a schlubby guy. He ne never had any customers. The Tamara brand exuded refreshing youthfulness.

Tamara never claimed to be anything but a juice bar. They served juice that tasted good; just a refreshing treat. They offered no illusion that they were serving some sort of magical elixir. To my knowledge, Tamara does not serve wheat grass.

An acquaintance, Nadav, made an odd claim about Tamara. “It’s a good place for smokers,” he explained. “They need the anti-oxidants so they do not get cancer.” Although not a smoker himself, quitting smoking did not seem to be on Nadav’s radar as a disease prevention strategy. And that’s when I started to think more about juice.

 

“I’ve gone back to juicing.”

I greeted one of my patients recently, and I asked how he had been feeling. “I’m in much better shape. I’ve gone back to juicing.” Paging Nadav.

In fact, many have embraced versions of Nadav’s scientific misconceptions. Oprah Winfrey, Mehmet Oz, Gwynneth Paltrow, and others have extolled the virtues of “juicing” as the key to a healthy weight and a healthy life. Forget flu vaccine, hand washing, seatbelts, or other self-explanatory measures to protect one’s health. The answer lies in juice.

Where does this appeal come from? Why has it been so sustainable?

Juice and Cleansing

Juicing—retail or homemade juice consumption—is frequently associated with the notion of “cleansing.” There are pervasive references for the need to cleanse the liver and colon.

Amid other functions, the liver converts fat-soluble toxins into water-soluble versions, which can be tossed into the colon via bile or into the kidney for excretion in urine.

The colon removes water and absorbs some nutrients, particularly vitamin K, B12, thiamine, and ribovlavin.

The liver and colon do this regardless of what one eats or drinks. In fact, the concept of “detoxifying” the liver is not a possibility. The liver itself detoxifies, so it cannot be detoxified by an external source.

Catherine Collins, a National Health Service dietitian at St George’s Hospital in London put it best. “It’ll probably give you a chance to reassess your drinking habits if you’re drinking too much. But the idea that your liver somehow needs to be ‘cleansed’ is ridiculous.”

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The liver would actually be dysfunctional if it were to be detoxified.

Cleansing advocates argue that toxins accumulate and line the interior of the colon. Moreover, these invisible toxins are weight-bearing and cleansing therefore leads to weight loss.

This is false. The colon is actually full of perhaps trillions of microbes: bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In fact, the bacteria in the colon serve to produce a small but significant proportion of vitamins.

Bowel obstructions can form from a variety of sources, but this is really just a version of constipation: not an accumulation of “heavy toxins.” A total detoxification of the colon would be disastrous in terms of eliminating beneficial bacteria (so called “normal flora.”) Microbes, by definition, are “microscopic,” and so they just cannot be large enough to contribute to body weight.

 

The Origins of Fruit- and Juice-Based Diets

According to restaurant analyst Andrew Freeman, the most significant introduction of juicing in popular culture was the Beverly Hills Juice Club in 1975. (I know Andy Freeman. He is a great guy. But we are not related—at least as far as we know.) Coincident with a resurgence of American “vitamania” in the late 1970s, juice became allied with the notion that it is a gateway to missing nutrients, and thus a ticket to better health.

The Beverly Hills Juice Club also shortly predated the “Scarsdale Medical Diet,” introduced in 1978. A bestseller, the Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet was the first “ultra low calorie diet.” Although not juice-specific, the Scarsdale Medical Diet permitted “sliced fruit: as much as desired.”

 

The Complete Scardsale Medical Diet

The Complete Scardsale Medical Diet was the invention of Herman Tarnower MD, a cardiologist. Whether deliberate or not, Tarnower’s low-carbohydrate, low-calorie, but fruit-permissive diet was remarkably reinforcing. Diet followers enjoyed significant weight loss at the beginning of their adoption of the diet plan. It is, in fact, the same technique used by pretty much any popular diet: caloric restriction. By swapping half a grapefruit for a meal, Scarsdale dieters were limiting themselves to fewer than 1,000 kilocalories per day.

The body responds with as one might expect in a state of starvation: it digs into energy stored as glycogen. Glycogen itself is connected to water, so there is a substantial fluid loss during the first week or two. The grapefruit or unlimited sliced fruit are not magic: it is just fluid loss.

One of Tarnower’s diet followers was his girlfriend, Jean Harris. Headmistress of the Madeira School in McLean, Virginia, Harris was losing extra pounds on the Complete Scarsdale Diet.

There was one additional element that “completed” the diet: amphetamines. Tarnower was prescribing speed for Harris, which undoubtedly led to further weight loss. The drugs also contributed to her shooting Tarnower to death in 1980. (Not to name drop again, but Jean Harris and I grew up on the same street.)

Over the coming decades, various reincarnations of The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet surfaced. All of them followed the same caloric restriction model.

Fruit and juice, however, came to the forefront with The Beverly Hills Diet.

 

The Beverly Hills Diet

Introduced in 1996, the Beverly Hills Diet was another bestseller. The diet was the invention of Judy Mazel, who had no formal education or credentials in nutrition or the health sciences.

The first ten days of the Beverly Hills Diet are limited to fruit. The diet actually encourages diarrhea, claiming that it is a sign that the diet is working. Just like the others, the fluid loss from diarrhea provides an immediate—but not sustainable—weight loss. The starvation-based approach of The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet seems benign in comparison with a diarrhea-based diet. According to the World Health Organization, diarrhea is the seventh leading cause of death worldwide (1.5 million deaths per year.)

I cannot help but recall my friend Kristen’s stories from med school. She had gone on some sort of educational program to Ecuador. She referred to a particular item at the breakfast table as “diarrhea juice.”

The Beverly Hills Diet later gave way to the Atkins, South Beach, and Paleo diets, all of which are variations on the caloric restriction theme.

 

Juice as a Nutritional Superpower

The combination of fruit-based diets and the Beverly Hills Juice Club evolved into the idea of “juicing.” This became an accessible option as household juicers became more affordable and retailers began selling wider varieties of juice combinations. Pomegranate/açai/blueberry smoothies are available at convenience stores. A countertop juicer sells for under $50.

No longer the domain of the Beverly Hills Juice Club, “juicing” became an option for everyone.

Authors of diet books were quick to capitalize on the availability of juice. One name emerged above all others: Joseph Mercola DO.

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Dr. Mercola and the Juice Miracle

On his web site, http://www.mercola.com, Joseph Mercola extols may benefits of juice, particularly how it is preferable in comparison with whole fruits and vegetables. Mercola claims that juice is preferable because, “most people have impaired digestion as a result of making less-than-optimal food choices over many years.” Mercola does not explain the pathophysiology behind his claim: would French fry consumption in the past lead to an inability to digest a banana?

Mercola’s argument is that juice permits one to “pre-digest” nutrients thereby facilitating their absorption. The notion of “pre-digestion” plays upon the same idea that previous dietary indiscretions are irreparable, and that one must consume nutrients in liquid form only.

Mercola has some particularly bizarre claims about juice. He states that it increases energy by “optimizing” the body’s pH. The acid/base balance in the body is complex and constantly adaptive system. The stomach’s buffering mechanisms allow juice to remain acidic in the stomach, but this does go beyond the stomach. If the stomach could not buffer juice, our bodies would be in miserable acidic states. Optimal pH is maintained by the body regardless of what one eats or drinks.

Mercola’s acid/base claim connects with his even more curious assertion that juice provides the body with “structured water,” and “living water.” In an insult to those who have studied the most basic chemistry class, Mercola explains that juice comes as H2O2 not H2O.

H2O2 is hydrogen peroxide. If one were to drink it, it just turns to foam, and eventually just to water. Water does not come in living or structured forms; water is always one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms.

 

Juice and Immunity

Mercola argues that juice “supercharges” the immune system, implying that a hyper-responsive immune system is favorable.

Immunity actually only comes two ways: deficient and adequate. There is no “supercharge” to the immune system. In fact, an inappropriately responsive immune response occurs in autoimmune diseases, in which the body attacks itself. These include systemic lupus erythematosis, scleroderma, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and others. The “supercharge” is to one’s detriment. Allergies, for example, a result of a “supercharged immune system.”

Commercial juice retailers are a bit more subdued. Jamba Juice argues that its Zinc and Antioxidant Boost “helps support your immune system” with a footnote, “These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” Tropicana omits the disclaimer, stating that an eight-ounce glass of its orange juice, “helps to support a healthy immune system.”

The only plausible way to argue “immune system support” from orange juice is that one might be spared from getting scurvy.

Mercola has a strange an futuristic explanation: “…juice supercharges your immune system” with “phytochemicals and biophotonic light energy.” I do not even know how to respond to that other than by asking, “what?”

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An antioxidant “boost” is not just dubious, it is dangerous. Nadav’s “smokers need juice” theory is problematic because antioxidants can actually exacerbate lung cancer and increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Antioxidants were long believed to reduce certain activity on the surface of cancerous cells. It seemed like a good idea until the Carotene and Retinol Efficacy Trial (CARET), in which people who were at high risk for lung cancer (smokers, those with a history of asbestos exposure) were given beta-carotene supplements. The CARET trial stopped before its planned end date because those participants who received antioxidant supplements had more cases of lung cancer. (Sorry to break the news to Nadav.)

