Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

Let’s Get Pharmacists in the Spotlight

I’ve been working in healthcare for over twenty years.  As both a patient and a provider I know the importance of a good medical team, but aren’t there providers we overlook?  The current health crisis with my mother-in-law is really making me take a stand on how to raise the profile and importance of pharmacists.

 We tend to think of pharmacists as those who simply count pills, and possibly make recommendations about over-the-counter medications.  The truth is that pharmacists go through years of school and internship before they’re let loose on the world…so why don’t we pay more attention to them?

 The other part of the equation is that many doctors believe they are not only doctors, but pharmacologists and that’s mistake number one.  The doctors are thinking that the pain medication my mother-in-law has been taking is what’s causing her liver problems.  She’s in the hospital and so far no diagnosis, but the signs point in the direction of the opiate.

 When I found out the medication she’s taking I did a Google search and began reading the information from the manufacturer.  Depending on the type she’s taking, the extended release or the regular take every so hours, would depend on the instructions.  I don’t know that my mother-in-law is great at following directions or if she would have taken the precautions seriously.

 The literature on the drug states that the drug shouldn’t be given to people with breathing/lung problems.  Hello…my mother-in-law has COPD, doesn’t the doctor think that’s a breathing/lung problem?  If the doctor was running out of options shouldn’t they turn to the pharmacist for a consult?  The pharmacist should be the doctor’s go-to person.  As heathcare consumers I believe we need to start asking the doctor’s if they have consulted with a pharmacist; and if they say no, we should request one before we ever put the pill in our mouth or rub the salve on our skin.

 Doctors have enough to worry about keeping up on how the body works and the latest and greatest treatments.  Let’s allow the pharmacology experts to take a prominent place on our healthcare team because it could save your life!!!!

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

Climbing the Treehouse

Did you have a treehouse growing up?  I didn’t because the trees we planted when we first moved in were nothing but elongated pencils.  Also I was never very handy so I probably wouldn’t have been able to build one that would have supported my weight.  It would have been an emergency room visit waiting to happen.

I always loved the movies or tv shows that had kids climbing those rickety steps to get to the top of their treehouse.  It always seemed like a place of safety and tranquility.  That’s why a line from the book I’m reading, “Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese, caught me by surprise.  Two of the main characters in the book are twins.  One says about the other (paraphrasing), “I was always in awe when Shiva (his brother) could climb into the treehouse in his head.” 

That’s quite a visual, don’t you think?  Do you have a treehouse in your head?  You know, the place you can retreat to when things get hectic or crazy.  That place in your heart or soul, in addition to your mind that gives you solace when it’s needed.  It provides a haven so you can recollect your composure and re-enter the world with fresh eyes.

There’s a childish charm that goes along with treehouses.  They are usually primitive in design and yet intricate in their purpose.  They are up and away from others so there is privacy and yet if people actually looked up you might be in full view.  They are places, that for many hold fond memories, and remind us of the days when we thought having to do homework was our biggest worry in the world.

 A lot changes over time as you know, especially after the diagnosis of a chronic or other life-altering illness.  Creating or re-creating that treehouse in your head may be just the respite you need as you travel on your journey to health and healing.  They certainly are places of fantasy and no matter your current fantasy, having a place of refuge is magical!

Posted in Caregiving

On a Serious Note…Caregiving and Depression

Welcome to Caregiver Friday!!

How many of you were wondering if I was ever going to venture into the land of the “dark night of the soul” as coined by St. John of the Cross.  You know those points in your life when you’re so down, feeling little hope, and don’t know where to turn?  Well I hope you’re not at that point, but I know that many caregivers are dealing with depression and that we have to address.

On a personal note my family is seeing the damage unchecked depression can have on a caregiver.  My mother-in-law took care of my father-in-law following his stroke for 20 years.  We, the family, tried to help her in many ways, but to no avail.  She worked for a while and that kept her somewhat occupied but she still showed the signs of depression.  Once she retired we tried hiring her a respite worker so she could go out a couple of times a week and do something enjoyable…she never left the house.

I understand that older adults are still skeptical of mental health practice, but the ramifications of treatment are too huge to ignore.  Twenty years of depression has resulted in enormous physical pain, lack of medical care and that in turn has led to huge medical problems in the present.  She’s currently in the hospital quite ill because she didn’t say anything when her symptoms started…she was too depressed.  It wasn’t until she was in so much pain that she asked her daughter to take her to the emergency room.

