The Hot Itch

Say Hi to the PopeLast week I met my new primary care provider.  I’ve been searching for a doc for a couple of years since the Best Doctor in the Whole World retired.  I try not to hold everyone to his standard.  I got spoiled.

So, everyone who’s anyone has recommended this OB/GYN nurse practitioner.  Great, I thought.  I was a nurse.  We can relate.

And, indeed, she was vivacious, and friendly, and practical (gotta love that).  Then, we took a sharp turn into The Twilight Zone.

I would characterize this NP as an evangelical Christian, which would normally be a non-issue for me.  As a self-proclaimed mystical atheist, I’m always interested in what other people believe.  I told her that.  She laughed and said she wouldn’t try to convert me.  I laughed and said it wasn’t possible.

So, with that bit of self-disclosure out of the way, she asked if I ever had thoughts of harming myself.  I gave my standard Psych History answer—”I tried to kill myself once.  I still have suicidal thoughts, but I recognize them as symptoms and a signal to get help.”

She said, “We all have bad thoughts, and most people go through some period of depression.”

(Okay, I thought.  She’s not a psychiatric nurse practitioner.  She may not know the difference between clinical and situational depression.  Just go with it.)

“Where do those bad thoughts come from?” she asked (rhetorically).  “If you believe in God, then you have to believe in the Devil…”

I must have gotten a LOOK on my face, because she stuttered to a stop and started talking about vaginal health.  Was I imagining things, or was this educated, medical professional about to tell me mental illness was caused by the Devil?  I was so shocked, I don’t remember what else she said, just that we wrapped it up pretty quick, and I was shuffling to my car in a daze.

The daze turned to anger before I left the parking lot.  Are we in the Middle Ages, I fumed.  What was next?  Burning at the stake?  Dousing?

Rage fueled a deep hopelessness.  I missed my old doctor.  Did I have to choose between the cold, condescending woman who took over his practice or this kind-hearted religioso?  Did I have to start the search all over again?

I met with my meditation group later in the day and felt righteous satisfaction in their outrage as I told the story.  It’s a hot itch, indignation.  It gets under the skin and festers.

AbsinthineSo, as we sat together in silence, I took a step back from what I was feeling.  I called up the part of me that observes my thrashing around with gentle curiosity.  What happened?

I saw that I’m not as tolerant as I like to believe.  I don’t like people pushing their religion at me.  I don’t like the blank stares when I say I’m an atheist.  As the pastor at the First Unitarian Church in Des Moines said on Sunday, I’m more than willing to share my faith with people who are genuinely interested, curious and open-minded.  But, that happens rarely.  It’s just easier to keep my mouth shut.

What does it matter anyway?  I tried to look a little deeper.

My ego hates to be misunderstood.  It hates to be dismissed or categorized.  And it really hates to be discredited.  I’m proud of how hard I’ve worked to regain some functioning in the world.  Proud.


I looked at my choices again.  Cold, Condescending Beeyatch or Evangelist?  I tried CCB the last time I got bronchitis, so I knew what to expect.  I had a feeling the Evangelist would be kind and thorough.  I suspected she would take very good care of my body.  And that’s what I needed her to do.  I might have to set some boundaries.  If I could nudge my ego aside, there might even be A Teaching Moment.

Coming home from meditation with my friends, I turned up the music and sang down the highway.  The ego is a stubborn little cuss.  Mine can be paranoid and hysterical if the mood is right.  Anything can offend it, and it defends itself with teeth and claws.  But, like a mediocre poker player, it has a tell—that hot itch of indignation.  When I feel that under my skin, I know it’s time to back up and look again.

I’m glad for that signal, and I’m glad I know what to do with it.

Thanks, Ego-Girl.  Keep raging.



20 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dee Silbaugh
    Aug 17, 2015 @ 23:12:02

    You handled it well. I probably would not have.


  2. David Kanigan
    Aug 18, 2015 @ 03:27:07

    Mine can be paranoid and hysterical if the mood is right. Sister, you are speaking to me. Terrific post.