 

Juice and Alzheimer Disease

Mercola states on his web site, that juice can “Support your brain health. People who drank juices (fruit and vegetable) more than three times per week, compared to less than once a week, were 76 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Kame Project

On the surface, the Kame project looks like a powerful endorsement for juice. In a study of 1,836 Japanese Americans in King County, Washington, who were followed for nine years. Those participants who drank juice once or twice per week had a hazard ratio of developing probable Alzheimer disease of 0.26. Those who did not report juice consumption had a hazard ratio of 0.84.

But a hazard ratio isn’t a measure of relative risk. Relative risk is the probability of an event occurring in an exposed group (juice drinkers) compared with an unexposed group (those who did not drink juice twice a week). For example, smokers have a relative risk of 20 of developing lung cancer: their risk twenty times that of nonsmokers.

Hazard ratios express the rate of an event occurring in one population (juice drinkers) versus a control population (non juice drinkers.) A test subject in a group with the higher hazard ratio has greater odds of reaching a specific endpoint first. In other words, the juice drinkers in the study had lower odds of developing Alzheimer Disease before those in the non-juice drinking group. A hazard ratio does not explain the extent of treatment benefit, so the dose of juice was not explained.

Furthermore, the Kame study only controlled for tobacco and alcohol use and a particular genotype found in Alzheimer Disease (ApoE). It did not control for significant predictors of dementia like family history or head trauma.

As an epidemiologist, one looks for certain key elements in research, such as a dose-response relationship and biologic plausibility. Mercola and the Kame study do not offer either of these core components of robust research.

Mercola’s claim that juice prevents Alzheimer Disease is not supported by the Kame study. The only possible claim is that there is evidence in one trial that drinking juice twice per week might forestall Alzheimer Disease in a specific population.

 

Joseph Mercola, the Questionable Advocate for Juicing

Perhaps Mercola is not the best advocate for juicing. Mercola was censured by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2005 for making illegal claims about supplements. He then received a warning one year later, and the FDA warned him again in 2011. One would think that a single action form the FDA would lead one to back off, but Mercola’s supplement and book sales must be so lucrative that he is willing to look beyond censure.

Although his license remains active without sanctions, Mercola reputedly had a three-year battle with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, and he stopped practicing in 2012. In addition to his juice claims, Mercola opposes fluoridation, screening mammography, dental amalgams (fillings), and vitamin K administration to newborns. Although there are some debates about the appropriate ages and intervals for mammograms, these are not controversial subjects in public health.

Mercola’s allies are similarly problematic. His endorsements from a Dr. Andrew Saul are worrisome. Saul claims to have a “nontraditional PhD in ethology.” His other colleague, a Dr. Abram Hoffer, supported the use of niacin to treat schizophrenia. The research was later discredited because the diagnostic test to establish a diagnosis of schizophrenia was called into question.

Perhaps the juice industry would benefit from solid research rather than “expert” opinion from supplement profiteers like Joseph Mercola.

 

Is Juice Healthy?

Juice is not exactly a low-calorie, low-carbohydrate choice compared with soft drinks.

250 mL Serving Size

Carbohydrates kCal
Apple juice 28.97 110
Coca-Cola 35.18 105
Orange Juice 27.20 118
Pineapple Juice 32.18 140

 

One could argue that juice contains vitamins, which are not found in soft drinks. But a serving of apple juice, for example, contains only four percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin C. It really is just sugar and water. It is true that other juices fair better in terms of vitamin C content, but vitamin C is found in a wide range of other foods contained in the typical Western diet.

Fresh-squeezed juice, however delicious, is also troublesome from a food safety standpoint. In fact, one of the first cases I was assigned as an epidemiology student was an outbreak of salmonella at a Florida resort. The CDC referred to outbreak location as “Theme Park A” (no prizes for guessing: it is in Orlando and has a mouse mascot.) The acid in juice was deemed to be protective, but the sweeter nature of fresh-squeezed orange juice meant that it was less acidic and thus less likely to contain salmonella. Outbreaks of Escherichia coli 0157:H7 and cryptosporidia have struck apple juice and apple cider. So much for “detoxification.”

 

Make no mistake, juice is delicious. I love fresh-squeezed juice from Tamara, I take the risk and buy unpasteurized orange juice—enjoying a small glass with my coffee in the morning. But it is not a detoxifying superfood. It is a nice dose of sugar when I wake up. But I am under no illusions. I could just as easily have Coca-Cola, it is not going to lead to weight loss, and it certainly is not going to detoxify anything.

 

 

References

Barrett S. FDA Orders Dr. Joseph Mercola to Stop Illegal Claims . Quackwatch. 6 September 2015. http://www.quackwatch.org/11Ind/mercola.html Retrieved 20 December 2015.

Cassell DK, Gleaves DH, The Encyclopeida of Obesity and Eating Disorders: Third Edition. New York: Facts on File. 2006.

Cook KA, Dobbs TE, Hlady W, et al. Outbreak of Salmonella Serotype Hartford Infections Associated With Unpasteurized Orange Juice. JAMA. 1998;280(17):1504-1509. doi:10.1001/jama.280.17.1504.

Dai Q, Borenstein AR, Wu Y, Jackson JC, Larson EB. Fruit and Vegetable Juices and Alzheimer’s Disease: The Kame Project. The American journal of medicine. 2006;119(9):751-759.

Fatsecret.com https://www.fatsecret.com/ Retrieved 23 December 2015.

Jamba Juice. http://www.jambajuice.com/menu-and-nutrition/menu/boosts/boosts. Retrieved 20 December 2015

Kelm H. A Reply To The American Psychiatric Association Task Force Report on Megavitamin and Orthomolecular Therapy in Psychiatry: The HOD Test” Orthomolecular Psychiatry 1978: 258–262.

MacVean M. Juicing Trend Still Going Strong in 2015. The Los Angeles Times. 29 January 2015. http://www.latimes.com/health/la-he-juice-20150131-story.html. Retrieved 19 December 2015.

Mercola J. Health Benefits of Juicing. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/04/11/health-benefits-juicing.aspx

Mercola J. Juicing : How Healthy is It?http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/04/19/juicing-benefits.aspx Retrieved 20 December 2015.

Mercola, Joseph. Malpractice settlement 23 December 204, $387,925. https://www.idfpr.com/Applications/ProfessionProfile/ProfileDetails.aspx Retrieved 21 December 2015.

Mohammadi D. You can’t detox your body. It’s a myth. So how do you get healthy? The Guardian. 5 December 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/dec/05/detox-myth-health-diet-science-ignorance. Retrieved 20 December 2015.

Omenn GS. Chemoprevention of lung cancers: lessons from CARET, the beta-carotene and retinol efficacy trial, and prospects for the future. 2007. European Journal of Cancer Prevention. 16:184-191.

Saul, A. http://www.andrewsaul.com/bio/. Retrieved 21 December 2015.

Tropicana. http://www.tropicana.com/#/trop_healthbenefits/hbMain.swf Retrieved 20 December 2015.

Watson R & Hodgekiss A. Fruit juice should not count in our five-a-day because some versions ‘contain as much sugar as fizzy drinks. Daily Mail. 10 February 2014
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2555758/Fruit-juice-NOT-count-five-day-versions-contain-sugar-fizzy-drinks.html#ixzz3vCiNcpyB. Retrieved 23 December 2015

Wilson J. Juicing Pros and Cons. CNN 11 April 2014. http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/11/health/juicing-pros-cons/ Retrieved 20 December 2015.

World Health Organization. Top Ten Causes of Death http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs310/en/ Retrieved 20 December 2015

 

All images public domain

©2015

 

 

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Meg Ryan is Making Me Sleepless

Matt Freeman

Annie Reed (Meg Ryan) is the romance-enthused journalist in Sleepless in Seattle. Driving between Baltimore and Washington, Annie becomes infatuated with Sam (Tom Hanks), a lonely widower bearing his soul on a radio show. With daring speed, Annie abandons her boyfriend, Walter (Bill Pullman), and becomes entangled in a slightly saccharine romance with Sam.

In the Christmastime setting of the film, Annie seems somehow reasoned in her actions. Annie (and the audience) have a distaste for Walter. Walter is a downer. He seems perhaps detached, less intense than Sam. But his fatal flaw is a humidifier at his bedside.

Humidifier
Walter would have been fine—even marriage material—but not with that humidifier and those allergies. Thank goodness Annie stalked Sam and dodged that Benadryl-laced bullet! A humidifier? Walter might as well have been in Boko Haram. Good riddance!

Quietly judging Walter for decades, my life took a turn of events in which Walter’s humidifier took center stage.

Ever since graduate school, I was told that I snore. Some neighbors in Stockholm once mentioned that they could hear me from next door. A roommate on a school ski trip was hopelessly annoyed. I figured that this was a function of fatigue and alcohol, both of which are cornerstones of graduate studies.

In paramours that involved frequent overnight stays, I had some snoring complaints, but these were usually joking or just for eye rolling. There were no threats of Annie Reed-style departures.

On two occasions, I saw sleep specialists to ensure that I did not have some sort of correctable deformity. Both offered reassurance.  I did not smoke, was not a heavy drinker, unexceptional of figure, and did not have some sort of problem with nasal or oral anatomy. If I snored, so what?  My dog snores.