As I talk to my partner, her son, we noted that we never really treated her depression.  She has been prescribed antidepressants by her doctor, but she only takes them if she really feels bad.  antidepressants don’t work like aspirin.  It takes two weeks to reach a therapeutic level in your blood stream.  Taking them every so often is just a waster of a pill.

I wish we’d performed an intervention much earlier on so that we could have addressed her depression, directly related to caregiving much earlier.  She’s a bit stubborn and resistant, but if we would have pushed harder maybe she wouldn’t be in the medical predicament she finds herself.  Maybe it’s easier for some people to get help for a medical condition than a mental health condition.  Perhaps sucking it up all those years as a caregiver just created too much toxicity in her system.

Why am I telling you my story?  Because caregiving is stressful.  It can have devastating physical impact on your body if left untreated.  What should you be doing?  Eating right and exercising.  You should join a caregiver support group or see a therapist or speak with a coach, someone like me who can guide you through the process of making sense of all the madness.  Stay engaged with family and friends because social relationships and fun (yes I said fun) is good for the immune system.

If you have any further questions I hope you’ll send them to me so I can answer them for you and the collective you.  Thanks for letting me share my story.

Posted in coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

small things…BIG IRRITATION

I don’t know why the world works the way it does; I guess if I did I’d be a guru or a prophet, but I’m just me.  I wonder about important things, but I also wonder about silly things that don’t have any more of a solution than the big things.  So here’s today’s pondering, “Why do little things have the capacity to create so much irritation?”

I was leaving my apartment this morning and I felt like I had something in my eye.  Like everyone else in the world I began to rub it and then realized I just needed to keep my eye closed hoping it would wash itself out.  The moisture certainly helped, but I feel like I still have something in there; it’s like an after effect. 

The same seems to be true about other things in life.  The only creature that seems to have found the solution to this problem is the oyster.  The oyster takes that grain of sand, an irritant, and makes it into a beautiful pearl.  If we’ve evolved so far, how come we can seem to do that?

Ever walk around with a pebble in your shoe?  Did you create a pearl?  I’m guessing the answer to that is a big fat NO!  So what are the small things that get your goat since you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness?

For many the small things may be the doctor running behind on appointments or a long line at the pharmacy.  I’ve had instances where the doctor asked me to go for a blood test but there was no order for the test at the lab (thankfully the tech was great and she expedited the request). 

Let’s face it, if we let the small things that cause BIG IRRITATION fly past us, we’ll have more energy and focus to take care of the bigger issues.  Any time you can make the choice to let “tolerations” slip away you’re doing your physical, mental, and spiritual beings a big favor.  Don’t get caught in the quick sand over something small.

Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

Does Bliss Lead to Health?

Welcome to Art and Healing Wednesday!!

I know that happiness is good for the immune system.  It is a catalyst for those  helper cells to fight off what you don’t want in your body.  It gives your body the fortification it needs to take on the health challenge you’re facing.  But what about bliss?  Is bliss different from happiness?  Does bliss take your level of happiness to a higher level?

I started reading Joseph Campbell’s, Pathways to Bliss.  It was at the end of the first chapter that he recounts the story of King Arthur and his court as they discuss going to seek the holy grail.  The text according to Campbell reads, “They (knights of the roundtable) thought it would be a disgrace to go forth in a group.  Each entered the Forest Adventurous at that point which he himself had chosen, where it was darkest and there was not way or path.”  Campbell goes on the say, “You enter the forests at the darkest point, where there is no path.  Where there’s a way or path, it is someone else’s path; each human being is a unique phenomenon.  The idea is to find your own pathway to bliss.”

I’m sure you can totally understand about entering the Forest Adventurous where it’s dark and no path.  Being diagnosed with a chronic or life-altering illness is that Forest that’s dark, unknowing, mysterious, and intimidating.  So how will you blaze your own trail?  I believe we can do that with our creativity.  We each have unique gifts so if we use these gifts aren’t we blazing a trail?  How do you want to express yourself that is unique to you? 

I just finished watching the summer series, So You Think You Can Dance.  When the dancers are in danger they are asked to “dance for their life”.  It’s at that moment that they perform a 30 second solo in their own genre showing their own uniqueness.  They get an opportunity to express themselves fully and without abandon.  They can interpret the music and their story because the choreography is their own; they’re not performing someone else’s choreography.  What better way to see their ability and hunger than by expressing their uniqueness.

If we gave you time to express yourself fully how would you do it?  Personally, I’m a textile artist so I’d create a piece of art using fabric and embellishments.  It allows me to utilize color and texture to share my story.  That’s why I enjoy working on a series because the story can continue.  The story gets more intricate as I finish each piece.  The viewer is given the opportunity to share my world view on overcoming health challenges and how to create a personal sanctuary by viewing a piece of art.

I hope you follow your bliss because it’s one more tool in your health and healing toolbox that will help you achieve wellness.  Let me know what you’re doing to express yourself.  If you want to send me an e-mail at greg@survivingstrong.com and show me how you’re expressing yourself.  I’d love to share the experience with you!

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

Questions About Connections

How do you feel when you spend time with friends and family (okay for some maybe just friends)?  Do you feel good?  Relaxed?  Happy?  Studies show that the lack of social connections can be as bad for you health as smoking, lack of exercise, or poor nutrition.  Don’t you think that’s an incredible study outcome?  You can feel better if you have enjoyable social connections.

As I ride the bus, for most it’s a solitary time.  I have a stop where I transfer from one bus to the next and I’ve seen this one woman every day; and she’s always reading.  I made the comment, “It’s so nice to see people reading”.  She proceeded to tell me about her reading habits and those of her children.  I saw her this morning and I started a new book and she asked me what I was reading.

Where am I going with this?  Well first of all acknowledging the personhood of another is quite validating.  When you have a common interest with another it makes the connection stronger and faster.  It’s just nice to be able to talk to someone about something your interested in and want to share. 

How does this apply to you after being diagnosed with a chronic or life-altering illness?  Support groups are a great place to have your experience validated.  When I worked in nonprofit organizations with those facing a health challenge; the greatest effort after basic services was about creating community.

When you have a community, or a tribe, you feel like you belong.  It doesn’t matter that you don’t want to be part of the illness tribe; it’s not a choice you have so how are you going to reframe it for yourself.  Meeting people with similar challenges doesn’t mean that your relationship has to revolve around the illness.  It does mean that these people will be a bit more understanding if you have to cancel last-minute due to health.  They will know and inquire about how you’re doing when you going for treatment.

Having a network doesn’t mean you have to live in the world of illness.  It does mean that picking people who have an understanding for your current life situation is affirming.  It means that you don’t have to be along on social, emotional, or spiritual fronts.  Try it out and see what happens!

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

Crossing Guards

Well today is a big day in San Antonio, just like it is in many cities across the country; school started!  It was cute watching all the little kids waiting for the bus, riding their bicycles to school, and being walked to the school door by their parents.  I dropped my movie off at Red Box, got coffee, and as I was crossing the street I was greeted by the crossing guard.

Crossing guards for those who haven’t seen one in years are those who make sure the kids get across busy intersections safely.  This morning the woman must have been 70 years old, dressed in her neon green harness carrying a hand-held stop sign…it takes me back.

It got me thinking about how we protect our kids, but what about adults?  Don’t we need crossing guards in life?  What if after your diagnosis you had a crossing guard who helped you with this huge transition?  What if you had a crossing guard who helped you bridge the gap in the new language you’ve got to learn to speak?  What if you had an emotional or spiritual crossing guard who gave you the freedom, flexibility, and safety to take those leaps of faith necessary on your journey to wellness.

There are circumstances since you’re diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness that you may consider to be unsafe or dangerous intersections.  These are the moments when you may be unsure of a treatment regimen or you have questions about side-effects from medications.  It’s important to find the crossing guards in your life.  Speak to the nurse in the doctor’s office if you’re unsure about medical speak.  Ask your pharmacist for advice about drug interactions and side-effects; that’s their business.

If you shift your frame of reference from these people in your life as mere medical professionals, and think of them as crossing guards it might help to normalize the experience.  Keeping things as normal as possible during this time of transition is key to your health and healing success.