Sunday, December 24, 2017

Amanda: My Christmas Story!

Finland ©2012 Am Ang Zhang

Christmas Eve reminds me of one Christmas when I had to see a patient at the hospital. I had to be with our friends in London so the children and my wife had to wait in the car for me. Just as well the children never asked me why my patient could not go home.

 .........At the time, her weight was dangerously low. She was the only patient that I had to keep in the hospital over Christmas. It was rather strange that she seemed quite happy to do so. There were no protests from the parents either.  It meant that I had to see her on Christmas day and I even bought her a nice soft toy for a present, something I had never done before or after.


Amanda
         My old secretary Karen went to work for a plastic surgeon in the local hospital specializing in burns. Out of the blue she gave me a call. 

         “It is about Amanda. You should see her. She has all these scars on her.”

         It had been over two years since I last saw Amanda. It was rather sad as she had a real talent in art and I managed to secure the last ever support from the Education Authorities for accommodation for her at the Art College. But she dropped out after a year.  Nevertheless she still managed to make appointments to see me a couple of times before disappearing.  

         “Why don’t you ask her to arrange to see me next time she has a follow up at the clinic.”

         “That should not be a problem.”
         “But only if she wants to.”
         “I think you may still be of some help.”

         Well, Karen actually drove Amanda to my clinic late that afternoon and I stayed on to see her. Luckily Karen was still in the room with me when Amanda simply decided to lift her T-shirt. She was not wearing anything else underneath and what she revealed was a body covered in a number of three to four inches long keloidal scars. Some were actually over her breasts.

         Karen stayed as chaperone and Amanda did not seem to mind. In our work there are certain risks when you see young people on their own and more so when you see someone like Amanda. I sometimes felt rather unsafe with some of the mothers too.

         Amanda was first presented to me as a severe anorectic who more or less required immediate hospital admission. I put her in the paediatric ward rather than referred her to the hospital as at that time we were having some trouble with the quality of care there.

         At the time, her weight was dangerously low. She was the only patient that I had to keep in the hospital over Christmas. It was rather strange that she seemed quite happy to do so. There were no protests from the parents either.  It meant that I had to see her on Christmas day and I even bought her a nice soft toy for a present, something I had never done before or after.

         Her body weight gradually picked up and it was time for some trial home leave. She pleaded with me not to let her go home even for half a day.

         I did not want her to become dependent on us and there was every sign that she had now settled in on the ward.

         She came back from home leave and decided not to follow our agreed contract. It was popular in those days to have a weight gain contract and we had one too. Of course now I realise how rigidity with a contract can have drawbacks. In fact in child psychiatry too rigid an approach often causes problems one way or another and it is one of the few medical disciplines with which strict guidelines are not a good idea.

         At the time, another patient was on the ward after a serious suicide attempt. She had been abused by her step-father and step-brother over the years. She had had enough and decided to end it all.  I was trying to sort out where she could go as there were all the child protection issues.  She became very friendly with Amanda.

         One day when I arrived on the ward, the Sister-in-charge handed me an envelope and said that Amanda would like me to read it first.

         I have since used the same two pages she wrote as teaching material. Most female junior doctors could not go through with reading it aloud. It is nice to think that years of medical training do not really harden someone. Or was it something too horrible to be faced with?  It was particularly upsetting when the abuser was Amanda’s father.

         Amanda was by then fourteen but her father had been abusing her since she was about eleven. Her mother worked night shifts and father would come to her bed room to tuck her in. This had been going on for as long as she could remember. She started to have budding breasts and her father would at first accidentally brush them and Amanda would be quite annoyed with that. Then one night he started fondling with her breasts and also outside her pants. She was so scared she froze and did not say anything. He went further and further until he penetrated her. She was bleeding quite badly and told her mother, who told her that was what happened to girls when they grew up. She knew what menstrual period was but she said this was different; but mum did not want to know and gave her a box of sanitary pads. Then her period started and she started to worry about becoming pregnant. Her father said it was not a problem and asked her to suck him instead. She recorded that she was sick every time. Then one day her father decided to try her “back-side”. It caused so much bleeding it stained her school skirt and when she told her mother she was bleeding from her “back side” she just said, “Don’t be silly.  It is only a heavy period.”

