Category Archives: vicarious trauma

Musta Bin Slipped a Mickey, So

As readers of the Oxford English Dictionary [or Google, even] will know, a “Mickey Finn” was a knock-you-for-a-loop potion, made by the addition of chloral hydrate to your already alcohol-based drink at the South Chicago saloon of one Michael [Mickey to his friends] Finn, more than a century ago. The better to bundle you off to the back room and relieve you of your valuables. When you came to in the ally, still dazed & confused, you were likely to be wondering, “Whatever was in that last drink I had?” To which your long-suffering Loved Ones, once they had scooped you up from the Drunk Tank at your local Cop Shop, would reply, “Only a guess, here; but I’m thinking it would have been alcohol.”

 

At which, your inner wolf would begin to howl: “Oh, the humiliation (of their false accusations)!” Not to mention, the pain & suffering of the drug’s after-effects, the intrusion of being man-handled by both barroom thieves & contemptuous cops. Worse still, if you really hadn’t drunk enough alcohol to account for the nausea & dizziness, and the amnesia for the night’s events, the fear that you were losing your marbles (not just your money) would have you raging.

Luckily for Chicagoans & [more commonly] out-of-town visitors, said Mickey Finn was arrested, convicted & jailed in 1903, leaving behind an eponymous, external locus of control, oft-invoked exculpatory explanation for apparent shenanigans. I like it much better than “The Devil made me do it,” as long-time readers of this blog will know. These days, the Mickey tends to range from (nefariously slipped) Rohypnol, to (self-administered) prescription sleep aids, such as Ambien. As in Old Chicago, though, skeptical First Responders’ first response is often, “So, how much did you have to drink?” [Then, as they are taught to do in First Responders’ class, they double the amount stipulated.]

But what if, like me, you are stone, cold sober; but you still feel like someone slipped you the Proverbial? Back in early June I placed my order for a replacement car for “Foxtrot,” my beloved [but increasingly unreliable, expensive-to-repair] Jeep turbo-diesel. With Lili in mind, I wanted something with ample head [ear] room, lower to the ground [for when she can’t leap anymore], but with enough traction to handle our Alpine road in foul weather. I chose a MINI Countryman All4, in Oxford Green with a black roof, which was going to take 8 weeks to build & ship down the Danube & across the Atlantic. I named it “Mickey,” because it was bigger than MINI & green [like the Emerald Isle, so].

I loved it on sight; and configured the back seat area as Pope-mobile for Lili [who still prefers to scramble into the trunk of our old Grand Cherokee & splay her ears like Yoda, since there is less headroom for her back there]. However, every time I drove it, even for a 15-minute run to the Safeway, I emerged like a drunken sailor, hardly more steady on my pins than poor Lili is these days! Highly motivated to understand, and manage, this situation-specific, inner-ear-on-the-Fritz problem, I began with my default setting: “Must be psychological.” Was this me vicariously “suffering” the early-stage symptoms of degenerative myelopathy [which my mother had & Lili has]? If so, why did the symptoms clear up so fast, after the ride? Was this the return of the bane on my youth, severe car-sickness? Then why did it only happen in the MINI [not in our wallow-y old Grand Cherokee, or in Chris’ sporty little Benz sedan]?  Aha! Maybe it was that obnoxious “new car smell,” I speculated; and thoroughly swabbed down the whole interior with boiling water. No joy. Then, 3 days in to my ambivalent ownership, I awoke with a vivid memory of Sean [our salesman] opening the “bonnet” to show me the battery and fluid reservoirs, and muttering under his breath, “It’s so slimy! I don’t know why they spray it with that protectant. It’s under the hood, after all.” So at 5 am that morning, there I was, swabbing the engine block with boiling water, until the sheen [and neuro-toxic goo] had disappeared.  As did my symptoms.

Hurrah! Not “all in my head.” Not “losing my marbles.” I had just been Slipped a Mickey by the MINI dealership. I wonder what’s in that spray.

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Filed under attribution theory, locus of control, vicarious trauma

Walk It Off

Well, now that the Olympics are upon us, this double-edged sword [have you been watching the Fencing? such histrionics! like an Italian opera!] of home-spun advice can be heard all over the shop. Remember back in the day, when a coach’s overheard gruff admonition to an injured-bird-like gymnast provided fodder for a series of SNL sketches, in which the putative “walk-off-able” injury morphed into the Knight-in-Denial scene from Monty Python & the Holy Grail?

On Day One, a BBC Soccer commentator Let The Phrase Begin, remarking of a [possibly histrionic] player, “Oh! He’s down! It looks like a nasty ankle injury! Well, no, actually, he’s walking it off, and he’s back in the match.” No Yellow Card was issued. Perhaps it was a case of Unconvincing Diving [a common occurrence in high-stakes matches]; or maybe it was a case of that well-known [at least Up North in England] medical condition, “Summat and Nowt.” [Translated in a previous Post, “Be Good…” as “Something and Nothing.”] Often, cases of Summat & Nowt respond well to “Walking It Off.”

