We come to day with day with a list of Shoulds we take at face value (--where would you like me to begin? Don't smoke, don't drink excessively, don't be overweight, exercise, take your meds, ingest enough calcium, don't shoot heroin, stay out of jail, don't quit too many jobs, get your screening colonoscopy at 50, yearly mammograms after 40, wear a condom, sunlight is good, sunlight is bad, sunscreen is good, sunscreen is bad, coffee is good, coffee is bad....) only to have them rethought time and again. Roy is now finally off his HRT or so I'm told, he still doesn't look post-menopausal to me.
A few things I find myself wishing I knew the answers to:
Will my children be damaged by all the video-game playing I allow?
Will my relationship with my children be damaged if I don't allow them to play video games and survive the inevitable fights it will cause.
If they go out to ride their bikes instead-- nice healthy exercise--will I wish they'd stayed safely home playing video games if they get hit by a truck?
Why didn't my children come with instruction manuals?
--Inspired by yesterday's snow day and my patient today who is consumed with guilt and a sense of perfectionism with regard to her parenting. Something it's easy to distance myself from during a psychotherapy session, but sometimes strikes a bit close to home.
Will some awful consequence of Gardasil (the new HPV vaccine) be discovered 20 years down the line?
If obesity is so fatal, why, since the 1950's are there so many more obese people and why is the average lifespan 10 years longer?
Why do some people seemed to be unscathed by decades of smoking marijuana?
When my patients chronically misbehave and are completely uninterested in changing (for example, young people who enjoy spending their time drinking to excess in bars, others who repeatedly and without regret sleep with strangers, those who consume large doses of prescription narcotics prescribed by someone else, or people who just won't entertain the idea of abstaining from marijuana)-- am I wrong to continue to treat them on their terms?
If I simply refused to treat them unless they get treatment for their addictions, would they a) stop coming, b) stop telling me about their bad behavior, or c) get treatment and clean up their acts?
When a patient complains of intolerable feelings of agitation or other vaguely defined distress, and gives me the "walk a mile in my shoes" talk, is it wrong that I sometimes offer a prn very low dose of an second generation anti-psychotic, along with the warnings about possible induction of diabetes and dyslipidemia, and let them make the decision about whether to take it? Is it funny that I never ask myself if I should offer that script for very low dose prn Xanax which is what they really want?
And what about the patient whose last depressive episode (of many) lasted nearly a year and who has never been able to tolerate lowering her zyprexa, should I stop it given that her risk factors for diabetes and heart disease are screaming in my face (they preceded the zyprexa, but it can't be helping)? How do we know the worst of two evils?
Were those 250 extra children who died of suicide in 2003 compared to 2004 (see Pediatrics, annual vital statistics, death figures on page 13), children who were not taken for mental health care, or not offered anti-depressants because of the Black Box Warning added to anti-depressants by the FDA?
Sometimes I wish I had a crystal ball that worked, one where I could fine tune it to ask the subtle what-ifs. When it comes to the long-term prognosis for diet Coke and hair chemical abusers, well, there are some things I just don't want to know.