         It is disturbing even for me to give you the details now. But this is what is happening to many children and is happening all around the world. If anything, I probably have toned down the content of that letter. What has gone wrong with mankind?  I cannot say I know any better since my early cockroach catching days. 

         Then on the day I “forced” her to go home he picked her up and made her go down on him in the car on the way home when he parked on a lay-by.

         In the end it was the other girl in the ward who encouraged her to write to me. She told her that she suffered the same for a long time and was stupid enough to try and hurt herself before she could tell anyone.

         There was no time to waste to report this to Social Services. However, Amanda’s father, who worked at the local mental hospital, had a “breakdown” and was admitted under the Mental Health Act the night before all of this came out. Amanda was not aware of this.  When I showed mother what Amanda wrote, she just said to me, “He is in a mental hospital,” and walked out.

         It has taken me years to grasp that maternal failure plays a major role in family sexual abuse. This mother’s action says it all. Can’t you see he is mad?

         It was a most peculiar case. His psychiatrist refused to even let me know of his problem, citing patient doctor confidentiality. He obviously had not worked with child abuse. Mother denied all knowledge of the bleeding incidents and claimed that it was all in Amanda’s imagination and it became very hard trying to place Amanda because her mother would not acknowledge that there was a problem. At this time West[2] was arrested and it helped me at least to understand the unfathomable.

Magritte:
         One of the nurses who got on well with Amanda told me that I should look at her examination portfolio for art. Every picture was morbid.  One struck me with the René Magritte[3] style of surrealism. A body of a girl with a penis floating over what looked like a classical stone grave. The head was covered in cloth and separated from the body. There were many daggers on the upper body of this half-man half-woman. There was a sort of school in the distance with small figures of school children. The sky was normal blue with white clouds which contrasted dramatically with the central theme. There was no question that the sky was a Magritte sky, and so was the cloth covered head. The rest was original Amanda.

         I knew then from what I remembered of Erickson that the picture was not just about the past with which one naturally associated but also about the future. Yet it took me a few years to realise that it was about the cutting.

         She said she was now working as a waitress. Her teacher at college did not want her to do all the morbid paintings, so she quit. She had been sleeping with virtually any man she came across and every time she would cut herself afterwards. She wanted to feel something, she told me. What was worst was that whenever she was with a man she saw her father.

         What an outcome. I had spent so much time with this girl and this was in the end what happened. She said one day she would be in a mental hospital like her father, but she hoped to kill herself before then.

         I no longer remember Amanda as a severe anorectic but rather a very talented artist who suffered serious abuse. Yet in a society which prides itself in social care, she did not become a famous artist with a high income, telling all about her history of abuse in front of a famous chat show host. Nor did she become a movie star telling all after drug and alcohol rehab.

         Instead she was on benefits and I am struggling hard to find something uplifting to end this story.

It has taught me one thing: Anorexia Nervosa may be just a manifestation.


Art Institute of Chicago’s new special exhibition, “Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938.”

