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An Artist's Life

Each patient has a story. The story maybe inspiring. If illness plays a significant role in their lives, their story maybe unfulfilling. Tragedy comes in all colors, shapes and sizes. Many times, the diagnosis can only be made after the patient tells their entire life biography. At the same time, the only treatment necessary is telling their story to someone who will listen. Affirmation is a powerful medicine, especially when no one believes the patient, not even their spouse.

Sarah Lynn was that patient. She was an aspiring artist who grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. She was reared in a family who thought that art was unnecessary and financially unrewarding. She took to a pencil and paper as a hummingbird takes to honeysuckle. She drew pictures. All kinds of pictures. Some were created to represent something she experienced, some were constructed out of her imagination. She won several awards in high school for her paintings and three-dimensional pieces. Her family did not support her artistic talents. Her mother wanted her to be a nurse. Her father wanted her to be a doctor. She wanted to live an artist life.

She attended college in a small liberal arts school in New York. The school had a reputation for art and design. She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts after a completing a rigorous undergraduate program. She had several offers to work in design firms, but she traveled to New York City instead to live an artist’s life. Neither parent was excited for her, but she did not pay them any mind.

She took a marketing position at a non-profit organization for her day job. One evening, as she was working a fundraising event, she met a young attractive physician-in-training. He paid close attention to her. When the event closed, the physician asked her out on a date. She reluctantly agreed.

Over the course of several months, she became comfortable with the young doctor. He finished his training and asked her to marry him. She spoke to her parents about his proposal and they were both happy and supportive of the marriage. He was a fine young man. They married. He took a position in one of the large corporate general practices in Memphis. She was told that Memphis was a fine place to raise a family and it had a relatively low cost-of-living. She did not know that art was not embraced by the community at large. She followed her husband.

After a few months in Memphis, she realized the community was a bit too conservative for her likings. However, her husband thrived. Over the course of five years, she gave birth to two children. After her second child, she came down with an illness. She was exhausted, had low grade fever and joint aches. She had brain fog, nausea and intermittent diarrhea which she attributed to stress. She was evaluated by several physicians in town and was told she was suffering from depression. They put her on anti-depressants. None of the medications worked. She believed that suffering was her dharma. She also sought fellowship in several churches. She was told by several people that her illness was God’s plan for her. She would just have to accept it.

Her husband became frustrated with her. She did not look ill, but she could not get out of bed. He took her to the Mayo Clinic for evaluation. They performed three days of testing. The Mayo concluded she was depressed. Her symptoms were mostly psychosomatic. She just needed intensive therapy and a change of medication. She took the new medication and gained thirty pounds. Her intensive therapy did not alleviate her somatic complaints. Her low-grade fever persisted, as well as her nausea, body aches and pains and brain fog.

When she made her fist visit, her husband came into the office with her. He was skeptical that I could help her, but he was willing to try anything to get her healthier because his children were not being cared for as he thought they should be.

She told her story. He sat behind her and made faces when she spoke about her pain, nausea, weight gain, lack of energy and libido, chronic low-grade fevers and joint and bone pain. I listened intently and wrote down her story. I listed for an hour or more. Her husband was annoyed with the level of detail in the conversation. He told me he saw forty to fifty patients a day. He wondered how I could sit and listen to his wife for so long. I told him I had a gift. He laughed.

After she was through with her history, I told her I wanted to get a small drop of blood from her fingertip and look at it under the microscope. She agreed. Her husband was again annoyed at my approach. I lanced her finger and place a single drop of blood on the slide, put the cover slide on the sample and the blood bubbled up. I showed her husband. I asked him, “Have you ever seen anything like that? The cover slide won’t cover the sample.” He said, “No. So what does that mean?” I said, “I’ll show you.”

I forced the cover slide down onto the drop of blood, place it on the darkfield microscope, focused it under oil emersion and showed the image on the screen attached to the computer. He sat up, looked at the picture and looked at his wife. “Oh my god. You have rouleau. Bad rouleau. I thought you were faking. You’re sick. Really sick. Shit!” She looked at him and replied, “What? You thought I was faking all this time? I can’t get out of bed! I’m not faking. I am sick. I told you.” He looked at her and responded with a monotone voice, “Yep. You’re sick. Mayo didn’t find this. Sorry I doubted you. I guess you’re not faking after all.” She started crying. He just stared at her as if she was an alien from another planet. I felt uncomfortable. I did not intend to cause a family crisis of the first order. I stood up and said, “Please take a moment together. I’m gonna step outside. I’ll come in later and explain to you why you have rouleau.” I left the room and closed the door. I heard loud voices and crying.

Twenty minutes passed. The room had grown silent. I returned. Her husband was angry. He thanked me for showing him her rouleau. He got up and said, “I have patients to see. I think she’ll be okay by herself.” He left the room and shut the door.

I proceeded to share my thoughts about her history. I showed her several disturbances in her blood testing. She was attentive and open to everything. We arrived at a therapeutic plan. She had two separate chronic infections and pituitary hormone suppressions most likely from hypophysitis. As I left the room she said, “Thank you. I knew I was ill. I was not faking.”

The irony of her story is that she was faking to be happily married, faking to be happy as a stay-at-home mother, faking to be happy living in Memphis, and faking to be trusting of her physicians. She was ill. She was not happily married. She wanted desperately to paint, draw and design, as well as be a mother. She wanted to move away from Memphis. She thought her physicians were influenced by her husband.

Over the course of three months, she found wellness. She changed her food plan, had success with thyroid hormone replacement, lost twenty pounds, weened off her antidepressants and most importantly, she started to paint and draw again.

At her six-month follow-up, she said boldly, “Now it’s time to divorce that bastard. He thought I was faking. He still thinks your treatment is snake oil. I keep telling him the antivirals work. My thyroid gland was suppressed from the high cortisol levels. He won’t consider it. He’s closed to everything. We’re done. I’m done.” I told her I was sorry about her life’s changes. She said it was not my fault.

Two years later I received a card in the mail. Sara Lynn was in Pennsylvania and having her first solo art show. She invited me. She was doing great. Her kids were there with her. Her ex-husband had relocated to Pennsylvania to practice medicine and be a father to their children.

Funny how things work out in this world. Sara Lynn wanted to live an artist’s life. I think she’s living the life of an artist. It took an illness to get her there.

Doc

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