Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Chest Heaviness

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 8, 2011

   Harry, sixty-nine, a long-term patient, opens the session “I am not going to lie to you. I am having a hard time. I feel a heaviness in my chest all the time. Ever since my granddaughter was born five years ago, I have not felt right. She is not developing normally. The doctors say she has Autism, but I think it had something to do with the trauma that my daughter-in-law Regina did during her pregnancy. I think she drank too much and that is why little Evie is not normal. I know she is not normal and it just breaks my heart. She is about to start kindergarten and I am about to be seventy, so I think it is hitting me really hard that she is not going to be OK.” I look at Harry with sad eyes, a sense of compassion along with deep admiration for his love for Evie. I feel so touched that he cares so much, but I also feel bad for him that he is suffering. “It sounds like you feel very alone with your feelings,” I say, knowing that Evie’s parents, and Harry’s ex-wife are all saying that Evie is fine and that she will “grow out of it”. Harry starts to cry. “Yes, I do feel alone. I am so mad at my wife I can hardly stand it. Lonna (Harry’s wife) won’t engage with Evie. She just ignores her. I can’t believe it. I finally told Lonna that she had to step up and be a better grandma and that made things a little better.” “I am glad you spoke up. That took courage.” I say, thinking how hard that must have been for Harry to confront Lonna. “You have known something is wrong with Evie for a long time. I know that because you have been telling me that. I know that is a terrible thing to be right about, but you saw this coming.” I say, reminding him how many times we have discussed his concerns for Evie, but now his concerns are giving him somatic symptoms. “Things have come to a fever pitch,” I say, illustrating the build-up of his concerns. “Yea, I am glad you understand that. ” Harry says, with clear relief as the session progresses. “I hope you seek medical attention to be sure those chest pains are not coming from your heart. If it turns out to be anxiety, then I think we can work on that.” I say, not wanting to immediately attribute his symptoms to his worries, but recognizing that worrying about Evie is certainly a “heavy-hearted” experience.

2 Responses to “Chest Heaviness”

  1. Shelly said

    Can drinking during pregnancy cause autism? What other environmental or epigenetic factors cause it (especially if the pregnant mother didn’t drink)? Is autism genetic?

    • Alcohol exposure in utero can be toxic to the developing nervous system and as such, neuroatypical kids can result. No one knows for sure what environmental or epigenetic factors cause neuroatypical kids, but it stands to reason that environmental toxins impair the tender nervous system, causing a “circuit problem” which results in kids who are “out of the box”. Yes, some cases of autism appear to be genetic, but most cases seem to be sporadic (no family history), suggesting an environmental toxin.

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