 “Magritte was an amazing artist who has much to offer us today,” said Stephanie D’Alessandro, the Gary C. and Frances Comer Curator of Modern Art at the Art Institute, who was instrumental in assembling this exhibition of nearly 80 paintings, plus collages, objects, photographs, periodicals and examples of the artist’s work in advertising.
“I think that living in an age of mobile phones, in which we are so used to acquiring all sorts of information with great speed — and assuming it is ‘correct’ — has resulted in a loss of the ability to let a picture really take us into its own world, with all its unique habits and customs. So working with installation designer, Robert Carson, I’ve tried to create a series of small, initially quite dark spaces that should help make the experience of each art work more intense and intimate, and will let your imagination tell you where you want to go.”
The Magritte show, awash in images at once grotesque and erotic, mundane and mysterious, unspools in more or less chronological order. It begins with the crucial body of work, both paintings and paper collages, that he created in 1926 and exhibited the following year in his first one-man show at the elegant Galerie Le Centaure in Brussels — a show greeted by mostly negative reviews. It moves on to his subsequent time in Paris, where he lived for three years, becoming part of the Surrealist circle led by the French poet and theorist, Andre Breton, and such artists as Salvador Dali and Joan Miro.






The Cockroach Catcher on Amazon Kindle UKAmazon Kindle US

Friday, December 22, 2017

Suicide: The Answer, my friend may be Lithium!


Yes, ’n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows

That too many people have died?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind

The answer is blowin’ in the wind

                                                                       Bob Dylan.

 Atacama where Lithium is extracted  © Am Ang Zhang 2015

Lithium: The Gift That Keeps on Giving in Psychiatry

Nassir Ghaemi, MD, MPH

June 16, 2017

At the recent American Psychiatric Association annual meeting in San Diego, an update symposium was presented on the topic of "Lithium: Key Issues for Practice." In a session chaired by Dr David Osser, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, presenters reviewed various aspects of the utility of lithium in psychiatry.

Leonardo Tondo, MD, a prominent researcher on lithium and affective illness, who is on the faculty of McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School and the University of Cagliari, Italy, reviewed studies on lithium's effects for suicide prevention. Ecological studies in this field have found an association between higher amounts of lithium in the drinking water and lower suicide rates.


These "high" amounts of lithium are equivalent to about 1 mg/d of elemental lithium or somewhat more. Conversely, other studies did not find such an association, but tended to look at areas where lithium levels are not high (ie, about 0.5 mg/d of elemental lithium or less). Nonetheless, because these studies are observational, causal relationships cannot be assumed. It is relevant, though, that lithium has been causally associated with lower suicide rates in randomized clinical trials of affective illness, compared with placebo, at standard doses (around 600-1200 mg/d of lithium carbonate).

Many shy away from Lithium not knowing that not prescribing it may actually lead to death by suicide. As such all worries about long term side effects become meaningless. 


Will the new generation of psychiatrists come round to Lithium again? How many talented individuals could have been saved by lithium?


  • In psychiatry, our most effective drugs are the old drugs: ECT (1930s), lithium (1950s), MAOIs and TCAs (1950s and 1960s) and clozapine (1970s)
    • We haven’t developed a drug that’s more effective than any other drug since the 1970’s
    • All we have developed is safer drugs (less side effects), but not more effective
  • Dose lithium only once a day, at night
  • For patients with bipolar illness, you don’t need a reason to give lithium. You need a reason not to give lithium  (Originally by Dr. Frederick K. Goodwin)

Lithium in Tap Water and Suicide Mortality in Japan.

Abstract: Lithium has been used as a mood-stabilizing drug in people with mood disorders. Previous studies have shown that highest levels of suicide mortality rate in Japan. Lithium levels in the tap water supplies of each municipality were measured using natural levels of lithium in drinking water may protect against suicide. This study evaluated the association between lithium levels in tap water and the suicide standardized mortality ratio (SMR) in 40 municipalities of Aomori prefecture, which has the inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry. After adjusting for confounders, a statistical trend toward significance was found for the relationship between lithium levels and the average SMR among females. These findings indicate that natural levels of lithium in drinking water might have a protective effect on the risk of suicide among females. Future research is warranted to confirm this association.

Australian Trilogy:

Bipolar Disorder: Lithium-The Aspirin of Psychiatry?

 

Fremantle: Medical Heresy & Nobel

 


Tasmania & SIDS: The wasted years!