 

The other day, my sister, a highly-placed Medical Librarian, forwarded me an article recommended by one of the vets attached to her Med School, entitled, “Managing Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs: Ways of Slowing the Progress of This Debilitating Spinal Disease,” posted on September 4, 2008, by Dawn M. Smith.

Even though the alert reader will guess what’s coming, I’ll quote it, anyway. “Dogs with canine degenerative myelopathy benefit from controlled walking…in several ways. Allowing the dog to run around the property or in a dog park does not provide the same benefit, as the exercise is not consistent. A regular walk of a specific distance at a steady rate not only improves muscle tone, it improves brain function.”

I truly believe that Lili’s daily walk through the Smithsonian woods provides her both Physical & Occupational Therapy, during which she “gets smarter” about how to ambulate, despite her numb hind paws. So far, her leap into the Jeep-of-the-Day after a walk is noticeably stronger & more graceful than her initial load-up at our house.

As always, I am grateful to my sister for finding & sending me relevant research articles. In this case, my fear, that I might be inflicting pain & suffering on Lili by asking her, in effect, to “walk [her CDM] off,” was greatly diminished. Further, the humiliating dread, that a casual observer would think of me as that gruff [almost sadistic] gymnastics coach, denying or minimizing a real medical condition, as if it were only Summat & Nowt, has also been neutralized.

After all, we’re not Going for the Gold, here. The only goal is preserving Lili’s quality of life.

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Filed under attribution theory, power subtext, vicarious trauma, what's it all about?

"Howl": But Is It Art?


Didn’t see the movie, having met the man in the flesh, in the 1960s at Duke, wolfing down Oreo cookies at a classmate’s off-campus kitchen table. (Allen Ginsberg, not me, eating the Oreos.) Made a nice change from all the narcotics and hallucinogens, I suppose.

I always thought it was a pity Ginsberg was expelled from Columbia [for writing an ironic rude message in the grime of his unwashed dorm window, addressed to his “slatternly” maid, yet], before he read James Joyce. Well, I assume he hadn’t read Joyce, or else he wouldn’t have taken credit for “inventing” stream-of-consciousness prosody. Nar’mean?

Consider the social contract, concerning listening to the non-linear musings of another. If you forked over whatever the admission price was, to see Howl in an art film house, it’d get right up your nose if the projector broke down in the middle of reel 2, and the rest was silence. But if, on the subway ride to the art cinema, a raving loony inflicted his own brand of stream-of-consciousness “performance art” on you and your fellow straphangers, you’d be likely to regard it as a bloody intrusion, and to wish he would shut up, already.

How come? Possibly, because [unless you mistakenly thought the James Franco vehicle was yet another werewolf flick] you were expecting to hear poetry, and therefore perceived it as such. [Poetic speech: the “just kidding; don’t take this literally” speech function.] Whereas, the unknown [if not uncommon] loony on the subway might be spouting Referential [fact-giving] speech (“The aliens are coming!”), or even Conative [orders-giving] speech (“Get on your tinfoil hat!”), either of which could trigger the “Fear!” message in our amygdala, since this guy might not be “just kidding”; and he just might get up in our grille for emphasis.

Same sounds; different attribution, as to what they betoken. Sometime over the holidays, I just bet you were in a public place where you heard the howl of a young child. How did your amygdala process that? Merely intrusion? [Not my kid, not my job, man.] Vicarious pain & suffering? [Ah, the poor wee mite! Or, perhaps, those poor parents!] If you sense that the howl is strategic [a Poetic simulation of distress to manipulate the public], and you initially “fell for it,” you might even feel humiliated at having been schmized.

We pay for, and expect, to be “deceived” by the artistry of professional performers. Not by the artifice of amateurs, whether they be cunning children, subway soliloquists, or even that “difficult” family member, who always seems to tune up for a long, loud howl, just as the entree is taken out of the oven. Nar’mean?

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Filed under attribution theory, limbic system, non-linear thinking, vicarious trauma

Janus, the Gatekeeper


As the month named for the Greek god of “Shut it!” draws to a close, here’s a meditation on knowing when to say “Enough, already!” An article in the LA Times this week reports the results of an Australian study [through whose methodology one could drive a “ute,” but, oh, well] published in Circulation [as in cardiovascular, not newspaper] asserting, on the basis of subjects’ self-report of their hours spent watching telly in one week [What if it had been this week, and the Australian Open Tennis Tournament was on? S’truth!], that those who watched more than 4 hours per day were “18% more likely to die” than those who watched under 2 hours a day. So, what, if you have no access to telly, you’re going to live forever? Outta sight!