I experimented with every possible remedy: an “oral appliance” that essentially inflicted enough pain so that one never falls asleep. I tried costly anti-snore pills of dubious origin. There were nasal sprays, nasal strips, nostril inserts. They all made their way to the rubbish bin quickly.

SnoreStop

For reasons I cannot entirely explain, the symptoms worsened over a short span of time: less than one year. I had moved countries, gained a few pounds, deeply stressed, and was working absurdly long hours. I noticed that I would somehow hear myself snore and awake myself at night. My fatigue progressed, and I was nodding off while driving. I drew the line when I almost wrecked my car while a friend was in the passenger’s seat. I’d rather not be a homicidal driver.

Again, I sought medical advice. I was told the obvious: I worked too hard; and thus when I slept, it was both insufficient and of poor quality.

I argued again of my concern for sleep apnea. I knew from my own practice that it is underdiagnosed, undertreated, and deeply dangerous. I had probably ordered 100 sleep studies in the past year or two. “A-ha!” I would think to myself, “A wise diagnosis. You have helped the patient and protected the public! Bravo!”

Little did I know that I was creating Walters. (In the film, it is most likely a humidifier, but a 2017 Walter would be sleep apnea material.)

The sleep study itself was conducted at home. It was comparatively benign: a small nasal cannula that fell out constantly, pulse oximeter on my finger that slid off every few minutes, and an awkward chest strap. Since I usually sleep on my stomach or side, it was oddly painful, but I endured.

HST

A sleep study in the “comfort” of your own home. What could possibly get in the way of good night’s rest?

The results came soon, and I was told I had severe sleep apnea. I was mortified. But I had the idea that if I treated it, life would be so much better. The stress of work would dissipate, I would be overcome with renewed energy, libido, and my world would be like some sort of television ad for detergent: everything refreshed and renewed.

The ads for sleep apnea equipment were compelling. Erstwhile continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) had given way to the gentler “autopap”. The machines were heated, humidified, and easily transported. It would be like a user-friendly iPod that would ensure a brilliant night of rest, and greater joy during waking hours.

DreamWear

The language in the ads referred to “dreams,” “pillows,” and “rest.” Through the genius of modern science, I would glide into bed, warm and humidified air granting me peace, resilience, and vigor.

The ads never mention Walter.

The “Dream Machine” was far larger than I had expected. Although it looked innocuous, that changed as soon as one attached the tubing. The cheery saleswoman had assured me that this machine would be effortless and unobtrusive. Using a nasal mask, it would be the least cumbersome. Moreover, it would “ramp up,” leading to increased pressure over time, adapting to my own tolerance. I fell for it.

I brought all the equipment home, and I made room for it at my bedside.

The machine would also report my adherence to my phone, so that I could see my “grade” for the previous night. If I did not feel judged enough for having the machine, I could feel judged by the machine itself.

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The minute I put on the mask, I thought of an oral surgeon. Perhaps around age seven or eight, a dentist told my older sister and me that we would both need to have six teeth removed simultaneously. This was somehow a prerequisite for orthodontia, which is a painful experience to share some other time.  (I am sure that Walter had braces well into is 30s. He probably still has them.)

The tooth extraction was not painful, but it was terrifying. The oral surgeon had a strange, alien demeanor. He was accompanied by a disinterested assistant with flaming red hair. He put a nasal mask on me that fed oxygen. Without warning, he pressed his whole hand over my mouth and jaw, then switching the line to oxygen mixed with nitrous oxide. I wanted to fight back, but I was powerless.

I had nightmares for years about that experience; and I still think about it now. I suppose gaseous induction of anesthesia spares the drama of putting IV lines into children, but there must be a better way to than to hold my mouth and jaw shut until I was rendered unconscious.

I told myself that the lovely, quiet, “Dream Machine” contained nothing but air and water; I would not be held restrained against my will. Soon I would just see the stars twinkle and the Man on the Moon would grin in approval.

The “Dream Machine” was at its lowest setting. It smelled like ozone (the machines are cleaned through ozonolysis.) It jammed air into me with jarring force. I adjusted every setting to reduce it to “gentle breeze” rather than its default, “tornado outbreak.”

CPAP

I did eventually fall asleep, intermittently taking the mask on and off.

Sensing distress, my dog jumped on to the bed, licking my hands. If he could speak, I’m sure he would have said, “Master, this is a bad idea.”

On about the fourth night, I slept only 90 minutes.

The next morning, I found myself lost in mid-sentence, a patient asked me if I had narcolepsy. I fell asleep at my desk, waking up to a screen full of commas.

Over the course of the first week, I had hit my head multiple times on the shower door, the tap, and almost yanked an entire towel rod off the wall. I’d woken up on the bathroom floor and on the couch in my living room.

Every morning, I would fall asleep and hit my head on a water glass or cup of coffee. I would wake up when the drink spilled. Each morning meant wiping off the spilled liquids and cleaning the carpet.

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Poor Walter.

Not only did he lose Meg Ryan, but he would no doubt be stuck with a “Dream Machine,” shoving air down his throat with breakneck pressure.

I asked a friend, “Who would wear one of these?”

“People who want to live,” he suggested. Point taken.

Again, thinking of Walter, I pointed out that nobody famous or attractive would be relegated to a “Dream Machine.”

“Ryan Gosling, Ryan Reynolds, and Ryan Phillipe do not have CPAP machines.” I quipped. “Zoe Saldana: definitely not a CPAP owner.” “Do you think Emma Stone goes to bed at night with one of these? Emma Watson?”

“Prince Harry does not have a CPAP machine.”

“You don’t know that;” my friend replied.

“Can we call Buckingham Palace and ask? What about Kate Middleton?”

Instead of pestering Buckingham Palace, I turned to Google. “Celebrities CPAP,” I entered.

The Ryans and the Emmas were not on the list. If Nicole Kidman wore a CPAP, she was keeping it under wraps. There was no mention of Idris Elba, Alexander Skarsgård, nor Amal Clooney.

The list featured Roseanne Barr, Rick Perry, and Rosie O’Donnell.

This was not uplifting news.

Right now, I am dreading even entering my bedroom. I have a beautiful, big bed with fluffy pillows, and layers of pressed white sheets. I now associate that room with the suffocating ozone smell of the “Dream Machine.”

Although I will consult with my own doctor, I am taking my dad’s advice: “Why don’t you lose a few pounds and not think about it so much?” He went on: “If the mental anguish of the machine is that bad; don’t use it.” And—of course—“hitting your head so frequently is probably not so good for your health.”

Indeed, I tried a night without the “Dream Machine.” I fell asleep in an instant, delving into all of the REM sleep I had been missing. I awoke calm, awake, and steady. And unlike my nights with the machine, I awoke without a headache.

walter_sleepless_in_seattle

Annie Reed, I know you’re fictitious, but you should have been kinder to Walter. I am sure that he was unhappy with that machine at his bedside.

© 2017

All images designated as public domain

Suicide is Crazy: The Irrational World of Seeking the End

Matt Freeman

 

A few months ago, a young man came to see me. He was depressed. He had far exceeded typical depression. His speech and manner were slow. His eye contact was minimal. He seemed so sad as if tears were too much effort to shed.

This patient seemed to have a reasonably decent quality of life: otherwise good health, favorable finances, a stable job, and a loving family. He had a recent breakup with his girlfriend, but this was not excessively traumatic. On the surface, he did not seem to have reason to live in such pain.

He told me that he wanted to die.

He evaded questions about any specific plans. I worked with him and his counsellor frequently, and he is now doing well, living in another city.

 

I recognized his words and how he appeared. His hopelessness and emptiness were all too familiar. Some years ago, I came within a few minutes of taking my own life.

Just as it seemed crazy that this guy would die at an early age; it now seems just as crazy that I had walked in the same shoes.

 

Theories of Suicide

Psychologist Thomas Joiner described the suicidal individual as one who is overcome with isolation and a sense of burden upon others. Emile Durkheim characterized suicidal people as emotionally dysregulated: either removed from society or so altruistic that they fear burdening others.

According to Durkheim, a suicidal person could be either too broken as to ignore a moral compass, or conversely tightly bound to crippling perfectionism.

Aaron Beck wrote how those who succumb to suicide are “sensitized” to the notion of killing themselves by suicidal experiences, thereby making the final act somehow more accessible.

There are perhaps a dozen more theories, all trying to explain what leads a person to end his or her own life.

 

Theories of suicide may provide comfort to the bereaved, guidance for therapists, and a framework for suicide prevention. But the theories perhaps try to explain the inexplicable.

One of my favorite colleagues, a clinical psychologist, took a more straightforward approach. “Think of it in terms of problem solving. A person is suffering, so he or she seeks a list of possible solutions. Somehow suicide ends up on the list, even though it makes no sense to an outsider.”

I am writing about suicide as a release from emotional pain and mental illness, not the planned suicides of those with terminal diseases. These are controlled, programmed journeys to the end of life. It is an understandable escape from pain and indignity.

I write instead of suicide that makes no sense. Suicide is not necessarily an act of logic. The hopelessness and emptiness that surround the will to die are muddled, indistinct infections of the mind.

 

Where Burnout and Depression Meet

I knew what depression was. I had experienced its grip, but a commitment to suicidality was different. Although everyone experiences it differently, depression felt like a frustration and conflict with life. Suicidality felt that life was immaterial.