"Many psychiatric residents have no or limited experience prescribing lithium, largely a reflection of the enormous focus on the newer drugs in educational programs supported by the pharmaceutical industry."

One might ask why there has been such a shift from Lithium.

Could it be the simplicity of the salt that is causing problems for the younger generation of psychiatrists brought up on various neuro-transmitters?

Could it be the fact that 
Lithium was discovered in Australia? Look at the time it took for Helicobacter pylori to be accepted.

Some felt it has to do with how little money is to be made from Lithium.



My questions are: Will the new generation of psychiatrists come round to Lithium again? How many talented individuals could have been saved by lithium?



©Am Ang Zhang 2013

Cade, John Frederick Joseph (1912 - 1980)
Taking lithium himself with no ill effect, John Cade then used it to treat ten patients with chronic or recurrent mania, on whom he found it to have a pronounced calming effect. Cade's remarkably successful results were detailed in his paper, 'Lithium salts in the treatment of psychotic excitement', published in the Medical Journal of Australia (1949). He subsequently found that lithium was also of some value in assisting depressives. His discovery of the efficacy of a cheap, naturally occurring and widely available element in dealing with manic-depressive disorders provided an alternative to the existing therapies of shock treatment or prolonged hospitalization.

In 1985 the American National Institute of Mental Health estimated that Cade's discovery of the efficacy of lithium in the treatment of manic depression had saved the world at least $US 17.5 billion in medical costs.

And many lives too!

I have just received a query from a reader of this blog about Lithium, and I thought it worth me reiterating my views here.      It is no secret that I am a traditionalist who believes that lithium is the drug of choice for Bipolar disorders.

The following is an extract from The Cockroach Catcher:
“Get him to the hospital. Whatever it is he is not ours, not this time. But wait. Has he overdosed on the Lithium?”

“No. my wife is very careful and she puts it out every morning, and the rest is in her bag.”

Phew, at least I warned them of the danger. It gave me perpetual nightmare to put so many of my Bipolars on Lithium but from my experience it was otherwise the best.

“Get him admitted and I shall talk to the doctor there.”

He was in fact delirious by the time they got him into hospital and he was admitted to the local Neurological hospital. He was unconscious for at least ten days but no, his lithium level was within therapeutic range.

He had one of the worst encephalitis     they had seen in recent times and they were surprised he survived.

Then I asked the Neurologist who was new, as my good friend had retired by then, if the lithium had in fact protected him. He said he was glad I asked as he was just reading some article on the neuroprotectiveness of lithium.

Well, you never know. One does get lucky sometimes. What lithium might do to Masud in the years to come would be another matter.

I found that people from the Indian subcontinent were very loyal once they realised they had a good doctor – loyalty taking the form of doing exactly what you told them, like keeping medicine safe; and also insisting that they saw only you, not one of your juniors even if they were from their own country. It must have been hard when I retired.

Some parents question the wisdom of using a toxic drug for a condition where suicide risk is high. My answer can only be that lithium seems inherently able to reduce that desire to kill oneself, more than the other mood stabilizers, as the latest Harvard research shows.
Lithium has its problems – toxic at a high level and useless at a low one, although the last point is debatable as younger people seem to do well at below the lower limit of therapeutic range.
Many doctors no longer have the experience of its use and may lose heart as the patient slowly builds up the level of lithium at the cellular level. The blood level is a safeguard against toxicity and anyone starting on lithium will have to wait at least three to four weeks for its effect to kick in. In fact the effect does not kick in, but just fades in if you get the drift.
Long term problems are mainly those of the thyroid and thyroid functions must be monitored closely more so if there is a family history of thyroid problems. Kidney dysfunction seldom occurs with the Child Psychiatrist’s age group but is a well known long term risk.
Also if there is any condition that causes electrolyte upset, such as diarrhea, vomiting and severe dehydration, the doctor must be alerted to the fact that the patient is on Lithium.
Could Lithium be the Aspirin of Psychiatry? Only time will tell!
Related Posts:


Chile: Salar de Atacama & Bipolar Disorder.




