Posted in coping with chronic illness

Newbies Could Save Your Life

Is it really possible for an intern to save your life?  I have lots of friends who are physicians and the joke was,  never go to a teaching hospital on July 1st because the day before the interns were all medical students.  Whenever you’re doing something new there’s a learning curve, but we take special notice when a new doctor is involved in our case.  It’s understandable because we go to a doctor that has years of experience and then the intern comes in and your anxiety level goes up and you wonder, “Is it okay for this young, inexperienced physician to be in on my surgery?”

According to an article in the New York Times (online) this week, having an intern in on the surgery won’t kill you.  In fact, the articles states that mortality rates are lower in surgeries where an intern/resident is part of the surgical team.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a free and clear situation.  The article also went on to say that surgeries where an intern/resident is present takes longer and there may be higher rates for infection, but mortality rates are lower.  Why might that be?

I’ve been thinking about it and I can come up with a couple of assumptions.  When there’s an intern the surgery takes longer simply because the intern/resident hasn’t done the procedure as many times as the physician.  Of course they’re nervous and are going at a slower pace so as not to make any mistakes.  In addition, they are probably asking questions of the attending physician slowing down the pace a bit, but this is a teaching moment for the intern/resident so that should be expected.  As far as infection rates being higher, that’s most likely just the new doctors learning better infection control procedures…that one is addressed immediately.

So why do you think that mortality rates are lower when an intern/resident is present for the surgery?  I believe it’s because they have as the Buddhists say, “A Beginner’s Mind”.  They aren’t anticipating the next step and therefore they are focused on the here and now.  They are asking questions and may see things the attending physician, who may have done this surgery hundreds of times, simply overlooks because they are anticipating the next step.  The intern/resident brings the pace down so if there are complications they can be addressed during the surgery, not in the recovery room.

Having a fresh pair of eyes present can mean the difference between life and death…yours.  So don’t worry if an intern/resident is part of the surgical team.  In fact, encourage them to ask lots of questions, even if it seems insignificant because that’s how they learn and that’s how you’ll avoid post-surgical complications.  A Beginner’s Mind is good not only as a spiritual practice, but as a work ethic because it keeps you fresh, unassuming, and more inquisitive.  The questions could be the answer to your life and death issues.

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

Why Are the Casseroles Always Tuna?

Many years ago when I first started doing this work a friend of mine gave me a  book titled, “Why Are the Casseroles Always Tuna?”  The book was a light-hearted reference guide for dealing with death and grieving.  It was a comical look at how we as a society interact with those who are facing a health challenge or know someone whose loved one has died.  Let’s face it, many people don’t handle other people’s illness well, so what are we to do? 

Random acts of kindness go a long way.  I love to cook and I cook while I’m on the road.  I make large quantities so I can freeze some for another day, but still have enough for the leftovers.  My friend at work who is going through cancer treatment doesn’t really have a support network in place and it’s apparent that he needs one.  He has some friends who text him and call, but phoning isn’t like being there with the person.  I’ve adopted him.

When I cook I bring him food so he gets a home cooked meal a couple of times a week.  When I make soup I always give him a container that last him a few days.  He comes to life with joy and appreciation.  He jokes with me that he has washed out the container and I should feel free to refill it (not an expectation, just a hope).  It really is the small things even with my co-workers.  If I go out to the bank during the day and stop for coffee, I bring one back for my co-worker in the office.  It’s the small things that let people know they have made an impact on your life.  It doesn’t take any time, sometimes a little money ( and I know in these times even a few dollars that can be difficult), but it’s not an everyday happening.

We all need to know that someone is concerned about us.  That need rises after being diagnosed with a chronic or other life-altering illness because of the amount of uncertainty that is now part of your day-to-day life.  It’s kind of like the grown-up version of Big Brothers/Big Sisters, but the person you connect to has some other difficulty in their life at the present time.  I’m making reference to someone who has a health challenge, but it really pertains to anyone who needs a little extra attention or care during any of life’s many challenges.

Who have you adopted?  How do you think it has impacted their life and yours?

Posted in Caregiving

No Time Off For Good Behavior

Welcome to Caregiver Friday!!