There is increasing attention to burnout among healthcare providers. Not enough attention, but at least a bit. I found myself working inconceivably long hours—sometimes out of necessity; sometimes to escape from an otherwise empty existence.

In the assessment of suicidal risk, the unfortunate term “trigger” is the first item on the list. It could be a loss of a loved one or friend, an illness, a divorce. In my case, it was the all-too-common threat of a dysfunctional and menacing workplace.

The abyss deepened as a recognized the venom of work. Concealed beneath the veneer of a “we’re all family here” façade, I was mired in politics and backstabbing that driven by a culture pervasive with hatred, secrets, and seemingly constant dismissals. Characteristic of a sick workplace, employees would disappear overnight.

It is a story told quite frequently in America: there have been front-page articles about Amazon, Microsoft, and—of course—Enron. I lived in constant fear of being berated and dismissed despite my popularity with my own supervisors, colleagues, and my patients.

Depleted of all energy, crushed with loneliness, and a biting work environment left my life feeling not just depressed but entirely unworthy. Although worthlessness is a symptom of depression, this was not just “I’m no good,” it was a total and all-encompassing feeling that life had no value. No medicine, no workbook, no cognitive exercise could extricate me.

 

Legend Versus Practicality

There is a glossed, almost benign nature to legendary suicides. One’s mind turns to Sylvia Plath’s oven or Socrates’ sprigs of hemlock.  These were undoubtedly violent—even disgusting deaths. But the gore is washed away. I thought of the The Aokigahara, Japan’s “Suicide Forest” or the Golden Gate Bridge. These seemed like misty outposts for a quiet exit rather than nightmarish sites of early death.

When my last stages of planning were underway, there was no poetry, no drama. Suicide was a remarkably practical endeavor. I ensured that my patients’ charts were suitable for someone else to take over, that my apartment was tidy, and I had made careful plans for my dog to be at a kennel. I even emptied my refrigerator as to ensure that the smell of spoiling milk would not disturb the neighbors.

The plan I had selected also made every effort to prevent me from being found. I did a couple of “dry runs” to make certain that I could get it right. I did not want anyone to stumble upon a decaying body, nor did I wish for any sort of funeral. I just wanted to disappear from this earth. Swiftly, quietly, in a cold, rainy night.

I also wanted to be certain that I did not end up in lace-less shoes playing musical chairs with meth addicts and schizophrenics on a locked psychiatric unit.

The questions I asked myself were not related to life or death. I wondered if I should leave my door unlocked, where to leave my car keys, and if I needed to take my wallet. In the loss of rational thinking that characterizes the most immediate of suicidal thoughts, “Should I do this?” was not on the checklist.

 

The Mask of Professional Identity

The deepest irony was that I spent much of my work dealing with suicidal patients. I taught classes on suicide assessment, I visited patients and families in crisis centers and psychiatric units.

Perhaps once a week, I found myself conferring with colleagues about the potential suicide risk of a patient. I even earned ironic praise for handling the suicide of a patient with grace and calm.

While talking with patients who expressed suicidal thoughts, I often found myself thinking, “Oh, you’re definitely not suicidal. I am suicidal.” Maybe it was my own escalating will to die that made it so easy for me to convince others that that they were not in such dire condition.

In a bit of macabre humor, I found myself taking suicide risk inventories. In my perfectionist, over-educated world, I wanted a grade. I never seemed to score that high. I was not physically ill, I did not fall in the right age ranges, I lacked a substance abuse problem, and my finances were not in jeopardy. I was failing the suicide tests.

 

The Note

Comedian Sam Grittner wrote about the strange task of writing a suicide note. He stumbled over font choices and he ran out of ink for his printer. I was fortunate enough to have a laser printer with adequate toner; and I was pretty set on using Palatino.

Although I wrote several drafts, they never seemed to say anything other than “I’m sorry.” I felt like including a few “fuck you’s.” It occurred to me that those I would mention were such sociopaths that they would be unlikely to be moved or even saddened by a suicide. I was not really interested in teaching anyone a lesson.

I never printed the note. I kept wondering where to put it, and if anyone would bother reading it. What purpose would it serve? I did not want anyone thinking, “Oh if only…” I did not want anyone thinking of me at all. I wanted my life erased.

One of the most frustrating lines is, “It was such a selfish act.” Suicide is a desperately-needed escape from a life too painful or meaningless to continue. Selfishness implies indulgence, diversion of resources to oneself. Suicide feels like the opposite of siphoning off the assets of others. It is one less mouth to feed, one less salary to pay. I even thought it would be a benefit to the healthcare system: one less patient availing himself of costly benefits.

 

An Unhealthy Dose of Guilt

It seems like human nature to seek comparisons. I was beyond the point of reflecting on my life, but I would sometimes get flashes of world news. “You could have ALS,” “You could be living amid genocide, war, appalling poverty… So many people have it worse than you do.”

This only adds to the damnation of suicide as “selfish”. The imminent will to end one’s life has nothing to do with Darfur or Donetsk. It is neither reassuring nor helpful to imagine squalor and pain elsewhere in the world.

“Count your blessings” has a pop psychology, Dr. Joyce Brothers superficiality. If one is truly committed to dying, “counting blessings” sounds like a childish diversion. Flip as it may sound, it would be the equivalent of saying, “I have an iPhone and I do not have cystic acne. Wow! This is fantastic! I should stay alive after all!”

It is also similar to saying, “It can’t be that bad.” In those last days and hours, there is no “bad” or “good”. It is only a matter of, finding an end. The pain is suppressed; one’s focus is just to make life disappear.

 

The Particular Burden of Professional Licensure

The most heartless and sinister aspect of being a healthcare provider struggling with suicide is that many state laws require investigation, oversight, and practice restrictions on doctors and nurses who “get caught” admitting to suicidal thoughts. In a misguided effort to “protect the public,” licensure boards crack down on those most in need of help, punishing anyone who reaches out at the last moment before leaving this world.

The boards tacitly endorse suicide: it is far easier to be dead than to have to suffer a public disclose one’s most painful, innermost thoughts repeatedly for the remainder of one’s career. Had I been hospitalized, the law would have required that the licensure board issue a press release, warning the public that I was mentally unwell. Any member of the public would be able to read the most intimate details. I would spend the rest of my career providing documents of my mental instability to insurance companies.

 

Reverse Course

I paused. I do not know why. I doubt I will ever know why.

To paraphrase Sam Grittner: “Pro Tip: always call your therapist before pulling the trigger.”

“Pro Tip: always call your therapist before pulling the trigger.”

I had a psychologist. A wise, warm, and clever professional. He was deeply caring with an unmatched sense of humor.  Trying avoid alarm, I did not call from a bridge, nor did I bother him in the middle of the night. I spent the remainder of that night agitated and foggy, and waited for his office open.

His response was what only the most confident and caring professionals would know to do: he gave me a huge hug, struggling to keep back his own tears.

There was no need for him to demand my shoelaces or submit me to the indignities of hospitalization. Without words, he was saying, “No. That’s not where this is going. You’re not doing this.”

He also knew to meet me in a place I knew well: the snarky gallows humor of medicine. We talked about how one particular attending psychiatrist was almost always on service at the nearby hospital. He was famous for being as arrogant as he was incompetent. If I somehow did not die from suicide, I could awake from a coma with that imbecile at my bedside.

I was deeply unwell, but made every effort to fake it. I got up went to work, and buried myself in routine.

I eventually moved on from the battles of my former job. Although it seems inconceivable, I just somehow did not feel like dying anymore.

 

Retrospect

Sufficient time has passed that I can think somewhat clearly about that dark 48 hours. The lesson I wish I could impart the most to others is that suicide makes no sense. One can read theory upon theory, but it is inherently irrational. I cannot explain why I did not kill myself.

Suicide assessments also try to impart some sort of method where there is no algorithm or equation. I did not score high enough on any of the “validated” suicide measures. There is thus a danger to suicide awareness campaigns and to clinicians who might turn to some sort of psychiatric inventory.

As I knew, the most lethally suicidal patients keep their mouths shut. Except at the very end; I said nothing. Although there is an art to working with more vocal patients, and their cries should not go unheard, it was a function of good luck that I happened to have a psychologist, and that he was both available and perceptive.

 

I think I am a better clinician because of my own experience. I obviously maintain boundaries and do not talk about myself. Like the patient in the introduction, I can at least feel a deep sense of empathy, and I try to take after the psychologist who looked after me.

Only the most monstrous of licensure boards would punish me for expressing my recollections here. I am no danger to myself–years have passed; and I was never a danger to others. I ended up avoiding the hospital, and thus would not meet the threshold for some sort of investigation.

 

Taking a cue from the “Make It OK” program and “The Hilarious World of Depression” series, I felt that sharing my own experience might just help someone else.

If that person is you, and you are reading this, do me a favor: wait a day. Call the person most likely to help you. I wish you a hug, honesty, and hope.

© 2017

for BB

Window Seat

 

Matt Freeman DNP, MPH

 

“Come with us.”

A soft-spoken airline agent gestured toward me.

“You don’t want to miss this.”

She saw me sitting alone, my eyes wandering out the window. Perhaps seven or eight airline employees gathered by massive floor-to-ceiling windows. “We always watch the sunset together,” she explained.

Several snapped photos with their phones.