The Book: The Cockroach Catcher

                                                                                                                          

The Cockroach Catcher on Amazon Kindle UKAmazon Kindle US

                              


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Boquete: Answer to Prayers!



According to old Chinese advice, it is wise never to discuss politics or religion even amongst best friends.  

Religious belief can often blur judgment in the wisest of people.

Thirty years ago, a patient of mine was unconscious for 23 days and it was mother's belief that it was through prayer that her daughter was saved. I did not argue with her then.

But perhaps God works through his people in his own way. Discoveries in Medicine should therefore enhance our faith rather than the other way round.

It took nearly 30 years for the real answer to her prayers to really emerge.

 ©2012 Am Ang Zhang
I was staying at our resort in Boquete and was having dinner with three friends all of them with medical connections. One was in hospital administration and one a nurse. The husband of the nurse was a pharmacist. Somehow the conversation drifted into medical topics and knowing that I am a Child Psychiatrist the pharmacist started talking about his nephew who was nearly sent to a mental institution as he suffers from catatonia and doctors eventually diagnosed schizophrenia and put him on antipsychotics. Luckily the catatonic symptom probably saved him as some bright young thing just read the book Brain On Fire and gave him the Clock Test. That led to the NMDAR antibody testing that proved positive. He responded well to the treatment regime that has been developed and is off all antipsychotic medication.

My Teratoma patient was lucky as she belong to that group that improved without further treatment once the Teratoma was removed. She eventually had a baby.


The Power of Prayers & Teratoma: Brain & NMDA!


Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis

NEW ORLEANS — A mysterious, difficult-to-diagnose, and potentially deadly disease that was only recently discovered can be controlled most effectively if treatment is started within the first month that symptoms occur, according to a new report by researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The researchers analyzed 565 cases of this recently discovered paraneoplastic condition, called Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis, and determined that if initial treatments fail, second-line therapy significantly improves outcomes compared with repeating treatments or no additional treatments (76 percent versus 55 percent). The research is being presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 64th Annual Meeting in New Orleans.

565 cases! Not so rare!

The condition occurs most frequently in women (81 percent of cases), and predominately in younger people (36 percent of cases occurring in people under 18 years of age, the average age is 19). Symptoms range from psychiatric symptoms, memory issues, speech disorders, seizures, involuntary movements, to decreased levels of consciousness and breathing. Within the first month, movement disorders were more frequent in children, while memory problems and decreased breathing predominated in adults.

My patient was under 18 and presented with catatonia symptoms. She later lose consciousness and was ventilated.

"Our study establishes the first treatment guidelines for NMDA-receptor encephalitis, based on data from a large group of patients, experience using different types of treatment, and extensive long-term follow-up," said lead author Maarten TitulaerMD, PhD, clinical research fellow in Neuro-oncology and Immunology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. "In addition, the study provides an important update on the spectrum of symptoms, frequency of tumor association, and the need of prolonged rehabilitation in which multidisciplinary teams including neurologists, pediatricians, psychiatrists, behavioral rehabilitation, and others, should be involved."

The disease was first characterized by Penn's Josep Dalmau, MD, PhD, adjunct professor of Neurology, and David R. Lynch, MD, PhD, associate professor of Neurology and Pediatrics, in Annals of Neurology in 2007. One year later, the same investigators in collaboration with Rita Balice-Gordon, PhD, professor of Neuroscience, characterized the main syndrome and provided preliminary evidence that the antibodies have a pathogenic effect on the NR1 subunit of the NMDA receptor in the Lancet Neurology in December 2008. The disease can be diagnosed using a test developed at the University of Pennsylvania and currently available worldwide. With appropriate treatment, almost 80 percent of patients improve well and, with a recovery process that may take many months and years, can fully recover.

Teratoma: finally!