Their point was meant to be that prolonged sitting leads to poor circulatory health. “Switch the bloody thing off and go walkabout!” Sound advice, even if not convincingly proven by their data. I have another theory, having to do with the content of the programmes [it was Oz, after all] watched. In the photo accompanying the news release in the LA Times, a guy was doing a vigorous workout at the gym, while viewing a widescreen telly tuned to a 24-hour news channel. Was this a wry editorial decision, on the part of the newspaper of record for the TV & movie capital of the world, to undercut the message that telly viewing precludes exercise? Pretty cute, if so. Also, it’s grist for the mill for my alternative theory of what’s hazardous to one’s health: 24-hour news channels. All that vicariously traumatizing news, infinitely looped, ineptly analyzed, spun, repeated [you should excuse the expression] ad nauseam: it’s a major producer of cortisol [which the researchers did measure in their 4-hour-plus subjects, and lo, it was sky high].

I’ll wager that 4 hours spent watching comedies, well-made dramas, or sporting events [including horse racing, which produces adrenaline, not cortisol] would be much less toxic than 4 hours of looped news. Wonder if the researchers asked their subjects to list shows by name, or even by genre. Some great data-mining to be had, in them thar hills…

Whenever my clients complain of insomnia, I advise them to reduce their intake, not of caffeine, but of TV news. It is designed to hook you, to instill Fear Of Missing Out in you, to compel you to keep watching. I suggest substituting a cooler medium [in the Marshall McLuhen sense], such as newspapers [or online news sites]. They are less “in your face.” They give you the option to skim, or even [gasp!] skip, cortisol-agenic news items. To be the gatekeeper of your vicarious trauma. To say, “Enough, already!” and get back to your own, possibly less distressing and certainly more relevant, life challenges. I’m not saying you should care less about the calamities of your fellow earthlings. I’m saying you should watch less.

It’s not too late for a New Year’s resolution…

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Filed under confounds, murky research, stress and cortisol, vicarious trauma

Meaner Than a Junkyard Dog


Not Lili (she said, Metalingually). Idiots (mostly guys, but not always) who buy what is currently called a “Status Weapon” (a Pitbull or similar breed of dog), and then realize that it is high maintenance, needs lots of training & exercise, needs a pack leader to follow or it will freelance…and so–emotionally or physically–they abandon the dog. In a 12-hour interval, I heard 2 news stories about this, and had one personal experience of the phenomenon. On the way to work, I heard an NPR report [so it must be true] on the citizens of Fresno, CA–fruit & veg growing capital of the country–who are the most prone of any city in the USA to obesity & Type II Diabetes. How come? The report boiled it down to two reasons. The fruit & veg are all shipped out of Fresno, because of a city ordinance against Farmers’ Markets (hence a less healthy diet); AND no one dares to walk outside in Fresno anymore, because it’s overrun with packs of (gang-acquired, then abandoned) Pitbulls.

Then–like a made-for-television movie–as I pulled into the parking lot at work, a loose Pitbull came over to greet me as I got out of my car. He had a collar on, but no apparent owner supervising him. I reflexively gave him some Japanese commands, got the Robert de Niro quizzical head-tilt, and switched to hand signals and English. I could get him to “heel” for a few steps, but then he would leave me and head back towards the road. What was I planning to do with him, even if he had followed me all the way to the building? Put Lili’s leash on him and bring him inside? Tether him outside the building and hope his owner would retrieve him? Tell you what I was not planning to do–call Animal Control. I had done this about a month ago, for a loose dog holding up traffic in both directions on the hilly, twisting road near my home; and I was so humiliated by the cynical tone of the questions they asked me [“And why, exactly, are you reporting this?”] that I made a Note to Self : “Let canine ‘Kitty Genoveses’ fend for themselves in this county.” Hours later when I left work, the parking lot Pitbull had escalated to holding up traffic on a main thoroughfare, during rush hour. I rationalized that shortly one of the many cop cars that patrol that road would encounter him, and handle the situation. On my drive home, BBC news did a long piece on the growing problem of dogs acquired as “Status Weapons” in the UK, with an audio vignette of policemen approaching such a dog, armed with fire extinguishers, and a dog handler wearing the afore-mentioned “bite-me” padded suit.

This is the first post where I consider the power of vicarious pain & suffering to provoke anger. If I really wanted to connect all the dots, I could probably make it be all about Lili & me: humiliation that strangers will perceive her as my ill-advised “Status Weapon”; fear that just her breed will provoke others to treat her and me like criminals. But–apart from that one lady & her dog in the school yard some months ago–Lili and I have received nothing but positive feedback on our sorties. She was even addressed as “Sweetie-pie,” by the guy who maintains the cross-country trail and coaches the high school team, this week.

So, there you have it: a possible distinction between a human’s amygdalar arousal, and a dog’s. As Bill Clinton might put it, we “feel their pain,” and it makes us angry, and we wonder what to do for the best; whereas when a dog senses a human’s pain, it has only to decide, “Hmm. Should I go over and lick him, or bite him, or should I just keep walking?”

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Filed under leading a pack, semiotics, vicarious trauma