The sun grew and glistened, the planes shimmering in neat rows. The endless crowds, congestion, and noise of LAX disappeared. It was just a few moments of collective appreciation of the planet. From there, flying took on a renewed, human quality. I took off that night, staring out at the stars from the window seat. It was a sensation of immeasurably profound calm.

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Fear and Fascination

The first time I was old enough to remember a big trip, I was sitting with my mother at Kennedy Airport. Only the nose of the 747 was visible from the window. It seemed like an improbable means to take flight, and I wondered if the “real” plane was hidden behind it. This was all some illusion.

Nobody had told me that the flight would take place at night. It seemed like an immensely bad idea. How would we find our way? How would we avoid bumping into another plane?

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Fatigue must have set in, and I nodded off.

I awoke next to my father, my ears popping. As I stared out of the window, I was transfixed. The wing had moving parts that extended and screeched. Wafts of mist shot across the wing surface. Fog and clouds spirited past the window. Beneath us lay something even more extraordinary: houses, electrical wires, grass, cars, road. We were landing in Milan, but I had no idea what to expect. I was dumbfounded that Italy had certain familiarities from home.

 

The Foreign and the Surreal

A couple of years later, I visited Heathrow Airport for the first time. The experience of flying took on a particularly enthralling mystique. Unlike anything I had seen before, digital signs heralded flights to Harare, Bratislava, Caracas, and Leningrad. There were planes from “forbidden” port of call: an Illyushin jet from Aeroflot taxied into a nearby gate.

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The next morning, we sat outside at the New Stanley Hotel in Nairobi. My family pointed out that the crew from British Airways was at the table next to us. It was like seeing a primary school teacher at the movies or supermarket. They were in casual clothes, having a beer in the African sunshine. It made little sense. In my boyhood imagination, these people lived on the 747. They would not wear anything other than deep blue uniforms adorned with ties and scarves styled after the Union Jack. Everything became even more magical and mysterious.

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My family was quick to indulge my fascination. My uncle would send me unused invitations to the business class lounge in Bucharest (aware that I was unlikely to have a Romanian holiday anytime soon.) My grandfather would take me to the airport to see the rare appearance of a DC-10 from JAT, an erstwhile Yugoslav airline. A neighbor who worked for El Al would tell me stories of his own travels on employee tickets. My grandmother shared stories of the furious immigration officer at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow.

 

The Joy Fades

Somehow the sparkle became routine, a hassle, bourgeois cocktail conversation. As I grew older, flying became about hassles, garnering points, and dodging high fares. As I grew larger and more discriminating, the size and pitch of the seats became bothersome, the food avoidable rather than interesting. I was once fascinated by the stamps and carbon copies by ticket agents, this gave way to endless crowds, and frustrating hassles.

As aviation terrorism resurged on US shores, I lost my interest with the unusual security procedures overseas, I developed particular fury with the nonsensical, humiliating, and seemingly endless absurdity of the Transportation Security Administration.

It took a moment that evening, standing and watching the sunset at LAX, to find the mystique and passion from the jumbo jets we board every day.

 

Re-Imagining Magnitude

The anxious clenched fists I felt as I stepped aboard a 747 as a little kid are best explained by the unthinkable scope of what it means to travel today. It is both mundane and astounding.

As an adult, I was sitting next to my father on flight from Newark to São Paulo. “How many dishes and plates do they go through?” He asked. I do not have an answer other than “a lot.”

 

Flight 85 is the most familiar to me. Every day, a Boeing 777-200 takes off from Gate C9 in Tel Aviv just after noon, arriving at Newark just after 5:00 pm, usually somewhere on the “C” concourse. Depending on the time of year, the flight takes about 11 and half hours.

Shortly after 9:00 am, the check-in counters open. Two hundred sixty-seven passengers are interviewed by the Israeli Airport Authority, their bags are weighed and tagged then screened. The passengers walk downward through a security checkpoint, immigration control, and then to a massive rotunda of 24-hour, seven-day duty free shops.

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About 90 minutes later, roughly 18 crew arrive, having spent the past 24 to 30 hours asleep, on the beach or touring Israel. There are typically two pilots, two “relief” pilots, at least four plain-clothes Federal Air Marshals, a purser or “Inflight Service Director,” about three Hebrew-speaking flight attendants, and five international flight attendants.

From the upper level of Ben Gurion Airport, the 777 is not particularly imposing. The airport is full of jumbo jets in the Middle Eastern sunlight. Unlike my fear of the 747 at JFK, the plane looks airworthy. From such a height, one can hardly perceive its 64 meter length (210 feet), and even greater wingspan. The engines themselves are seven meters (24 feet) in diameter. It seems implausible, but four of me could stand head-to-toe inside the engine.

As the ground crew starts preparations, the 777 will require about 220,000 pounds of fuel. This is measured in pounds in part for convenience. It is roughly the equivalent of 1,493,800 gallons. (5,654,648 liters). According to indexmundi.com, the cost of fuel would be $1.30 per pound or $286,000 for the flight. That does not account for the likely higher cost of Jet-A fuel in Israel. At $1071 per passenger just for fuel, suddenly the actual cost of the airfare does not seem quite so extortionate.

 

Roughly 45 to 60 minutes before pushback, a mix of crews from Quality Airport Services (QAS) and United Airlines start loading the 267 passengers: checking passports, asking few security questions mandated by the US government, and a glance at hand luggage to ensure that passengers comply with US laws about liquids. In an astounding 45 minutes, each wheelchair is stowed, each stroller is collapsed and tagged, each forbidden water bottle is discarded, and passengers negotiate with their neighbors to swap seats.

In the mid-day heat, the 777 uses the longest runway, a breathtaking 13,327 feet (4,026 meters).

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Despite endless web sites full of vitriol and ratings, the cabin on flight 85 offers the unimaginable. Passengers plug in to electrical outlets, log in to WiFi, flip through page after page of “on demand” movies and television shows.

In business class, a stainless steel cart passes through the aisle with the crew offering port and gourmet cheeses cut to the passenger’s taste. This is followed by another stainless steel cart with ice cream, warmed chocolate fudge, and liqueurs.

It is easy to forget that this is occurring at 560 miles per hour (901 kilometers per hour.) This is just about three quarters of the speed of sound.

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All of the Above Quadrupled

Perhaps the most remarkable fact is that a sister flight, number 91, will take off with another 267 passengers just under twelve hours later. Meanwhile, their counterparts (84 and 90) are flying from Newark back to Tel Aviv. Every day.

That means 1,068 passengers per day, every day, on just one route. In the roughest estimates, that is 2,136 hot meals, 5,000 paper napkins. If just half of the passengers participate in a frequent flyer program, more than three million miles will be earned.

Six days per week, the same route is replicated by El Al Israel Airlines, carrying at least an additional 279 passengers per direction.

That is one route on one day of the week.

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Finding Meaning

The hassles are seemingly endless: high fares, confusing web sites, strange fees, long lines, absurd security, delays, cancellations, diversions….

Look out the window.

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There is both joy and peace to be found amid the clouds. The views are unparalleled, particularly the sunsets.

There is a certain shock if one considers what constitutes a “routine” flight. It is so complex that one’s mind cannot begin to imagine 5,000 napkins.

Take a cue from the enamored staff at LAX: look out the window; snap a photo of the sunset.

 

©2016

All images designated for non-commerical redistribution

The Martha Mitchell Effect

Matt Freeman DNP, MPH

 

“It’s all happening. It’s happening now.”

I could smell a hint of whiskey or bourbon on my patient’s breath. His knee bounced up and down with anxiety; his eyes scanned the room. His speech  was forced hard to follow.

“She’s in the waiting room now. She could be calling them. I don’t know. She has been checking my phone. She eavesdrops. She knows people.

The patient had a long and complex story about how his criminal history prevented him from owning a business. Therefore, everything was held in his wife’s name, and she had been threatening to turn him in: to the police, the FBI, and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement.)

His speech grew louder, he fumbled for words, occasionally losing himself mid-sentence. He stood up, paced, eventually sitting back down.

I assured that my patient was not in any immediate danger to himself or others, but I struggled to figure out how I could help him. I was happy to listen, but it seemed like he needed a divorce lawyer, maybe an immigration lawyer, perhaps treatment for substance abuse.

Naturally, I wondered about hyperbole. Was this man wanted by the FBI? Did he have a crippling criminal past? Was this a delusion?

 

One phrase stuck in my mind: “The Mouth from The South.”

In one of his interviews with David Frost, Richard Nixon remarked, “If it hadn’t been for Martha Mitchell, there’d have been no Watergate.”

Martha Beall Mitchell (1918-1976), was former schoolteacher from Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Her second husband was John Mitchell, former Attorney General under Nixon and subsequent head of the Committee to Re-Elect the President. The Mitchells ironically lived in the Watergate Building.

Julie_Nixon_Eisenhower_with_Martha_Mitchell_-_NARA_-_194649Martha Mitchell with Julie Nixon

 

Amid marital spats, prescription drug abuse, and alcoholism, Mrs. Mitchell called Washington journalists, often late at night. She spoke with Helen Thomas, Carl Bernstein, and Bob Woodward. Although the exact conversations were not recorded, Mitchell reportedly revealed her husband’s complicity in “dirty tricks” operations of the Nixon administration, particularly her husband’s Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP).

The phone calls famously came from her pink “princess phone.” Her Arkansas twang earned her the nickname, “The Mouth from The South.”

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Martha Mitchell became a celebrity, posing for television interviews and magazine covers such as People and New York.  She called for Nixon to resign, clarifying that the public was well aware of Nixon’s misdeeds. Her histrionic demeanor could have been inherent, a reaction to her husband’s efforts to silence her, or a function of alcoholism.

Mrs. Mitchell stated, “I’ve been persecuted more than anyone since Jesus Christ.” She made it clear that she wanted to be known as “Martha Mitchell, not Mrs. John Mitchell.” Her draw for attention was famously exemplified by her clothes. “What I wear,” Mitchell said, “nobody else would buy.”

Her motivations were not political. Although she clearly detested Nixon and CREEP, her “phone capers” erupted after learning that John Mitchell was reportedly dating one Mary Gore Dean. A snub to her ego and image pushed her to pick up the “princess phone.”

John Mitchell
John Mitchell subsequently served 19 months in prison

 

Motivations aside, Mitchell was billed by some as a hero. She spoke openly and publicly about a corrupt political administration. Coming across as a deranged and attention-seeking, Mitchell incited even greater interest in journalists, eventually leading to the downfall of the Nixon Presidency.

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The Martha Mitchell Effect

The Martha Mitchell effect in psychology and psychiatry refers to a failure of a clinician to verify potentially plausible claims of a seemingly delusional patient.

When I took abnormal psychology in 1994, I remember my professor, a clinical psychologist, citing an example. A patient of his claimed that he was being followed by the FBI. In attempt at reality testing, the psychologist and the patient sat together as the psychologist called the FBI. He inquired if his patient was under investigation. Indeed he was under surveillance.. The patient had written a threatening letter to Lyndon Johnson. The patient may have been paranoid, even struggling with a thought disorder, but he was still being followed by the FBI.

 

The patient who came to see me with stories of his wife, ICE, the FBI, was under the care of a psychologist. I relayed to her his concerns, and therefore left it up to her to pursue any investigation into the veracity of his claims.

Was his anxiety and paranoia due to an actual pursuit by the government, or was he delusional? I will never know.

 

The message is critical for any clinician: We all hear outrageous or bizarre claims of persecution, spying, and other threats. Even a patient under the influence of alcohol or drugs, even a psychotic patient, even a patient with a personality disorder can still be telling dangerous truths.

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References

John N. Mitchell Dies at 75; Major Figure in Watergate. The New York Times. 10 November 1988. http://www.nytimes.com/1988/11/10/obituaries/john-n-mitchell-dies-at-75-major-figure-in-watergate.html?pagewanted=all

Maher B. Anomalous experiences and delusional thinking: the logic of explanations. In Oltmanns and Maher B (Eds.) Deulsional Beliefs. Chichester: Wiley. 1988.

Martha Mitchell speaks out about Nixon, Watergate. 15 June 2012. BBC News. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-18436516

McLendon W. Martha: The Life of Martha Mitchell. New York: Random House. 1979.

 

This blog entry was originally a lecture I gate at Pacific Lutheran University.

All images designated as public domain

© 2016

 

Warning Fatigue: Chatter and the Stress of Flying

Matt Freeman DNP, MPH

A trip through the terminal at Galeão/Antonio Carlos Jobim Airport in Rio de Janeiro is mundane, if not a bit grim… unless  you start listening. The steaming, sultry, deep voice of former newscaster Iris Lettieri is used to make announcements. Since 1977, Lettieri’s passionate voice has been used in Rio, and has since expanded to other airports in Brazil.

Every time I have flown in Brazil, I have been caught off guard by the sense of mystery and romance in her recorded voice.

If you have never been to Brazil, or have forgotten Lettieri’s voice, this NPR interview will introduce or reacquaint you. You will not be disappointed.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=8976813

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Iris Lettieri is the exception.

Amid the many stresses of air travel, the overuse of announcements is grating, counterproductive, and exacerbates an already anxiety-producing experience.

Psychologists in the United Kingdom analyzed how repetitive announcements result in “warning fatigue.” Professor Judy Edworthy and Plymouth University described how listeners will “habituate” to a stimulus, and it will eventually be ignored.

There is a reasonably simple principle of neuroscience behind this: action potentials from a constant stimulus will decrease over time. As a physiology professor taught me as an undergraduate: this is why you do not smell your own perfume or cologne after a while.

 

Looped, Pre-Recorded Announcements

Edworthy’s argument is perhaps most evident in pre-recorded announcements. Journalists from The Telegraph identified twenty-seven public safety announcements during a 30-minute period at a London railway station. These included messages about using the handrails, using an elevator instead of an escalator if one has suitcases, and so on.

A spokeswoman for the railway company said that the messages were “for the safety of our passengers because we have had accidents.”

Lisa Lavia, a representative of the Noise Abatement Society, felt differently. “…the public really hate these announcements but feel powerless to do anything about them. But as the science is now showing, these nightmare messages are no longer just a nuisance–they don’t even work.”

 

Relevance

Perhaps the most baffling of looped, pre-recorded announcements advises passengers in US airports of restrictions on liquids and gels in hand luggage. This announcement is played repeatedly in the “sterile” area of the airport, after passengers have passed through a security checkpoint.

The irrelevance tacitly advises listeners, “These announcements do not apply to you. You have nothing to gain by listening.”

Anything significant, such as “the airport is now on fire,” would run the risk of being lost amid the frequent and meaningless other announcements.”

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Mass Confusion

During my first job after college, I attended a workshop on dealing with crowds and lines. One of the core lessons was: never, ever shout instructions at a large group. The typical responses are:

“What was that?”

“What did he say?

In a check-in hall at an airport, yelling “Anybody going to Chicago?” will likely create mass confusion. “Did he say Chicago? Was that our flight?” Then someone will yell from the back, “Chicago! That’s us!” The commotion escalates.

It is far easier to walk along side the crowd and ask, “Are you headed to Chicago?” Or, perhaps more productively, “Where are you headed today?” Although the illusion is that it might take longer, it is actually far more expeditious. One can identify the Chicago-bound passengers and direct them to the right place—calmly, personably. In the process, you might find that you have people in the wrong queue for the wrong airline and correct that problem too.

 

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has developed a reputation for so-called “barkers,” who shout instructions at groups of people waiting in line. The stressful experience of airport security is exacerbated by a barrage of repeated and blurred shouts.

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I recall one security checkpoint that was strictly for passengers transferring off of international flights. “Folks, you are about to enter a security checkpoint!” shouted the “barker.” It would be hard to imagine that anyone would be confused by the scene before them: x-ray machines, metal detectors, body scanners. After all, everyone in the queue had just gone through the same experience several hours prior. The remaining instructions were garbled, and certainly unhelpful to those who did not speak English.

I witnessed one TSA agent go against the trend. She smiled, stayed calm, and politely gestured to those who did not speak English to remove their coats and shoes. Unsurprisingly, she had the line moving far more quickly and without agitation. Furthermore, other passengers witnessed her polite demonstration, so the message propagated down the line. Without words and with a gentle smile, she silently had everyone on their way.

 

Shame and Admonishment

“We have a lot of material to cover today.” I remember far too many teachers and professors who would start off their classes with this warning. It was never helpful. After all, the professor wrote the syllabus, so it was his or her idea as to how much material would be covered in the designated instructional time. The initial pressure of “we have a lot to cover today,” just added stress without discernable benefit. What could students have done differently?

The same applies to “this is a very full flight.” This announcement precedes just about every commercial flight I have taken in or to the United States in the past few years. It is an introduction to the flight by admonishing and shaming passengers who have done nothing wrong; they just happen to be flying that day.

“We are expecting a very full flight” adds the same stress as, “We have a lot to cover today.” There is nothing I can do differently if the flight is full or empty: my hand luggage is the same size; my own height and weight have not changed. All I can expect is that I will feel perhaps more cramped than usual.

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Asking for the Impossible

Boarding is invariably the most stressful time for passengers and crew. There is the struggle to fit everyone’s hand luggage in a small space, find seats, relocate families who have been separated, and still get the plane out on time.

Instead of a self-regulating environment, passengers are bombarded with instructions to “step into [their] row” thereby leaving the aisle open for other passengers. Amid the chaos of fitting 150 people into a small space, the announcement just creates noise. If passengers self-regulate: moving and accommodating for one another, they need not pause to listen to an unnecessary announcement.

There is also the impossibility of “stepping into your row.” In a crowded single-aisle aircraft, one has to be patient as everyone else shuffles themselves and their belongings. Stepping into one’s row is not always an option. The announcement thus creates more disruption, and it asks passengers to accomplish the impossible.

 

Significance versus Fine Print

Gate agents and flight attendants read from announcements from smartphones, booklets, or from computer printouts. The longwinded nature of these announcements makes the fundamental error of mixing marketing, regulatory, and logistical information with the same cadence, length, and mixed in a single string of data. There is little sense of priority, and much of the information is superfluous.

 

Category Example Priority Can this be excluded?
Regulatory “Children under the age of 15 may not sit in an exit row.” Important
It is a federal law, but does it need to be announced?
Maybe. The gate agents and flight attendants could check this without an announcement.
Logistical “The flight time will be 3 hours, 25 minutes.” Intermediate relevance:
useful information for most passengers
Maybe
Logistical “We accept credit and debit cards with the Visa, MasterCard, and American Express logo.” Low relevance.
A passenger attempting to purchase something in cash might be informed of this only if such a situation arose. Why announce it?
Yes
Marketing “We are a founding member of the Star Alliance.” Minimal relevance
since passengers already purchased their tickets and boarded the flight.
Yes

 

Parsimony

Federal law (FAR Part § 121.317) requires that illumination of the “fasten seatbelt” sign have an accompanying oral instruction. This is not necessarily a bad idea, particularly for passengers who have vision impairments, or who might not speak English.

In reasonable situations, a crew member just says, “Seatbelts, please.” On a flight to Germany, the American captain just said, “Seatbelts, please. Bitte anschellen.” Four words. An unequivocal message is delivered in both languages, and there is compliance with US law.

Sadly, the four word announcements are rare. I often fly to and from Tel Aviv. The airline I often fly has a blaring, pre-recorded announcement. A woman’s voice at 10 out of 10 volume arouses one from sleep on an overnight flight saying, “Ladies and gentleman, the Captain has turned on the ‘fasten seatbelt’ sign. Please return to your seat and fasten your seatbelt.” This is followed by a Hebrew-speaking crewmember repeating the same message. Twenty words in English followed by 16 in Hebrew. The length of the announcement detracts from the core message: “seatbelt.”

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Redundant Information

In airplanes with video equipment, most airlines present safety information through a video presentation. These films are reviewed by the FAA, and the language has to be specific to meet regulatory requirements. As ridiculous as it seems, the law is clear that passengers must be shown how to buckle and unbuckle a seatbelt. (The idea is that airplane seatbelts operate differently than those in cars.)

Problems arise when crew restate information already in the film. This is particularly true of announcements regarding mobile phones and smoking. One could argue that this information needs to be reinforced to ensure adherence. “Nobody watches the film, so we have to announce it.” Another option is never presented: during the mandatory walk-throughs or “compliance checks,” the crew could just ask passengers individually to correct any reclined seats or obstructive luggage.

Instead of worrying about inattention to the video or announcements, why not just correct the safety problems as they occur?

 

Goal Setting

“Did you not hear the announcement?” is no longer a reasonable argument. There are so many announcements that one can easily become sidetracked. Furthermore, flying is tiring, rules vary, and some airlines and security checkpoints are stricter than others.

The TSA staff or airline crew would be wise to ask, “What is our goal?” Is the goal to have one’s announcements heeded, or is the goal to ensure that passengers are safe?

 

Moving Forward

The first question is, “How much of this information needs to be conveyed?” Aside from federally-mandated announcements, air carriers would be wise to explore passenger comprehension. During the roughly 60 minutes it takes from beginning boarding to reaching the runway, how many announcements are made? Of those announcements, what is the overall comprehension level?

Some of these issues are hard to measure. One cannot conduct a “placebo controlled” study to determine if repeated overhead announcements about leaving luggage unattended actually lead to greater attention to security. The decision to cease the announcements has to be based on principles of neuropsychology: repeated announcements will be ignored over time.

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Dialing it Down. How Can We Limit the Cacophony?

Since the “announcement culture” is ingrained in American air travel, it may take scientific analyses to argue for fewer announcements.
1. Measure Passenger Stress

Passenger stress can be assessed through psychological inventory or biological measures. Researchers could evaluate the magnitude of passenger stress as a function of the number of announcements (safety, logistical, and marketing.)

 

2. Measure Passenger Adherence

Some announcements are federally-mandated, but one could experiment with optional announcements.

  1. Conduct a trial in which one TSA checkpoint has an agent announces repeatedly that laptops must be removed from hand luggage; make no announcement in another checkpoint. See how many passengers remove their laptops between the two lines.
  2. Ask airline crews to measure the number of passengers who attempt to pay in cash as a function of a pre-flight announcement. Does the announcement actually affect adherence?

 

3. Measure Passenger Satisfaction

Airlines routinely collect extensive survey data. It would be easy to determine if passengers have greater satisfaction with their airport experience based on stressful announcements like, “This is a very full flight.” An air carrier could compare satisfaction surveys from flights where such language is prohibited to the status quo.
There are solutions to a calmer, quieter trip both on the ground and in the air. Although it would be pleasant to have the rich voice of Iris Lettieri all over the world, there is an obvious need to “dial down” the barrage of announcements.

 

 

References

Copping J. & Ljunggren H. Annoyed by public address messages? Now experts say they don’t even work. The Telegraph. 2 October 2011.

 

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©2016

The 59.8 Minute Phone Call: Prior Authorization for Psychiatric Admissions

Matt Freeman DNP, MPH

In clinical practice with adolescents and young adults, decisions about psychiatric admissions surface about once or twice a month. These are never taken lightly.

Safety invariably predominates. Although an organized and imminent suicidal plan is the most common reason for admission, sometimes the patient has experienced a manic episode that warrants stabilization. Others may be experiencing psychotic symptoms that but them at risk for harm to themselves or others.

Despite the often grim reality of psychiatric units, the goal is to protect life. Most of the admissions in my career have been brief: perhaps a 72- to 96-hour opportunity to prevent a suicide or accidental death, to ensure adequate medication, and to be as certain as possible that appropriate care is available after discharge.

The decision to admit is complex. In my experiences, it was usually a collaborative decision by a psychiatrist, psychologist, primary care provider, the patient, and the patient’s family.

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The Goal of Voluntary Admission

Involuntary or “civil” commitment is sometimes avoidable. If a patient resists admission, one can take legal steps to argue that an admission supersedes the patient’s wishes. But this “buys” only 72 hours, and can create an adversarial relationship between the patient and those caring for him or her.

Interestingly this is sometimes referred to as a “5150” on television and movies. In fact, this is a reference to California law, the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, which is section 5150 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code. Each state has its own name or number for involuntary confinement, but those who write screenplays and television scripts are sometimes unaware that this term is specific to California.

The process for a 5150 and its analogues can be laborious. For meaningful ethical and constitutional reasons, there are specific criteria and processes for obtaining a 5150. To my recollection, I have only ever done it two or three times in 13 years of practice.

A voluntary admission carries its own burdens. The patient and his or her family may have agreed, but one then has to find an available psychiatric bed. This can mean calling hospitals—sometimes in distant locales—to find an available bed at a hospital that accepts the patient’s insurance.

As is the case with just about everything in health care, these discussions and phone calls always seem to occur late at night, after an arduous day of assessing a patient who warrants admission.

 

Now it takes even longer.

Insurance carriers have started mandating prior authorization for psychiatric admissions. In a study published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, the average time spent on the phone with the insurance company was 59.8 minutes.

That is 59.8 minutes with a sobbing, suicidal patient in the room next door. That is 59.8 minutes of frightened, tired parents, terrified that their son or daughter could end his or her own life or become a danger to others. That is 59.8 minutes when that patient could be en route to a hospital where his or her safety and access to care could be guaranteed.

Fifty-nine point eight minutes is the mean. The authors of the study reported one case in which the prior authorization process took four and a half hours.

It is even more absurd: of the 53 cases in the study, prior authorization was granted 100 percent of the time.

Healthcare providers take careful notes, elaborate documentation, and collaborate extensively about psychiatric admissions. But insurers have somehow convinced themselves that we are less than diligent.

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What does prior authorization require?

“Please enter your Tax ID number.”

            “4”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t get that. Please enter your tax ID number.”

            “4”

“I’m sorry I still didn’t get that. Please enter your Tax ID number.”

            “4”

After the interactive voice response menu finally recognizes my voice or phone keypad entry, I wait on hold.

“Hello!” a pleasant voice, usually with a thick accent, will answer. “What is your Tax ID number?” After repeating it twice, I provide my name. For whatever reason, names and titles do not translate easily and I am usually referred to as “Dr. Matt.”

“And how are you doing today Dr. Matt?”

I could easily reply, “volatile, rabid, and angry,” and the representative—reading from a script—will say, “That’s great to hear!”

After providing the patient’s ID number, birth date, and address, I am usually told that I have called the wrong number, even though I specifically dialed the special number for “behavioral health.”

After hold music, “What is your Tax ID number?”

And it continues.

Sometimes the system just hangs up when I am transferred. Sometimes it starts back at the same number.

If I ask for a supervisor, the agents usually say that they do not have a supervisor, or that no supervisor is available. Although I try to be as polite as possible, I once asked, “You have no boss? Nobody who oversees your work? Nobody who coaches you?” The agent said, “No.” Another replied, “I have a supervisor, but she won’t be able to help you.”

The patient in distress is quivering in a room next door.

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It gets more complicated.

Insurance plans are often specific to a particular state. A patient might reside in Oregon, but his or her insurance plan is designed for residents of Delaware. The patient’s parents or guardians might work for a Delaware-based company.

When it is an out-of-state insurer, the phone response is:

“I’m sorry, I didn’t recognize that Tax ID number”

Of course you did not recognize it; I am not in Delaware. After dialing as many random keys as possible, I might be fortunate enough to get a live person.

            “Oh, we have to enter you in our system.”

This requires my name and professional details, license, address, FAX numbers, and—you guessed it—my Tax ID number. In some cases, I will get the absurd response that I should receive a fax in two to three business days.

In several cases, I was told that since I was not in that particular state’s network, they would be unable to assist me due to HIPAA. After hanging up and calling again several times, I finally reached someone who did not claim such a ridiculous excuse. The sharing of confidential information would have been by me, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 explicitly permits information sharing with an insurer. “HIPAA” just sounded like a good answer to that phone agent.

After that step is completed, I am given another number to call.

Tick tock. Tears continue to shed. Nervous parents clutch paper coffee cups. Sometimes agitation ensues, and the patient might start to back out of the idea of a voluntary admission.

Most insurers offer the opportunity to obtain prior authorization by means of a web site. But this is usually an exercise in futility. One has to register for the web site if it is an out of state insurer, inviting a response “within seven business days.” In other cases, the site will process everything, and then offer a fax response “within one business day.” Other sites fail to recognize the patient’s ID number.

 

Resolution

In some cases, the phone representative at the Overseas Call Center (OCC) will grant the prior authorization. In others, a “peer to peer” consultation is required.

Amusingly, the phone representative transfers me to another call center that handles appointment scheduling. An appointment for me to consult with a physician or nurse about the patient, presumably during the subsequent few business days.

Tick tock.

Sure, I am happy to clear my schedule for non-reimbursed time to chat with someone who will invariably approve my request. That is a sound use of resources.

The “peer to peer” healthcare providers usually sound as if their eyes are rolling when I do talk to them. They approve the authorization, sometimes with their apologies for the bureaucracy.

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What are the principal problems?

  • Delay in treatment in potentially life-threatening circumstances
    Spending four and a half hours on the phone is an astonishing waste of a clinician’s time.
  • Lost revenue for everyone
    A clinician makes no money on the phone fighting through broken phone trees. And the insurance carrier is paying for its representatives and “peer” reviewers for something that they will always approve.
  • Poor public relations
    Insurance companies are not known for their favorable image with the public. When parents of a suicidal young person learn that treatment is forestalled because their child’s primary care provider is on the phone for an hour, it does not look good for the insurer.

 

Is Prior Authorization Always a Bad Idea?

Insurers sometimes have decent reasons for requesting prior authorization. For example, it is not unusual to find clinicians who are overzealous about ordering expensive tests or medications when effective, more affordable options exist. Some are overly eager to order MRI examinations for back pain when patients do not meet the medical criteria for such an exam. Others might prescribe a new, shiny drug in lieu of something safe, effective, and generic.

Some of the web-based prior authorization tools like “covermymeds.com” work for multiple insurers, and are not too burdensome.

In Israel, for example, the sal or “basket” of readily available drugs for primary care providers is more limited than in the United States. Azithromycin, known with immense popularity as Zithromax or a “Z-Pack” is not in the sal. American prescribers are notorious for prescribing azithromycin for people who do not need it: particularly those with viral infections who will only gain side effects and bacterial resistance form azithromycin. If one wishes to prescribe it, the Israeli system requires prior authorization by an infectious disease specialist. It is a reasonable means of protecting antibiotic stewardship.

In other words, American clinicians have the extraordinary freedom to prescribe unnecessary antibiotics with impunity but are barricaded from a psychiatric admission for a young person in immediate distress.

 

Looking forward

  1. There is consistent evidence that prior authorizations are always approved, so the process serves no purpose.
  2. Allow patients to be admitted for 24 or 48 hours without prior authorization. This eliminates delays in care but still allows insurers to collect information they deem necessary.
  3. Streamline phone trees and online systems. Overseas call centers may save on labor costs, but the amount of time spent on language clarification, dysfunctional voice recognition software, and multiple transfer upon transfer to different representatives probably exacerbates the cost to the insurer.

 

 

References

Funkernstein, A, Harstelle S, & Boyd JW. Prior authorization for child and adolescent psychiatric patients deemed to be in need of inpatient admission. American Journal of Emergency Medicine. 2016: 27 February. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ajem.2016.02.027

 

©2016

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Andreas Lubitz and the Ethics of Confidentiality

Matt Freeman DNP, MPH

“How are things at home?” It can jumpstart a conversation about emotional health, giving the patient a chance to have control over how little or how much he or she would like to disclose. My own variation has been, “How is your mood and your stress level?” Patients often say, “the usual amount of stress.” Others become tearful. Others find an unexpected opportunity to share what is happening in their lives.

I do not know what Andreas Lubitz would have said. Perhaps he would have talked about his dashed hopes to marry Kathrin Goldbach, or his reported frustration with flying shorter fights rather than the more prestigious long-haul routes with Lufthansa. But he might have said nothing at all.

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I think back to the handful of patients I have had in my career who have been commercial pilots. I even remember chatting with one of them about his mood. He was exhausted by his schedule, his pay was abysmal, and his wife was also a pilot, thereby putting a great strain on their marriage. As is the standard of care with a patient with a mood disorder, I asked, “Have you had any thoughts of hurting yourself or others?” He said no.

 

What if he had said yes?

The rules for breaching patient confidentiality vary by country and—in the US—by state. But there is a consistent theme: plan, means, and intent. If my own patient had been specific with his plan and time range, I would have probably been able to get him admitted to mental health facility, and—in collaboration with others—most likely able to contact the airline’s medical department.

But what if he just said, “Sure, I have thoughts of hurting myself? Sometimes I wonder what would happen if the plane I was flying crashed.” I would be asking a lot of questions at that point, probably consulted with a mental health provider, but if he expressed this in vague terms—a melancholic fantasy—it would have been inadequate to sever our private doctor/patient relationship. I could urge him to see a therapist, encourage antidepressants, invite a short-interval follow-up, discussed what actions to take if he felt increasingly suicidal or homicidal, but my powers would have ended there.

All of us fear another Germanwings 9525 or Egyptair 990, but suicides are notoriously difficult to predict. If the European or American governments suddenly required all pilots to answer the question, “Are you having thoughts of hurting yourself or others?” before flying, the answer would be “no.”

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Egyptair Boeing 767-300, similar to the aircraft that crashed near Nantucket on 31 October 1999

 

Actively suicidal patients, particularly men, typically keep their plans closely guarded.  It is not too difficult for a severely depressed patient to outfox a standardized depression inventory, even the probing questions of a therapist or primary care provider.

Although the details of Andreas Lubitz’ medical history are still blurry, he could have just said, “No, I do not feel like hurting myself or others.” There is no polygraph, “trick question,” nor blood test that would have predicted a murder-suicide. Psychologists usually have the ability to estimate behavior within a 48-hour window, but that depends on the patient disclosing a lot of information.

From media reports, Andreas Lubitz had some red flags: a previous history of a mood disorder, recent treatment, a trigger (the breakup), and reportedly erratic behavior. How many pilots, truck drivers, those whose jobs require firearms or access to explosives would meet a similar description?

 

Who is the client?

My first practice out of school was in occupational medicine. I often saw truck drivers, firefighters, police officers, air traffic controllers, and others who needed medical examinations for employment. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the goal was to ensure that I “rubber stamped” the paperwork.

US law requires that any medical examination be conducted post-offer. In other words, the patient had already been given the job, and it was my responsibility to ensure that there were no barriers. The medical examination did not serve to address health concerns, prevent illness, nor screen for disease. It served an administrative purpose.

Although most patients take it in stride, some view it as a marked invasion of privacy with no benefit to public safety. It is indeed awkward, unpleasant, or threatening to answer detailed health and mental health questions, disrobe, get poked and prodded, all because an employer requires it.

Regulatory bodies, like the Federal Aviation Administration and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration stipulate guidelines for these examinations. But healthcare providers are faced with a dilemma: if pilot, driver, firefighter, or other examinations are part of one’s livelihood, it would be dangerous to have a reputation for saying “no.” This could lead to unemployment for the patient and a vacancy for the employer.

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The client for these examinations is not the patient himself or herself. The client is the employer and/or the government agency. Patients therefore lack the comfort of a private and established doctor/patient relationship. When a patient comes to see me on his or her own for routine medical examination, it is a “health-seeking behavior,” and he is or she is perhaps more likely to share more extensive thoughts about mental health, substance abuse, and other problems.

There is one further problem: patients can sometimes shop around. Pilots and drivers seeking medical certification can go to any FAA or DOT-approved healthcare provider. If the first examination does not go well for some medical reason, the pilot or driver can merely hope that the next examiner does not ask the same questions, conducts a less thorough examination, or the patient might just be a bit less truthful in his or her responses.

 

There is no clear flight path ahead.

Loosening confidentiality laws raises many ethical concerns. Psychological screening may be helpful but has the peril of self-disclosure: an affirmative answer to a screening question can cost one his or her livelihood.

Environmental mitigation, such as ensuring two personnel in the flight deck has the rather obvious dark side: Lubitz could have incapacitated a pilot or flight attendant seated to his left and continued to crash the plane. In the US, pilots and flight attendants do not pass through checkpoints to detect weapons in many airports since they travel through “Known Crew Member” (KCM) ID checkpoints.  In fact, many pilots are Federal Flight Deck Officers (FFDOs), who are permitted to carry firearms on board.

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Amid the grief and fear in the aftermath of the crash and its investigation the most salient call is one for dialogue. Ethicists, mental health professionals, occupational health providers, and primary care providers need to open a greater discussion about suicidal and homicidal behavior. Although a statistical rarity, the consequences are catastrophic. Now is the time to talk more about protecting privacy while protecting the public, ensuring access to care, and guaranteeing further research in suicidology.