In earlier reports, 59 percent of patients had tumors, most commonly ovarian teratoma, but in the latest update, 54 percent of women over 12 years had tumors, and only six percent of girls under 12 years old had ovarian teratomas. In addition, relapses were noted in 13 percent of patients, 78 percent of the relapses occurred in patients without teratomas.
As Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis, the most common and best characterized antibody-mediated encephalitis, becomes better understood, quicker diagnosis and early treatment can improve outcomes for this severe disease.
The study was presented in a plenary session on Wednesday, April 25, 2012 ET at 9:35 AM at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting.
[PL01.001] Clinical Features, Treatment, and Outcome of 500 Patients with Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis

Anti-NMDA-receptor encephalitis: case series and analysis of the effects of antibodies

Of 100 patients with anti-NMDA-receptor encephalitis, a disorder that associates with antibodies against the NR1 subunit of the receptor, many were initially seen by psychiatrists or admitted to psychiatric centres but subsequently developed seizures, decline of consciousness, and complex symptoms requiring multidisciplinary care. While poorly responsive or in a catatonic-like state, 93 patients developed hypoventilation, autonomic imbalance, or abnormal movements, all overlapping in 52 patients. 59% of patients had a tumour, most commonly ovarian teratoma. Despite the severity of the disorder, 75 patients recovered and 25 had severe deficits or died.

Related paper:

Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis: Diagnosis, Psychiatric Presentation, and Treatment


Chapter 29  The Power of Prayers

The following is extracted from The Cockroach Catcher: Chapter 29 The Power of Prayers.

According to old Chinese advice, it is wise never to discuss politics or religion even amongst best friends.  

         Religious belief can often blur judgement in the wisest of people. In psychiatry it is sometimes not easy. This is particularly true in cases of florid psychosis, which often presents with symptoms of hallucination, delusion and even vision.

         I remember my early days of psychiatry in a mental hospital in Hong Kong. Yes, it was the days of 2000-bed hospitals. Yes, it was the days of Medical Superintendents who had supreme power and all doctors of whatever rank and experience were Mental Health Officers with special authority to sign papers for compulsory admissions. The forensic unit was contained within the same complex.         Those were the days when we encountered psychosis in the raw so to speak. All the colony’s really mad people were admitted to this one place set in the furthest corner of the colony. In our year seven of us decided without much discussion that we all wanted to go into psychiatry. That was over 10% and all had quite idealistic reasons. It was perhaps a bit of a disappointment to our parents that we did not pursue a more conventional specialty that might provide us with more status and financial reward. Then there was the fear of contamination that somehow one might become mad too. Recent day medical students are said to shy away from psychiatry for these same reasons.         Education seems to have little effect on superstition.
                                     ......................................….read the full Chapter: HERE



Friday, December 15, 2017

Books for Xmas?


Design & Text ©Bee Zhang 2011            Photos ©Am Ang Zhang 2011

Inspired by our 2-yr old grandson's enthusiasm about aquatic creatures after a recent visit to the aquarium, we have just published a unique children's photo book called "Looking for Sting Ray", which has 20 beautiful 9x7 in. full bleed photos of: corals, turtles, anhinga, blue tang, file fish, butterfly fish, pompano, cleaner shrimp, pompano, barracuda, flounder, star fish, and sting ray. It is a cool introduction to nature for a pre-school kid and our grandson loves it! Guess who took all the photos? 



Design & Text ©Bee Zhang 2011                  Photos ©Am Ang Zhang 2011


Antelopes and Friends

Hardcover, 21 Pages 
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Antelopes and Friends


A coffee table quality photobook for a special child, introducing wild life in Africa. Photos of the animals (impala, nyala, kudu, wildebeest, warthog, gruffalo, zebra, rhinoceros, waterbuck, hippopotamus, giraffe, buffalo, elephant, saddlebilled stock) were taken by the author himself during safari trips in Africa.



Nature Posts: