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 →

Race, Racism, and Infertility

In our second article of the Racism in Science series, Vital editor Lesley Curtis interviewed researchers Bethany Johnson and Margaret M. Quinlan concerning the connection between racism and infertility.

Your research focuses on how perceptions involving race influence women’s health and the care they receive. Since race is a socially constructed category, let’s begin by noting the actual statistics about infertility and women of color in the US.

Sure. In the US, we have an inaccurate, wide-reaching, offensive stereotype of the “welfare queen” with numerous children. This stereotype is often racialized to support the idea that African-American women are somehow more fertile or more likely to need government assistance. This is, of course, not true. Yet, it often informs thinking about fertility. Continue reading →

Overcoming Vaccine Anxiety: The Power of Story

This week, I took my daughter to receive the last of her early childhood vaccines. Two years ago, she was completely unvaccinated.

I was raised by parents who, after some bad experiences with conventional medicine, opted not to immunize my siblings or me, instead pursuing more “natural” healthcare options. When I became a parent myself, I was naturally (no pun intended) inclined to follow in their footsteps. But I wanted to make sure I was doing the best by my daughter. So, acknowledging, but not truly resisting my confirmation bias, I endeavored to do some research.

It wasn’t pretty. Continue reading →

Race without Racism: On Assessing Race as a Risk Factor

An interview with Yekki Song 

As part of Vital’s series on Racism in Science, we interviewed medical humanities researcher Yekki Song, a 6th year MD-PhD student at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, where she studies how society shapes and influences the practice of medicine.

We spoke with her about a newly-published paper she co-authored in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery, one that caused her to begin questioning the way in which she and her colleagues had used race as a key predictor of health outcomes 
Continue reading →

Can improv improve healthcare?

A review of Alan Alda’s If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?

A 2012 study conducted on behalf of Bosch home appliances found that over 40 percent of Americans admitted to having fought with a family member over the correct way to load a dishwasher. This is not one of our prouder national statistics, but according to Alan Alda, it’s one that probably shouldn’t surprise us. As he explains in his new book, “Pretty much everybody misunderstands everybody else. Maybe not all the time, and not totally, but just enough to seriously mess things up.” Continue reading →