The Accidental Victims of the War on Opioids

Even before the Washington Post profiled chronic-pain sufferers for whom the war on opioids is having unintended consequences, a student in my narrative medicine class drew on the experiences of his own mother to explain how the crackdown on the opioid abuse has failed to take into account the very people the drugs were intended to help. 

Every day that I have known my mother, Michelle, is a day that she has had to deal with excruciating pain. For years, she has suffered from Tarlov Cysts, also known as sacral nerve root cysts. These cysts are expansions of the nerve sheath, which ultimately causes a sac filled with cerebral spinal fluid to form. Because they are normally found lower on the vertebrae, they can eventually affect bladder and bowel control, and without proper medication, the unceasing pain they cause can eventually become incapacitating. Chronic pain is, by definition, frequently incessant, and leaves sufferers with very few treatment options, one of those being opioids. These few treatment options are what makes the pain bearable enough to go about daily activities. The public hears far more about the negative impact of opioids on our society than the life-changing relief they offer to those without other options. For such sufferers, the current attempt to curb opioid abuse by strictly monitoring and limiting the quantity at which they are prescribed has severe consequences for their quality of life. Continue reading →

Coming Attractions: Featured Student Writing on Illness and (sometimes) Healing

My hope, Gentle Reader, is that you associate June’s approach with nothing more taxing than breaking out the ol’ backyard slip-n-slide. It’s a somewhat odd time of year, though, for those of us whose peculiar profession it is to haunt the halls of so-called higher learning. Despite the fact that final grades have been posted—a signal to students that their labors are definitively and blessedly finished—I don’t find it nearly so easy, as their professor, to declare mission accomplished. Instead, I continue to ruminate over each of my classes, tallying successes and fretting about ways to improve things that didn’t go as well as I’d intended. Continue reading →

State of Women’s Health Symposium

Lifecycle WomanCare (LWC), a nonprofit health organization in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania is sponsoring a State of Women’s Health Symposium on April 25th. We interviewed Kathy Boockvar, recent former Executive Director of LWC and Senior Advisor to the Pennsylvania Governor on Election Modernization, about this unique event that brings practitioners and policymakers together. Continue reading →

Ben dreams of deadly sushi.

Ben Utter, one of the founders of Vital, reflects on how we–doctors, scholars, parents, everyone–can improve each other’s health by listening.


The lark sings loud and glad,
Yet I am not loth
That silence should take the song and the bird
And lose them both.
               —D.H. Lawrence, “Listening”

The doorbell rang in my dream the other night, and I opened our front door to find a food deliveryman. Without a word, he handed me a cooler and walked back toward his car. Inside the Styrofoam container were several slices of fugu, the infamous, highly toxic pufferfish, the kind prepared only by highly-skilled Japanese chefs, lest a residual trace of poison kill a diner. In the dream, I handed these morsels to my young daughter and son and watched—passively, but, as is often the case in dreams, with a suffocating sense of imminent danger—as they slurped them down. I awoke with a gasp, disoriented, still wondering whether or not this dangerous dinner was going to send my children into renal failure (turns out that on this count, at least, I needn’t have worried, since tetrodotoxin kills by paralyzing the lungs—an unsurprising error on the part of my mind’s dream production company, which had no more data to draw on than what I knew about fugu from watching that episode of The Simpsons). Continue reading →

Faith in Public Health

Rev. Lee Ann Pomrenke argues that the fear of being called “too political” is holding back faith communities from advocating effectively on matters of public health that should certainly be their concern. This is a powerful call to faith communities to reclaim at home the essential work that many congregations are already supporting internationally.

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