  3. Leslie
    Aug 18, 2015 @ 06:42:17

    Sandy, I do not think that you were wrong to get “The Look”. This woman may be more than competent to take care of your body, but if seeing her means that you will need to suppress a part of yourself every time you see her, then she is not really taking care of the whole you. I believe in God and the Devil and all that, but I don’t want my doctor bringing it all into a discussion about my physical and mental well-being.

    I, too was spoiled by the doctor I had before we moved from Pennsylvania. He was kind, he listened thoughtfully and he cared. Not to mention he was just a damned good doctor. The doctor I have now has the bedside manner of a spoon, and I keep telling myself I want a new doctor. But, she is very good at treating my physical ailments and I have a pdoc and therapist for the rest of it.

    I just think that if you have to suppress a part of yourself in order to get medical treatment then you aren’t really getting good treatment.

    BTW I was thinking of you last night. Hadn’t “seen” you in a bit.


    • Sandy Sue
      Aug 18, 2015 @ 07:28:15

      I hear you, Leslie. For me, it will be a matter of being discerning and clear in my communications to her. Historically, I’ve not created good boundaries with caregivers. I like to think this gal will give me lots of practice with that!


  4. radiatingblossom
    Aug 18, 2015 @ 08:43:29

    Love your writing, Sandy Sue…always so real. 🙂


  5. Catherine Cheng, MD
    Aug 18, 2015 @ 08:49:40

    “I took a step back from what I was feeling. I called up the part of me that observes my thrashing around with gentle curiosity. What happened?”
    Holy cow, if only we could all do this more often!!?
    Sandy, what an insightful and beautiful post, do you mind if I reblog it?
    I think most of my colleagues would say that the NP’s religious comments were inappropriate. It’s okay to talk about religion in a medical encounter–many patients actually welcome it, as spirituality plays an important role in health. But it should always come from the provider in the form of sincere curiosity and wanting to know more how the patient feels and uses it, rather than trying to impress the provider’s beliefs on the patient (even if that is not the intent, the patient’s perception is what matters).
    I think you may have just given me the idea for my next post… Thank you again! 🙂


  6. pegoleg
    Aug 18, 2015 @ 15:19:11

    I love what you did with this experience, Sandy. People are endlessly annoying and bothersome, but if we can train ourselves to tune out the extraneous, and be courteously firm about boundaries, we can coexist. Sometimes, we can even get something out of our annoying brethren.

    My sister-in-law is a kind, generous person and I love her dearly. She suffers from anxiety and some mental illness (some? a? a kind of?) and one way it manifests is that she is constantly looking for slights. Seek and ye shall find. I can’t tell you how many times she has said someone was mean to her. In my experience, people are often careless of the feelings of others, but few can be bothered with active meanness.

    One example; she has gone through something like 20 hairdressers in as many years. If they ask how her kids are, they’re busybody snoops who want to know her business. If they don’t ask, they’re cold and unfeeling and obviously don’t like her.


    • Sandy Sue
      Aug 18, 2015 @ 17:26:11

      Oh, what a painful way to live. Has she ever tried therapy? Folks have to *want* to get help and make changes, but so often we’re stuck defending our position to the death. My heart goes out to your sister-in-law.


  7. Trackback: that hot itch of indignation – Live & Learn
  8. Val Boyko
    Aug 19, 2015 @ 06:53:40

    I love how you took us through your insights into ego and emotions. I felt the ego rage and indignation!
    Hope you found your inner balance again 💛


  9. Littlesundog
    Aug 22, 2015 @ 09:33:22

    Once again, you hit the nail on the head with this post. In fact, even the comments “hit me in the head” about how my ego tends to go off and I need to step back and really (calmly) look at a situation. It seems lately I have been confronted with similar situations regarding family… it can be confusing with blood ties. Most of the time these days I just do not have the tolerance to hold back and not either blow or walk away. Your experience really struck a chord with me. 🙂


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