When you commit a crime and get sentenced, unless the crime was brutal you can often get a reduced sentence for good behavior.  When someone becomes ill with a chronic health challenge and you’re the caregiver there’s no time off for good behavior.  This week was two years since my father-in-law died.  He had a stroke after open-heart surgery twenty years before he died.  My mother-in-law cared for him at home for the first ten years and finally his care became too overwhelming and we found a placement in a nursing home.

Even though  he was getting full-time care at the nursing home, my mother-in-law was still his caregiver.  She was the liaison with the office, the staff, and the doctors.  She was still the one who provided him with things he need aside from food and shelter.  She visited him for years on a daily basis.  Physical location doesn’t disconnect the caregiver from the person who is sick or injured.

My concern is that we have to educate caregivers about self-preservation.  My mother-in-law basically stopped living her life at the age of 52 and for 20 years cared for her husband.  There’s the joke that many murderers get less time and what they did was a crime.  We have to educate caregivers that external resources are not a bad thing.  My parents had a live-in caregiver for my grandmother for a few years.  It didn’t erase the worry, but there was a sense of security that someone was living with her who would give her company, and provide a safe environment for her. 

We speak about quality of life for the person with the illness and almost never address it with the caregiver.  Respite care is helpful but 4 hours a week doesn’t give you, the caregiver, sufficient time to take care of your own needs and life.  Families live far apart in our society so long-distance caregiving is often the only possibility.  Care managers are great in this instance because they are local and can coordinate the services  needed for the person you love.  The unfortunate part is that it can become costly.

Industrialized society has given us a good model for caregiving.  We need to examine smaller cultures to see how they provide care for their sick and injured.  We need to see how people who cared for us get the care they deserve when needed.  We need to figure out how to become a caregiving culture because that’s where we’re headed…have you looked at the statistics on the baby boomers?

As you know caregiving is not solely about the physical aspects of caregiving.  It takes up a lot of your emotional and spiritual space in your being.  On the emotional and spiritual end of caregiving it is a 24/7 commitment.  Just because the person may not be living with you doesn’t make caregiving any less meaningful or stressful; don’t even get me started on caregiver guilt.

Give yourself time off…let’s see if we can become solution focused to make it happen.

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Emotional Health

What’s In Your Wallet?

Capital One credit card asks the question, “What’s in your wallet?” hoping you’re carrying their credit card.  If you take the brand name out of the equation it asks “what type of reserve do you have when you want to make a purchase?”  We hear about the Federal Reserve, oil reserves, grain reserves, etc. and yet most of us don’t consider more personal types of reserves that would serve the body, mind, and spirit.

Tuesday I wrote about the man with the 9 pillows.  Unfortunately for him, the saga continued on Tuesday (my day off).  He called, angry and confrontational about his sofa and loveseat having 9 pillows.  He didn’t speak to people who had any knowledge about how the sofa comes from the factory so his fire was fueled by misinformation.  However, let’s take a step back and realize that this man’s life must suck; either that or he has more reserves in his personal emotional bank than all of us combined; I seriously doubt that in fact I believe his account is grossly overdrawn.

This man just lost 48 hours of his life over pillows.  My first question is, “Why is he so willing to throw away his time and energy on something that hasn’t even occurred yet?”  In addition, his anger and frustration was moot because the sofa  hadn’t been delivered yet, so was his imaginary sofa short pillows?  We all chuckle about this but this individual is literally and figuratively eating himself from the inside out. 

Let’s take it to the next step.  What do you think has been going on in his body for those two days?  How much cortisol has been released into his system as he fights an imaginary fight?  How much stomach acid was released as his body and mind churned over this ordeal?  The body can’t run on empty and unfortunately this man is probably riding on fumes.

There are a lot of things to get upset over, and if you are going to get upset over pillows at least wait till the sofa arrives before you start the battle.  We all have challenges, especially following the diagnosis of a chronic or other life-altering illness; but put your resources and reserves to those things that will make a difference in your life.  His health isn’t getting better because his sofa has 9 pillows.

What challenge would you like to release today giving your body, mind, and spirit the energy and reserves it needs for health and healing?  We all have those little things that get in the way of feeling better, what’s your?

Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

At The Movies…

Welcome to Art and Healing Wednesday!!

I remember seeing a book years ago called, “The Motion Picture Prescription: Watch this movie and call me in the morning”.  A great title and the book offers movie suggestions that relate to the most common life problems.  It’s amazing that in a two-hour period the writers, producers, and actors can create a situation, take you through the entire process and have a resolution.  If I could figure out how to do that in “real life”; I’d start that way of life tomorrow.

When it comes to art and healing there are two different types of films, those where the story of the illness is told and the other where a character in the film has an illness that is dealt with moving the story along.  One of the most prominent films about illness that I first saw as a child was “Brian’s Song”, telling the story of  Brian Piccolo, the football player.  The movie “Philadelphia” although about the rights of those with HIV/AIDS is about the journey Tom Hanks’ character and those around him take during the legal battle.  “Wit” tells the story of a woman with gynecological cancer.  On the flip side, Whoopi Goldberg’s character in “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” dies of cancer (sorry if you didn’t know) but it’s part of the main character’s journey not the story itself.

We often watch movies for a sense of escape or sensationalism, so why do we watch films about people with an illness?  If you have a health challenge sometimes it’s about identifying with the process the individual goes through from diagnosis to death.  It brings up questions that you might not have thought about prior to seeing the film sparking discussion.  Just like pathographies (books written about someone’s journey through illness) we are captivated by the struggle (kind of like slowing down to see an accident on the freeway). 

Now let’s get to the healing part of films.  Pick a genre, any genre and ask yourself, “Why are you attracted to this film at this time?”  Norman Cousins watched films of The Three Stooges for its laughter inducing qualities.  He found that 20 minutes of a good laugh gave him two hours of pain-free sleep.  Maybe you’re a fan of the Star Wars films, where there’s a coming of age story but first there are all these obstacles.  It’s about a hero, someone you can believe in who triumphs over evil…not a bad days work.

We watch films to laugh, learn, cry, explore, escape and a host of other reasons.  The bottom line is films are enjoyable.  We each have our own favorites.  My two all-time favorite films are “Same Time, Next Year”, and “The Color Purple”.  I’ve seen each of these movies too many times to count.  They provoke me, entertain me, and stay with me.

What’s your favorite film and why?  How do films play a part in your own health and healing journey?

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

Counting, Measuring, and Weighing…Are We Counting the Wrong Things?

We live  in a number obsessed culture.  We worry about age, height, weight, shoe size, dress size, calories, fat, carbohydrates, blood pressure, glucose levels, test scores, electoral votes, nuclear arsenals, Richter scales, and the list goes on and on.  If things didn’t have a number attached to it I don’t know what we’d do except figure out a way to attach a number to it.  We set ourselves up to be crazed, upset, anxious, and a host of other negative emotions.  Are we counting the wrong things?

We had a customer last night who is getting a furniture delivery today.  He spoke to my associate when he said, “I’m getting a delivery tomorrow and on my sales receipt it doesn’t mention the pillows on the couch, I counted 9 pillows; there better be 9 pillows on the couch.”  My associate assured him that the couch will be delivered as he saw it in the showroom.  He was fixated on the number 9, for those of you who know numerology maybe you can share the meaning of the number 9 so I can calm this man down.  He was fixated on a number because any other number had significance to him; that he was being cheated.  What would happen if the couch showed up with 10 pillows?

So what do I think you should be counting?  How many times did you smile at someone or did they smile at you?  How many times today did you receive a complement?  How many times did you laugh today?  How many texts did you receive with someone saying, “Just thinking about you?”  These numbers have significant impact on your health.  Reaffirming who is in your heart is soothing, comforting, and reminds you that you’re not alone as you go through your journey to health and healing.  Laughing releases endorphins reducing pain and igniting the immune system.  A complement acknowledges your efforts whether it’s related to work or pleasure.  Your efforts are recognized and appreciated….who doesn’t want to be recognized and appreciated.

What are you counting in your day and is it making you feel any better?   I realize some numbers we can’t get away from like the glucometer reading for a diabetic or the blood pressure reading for someone with hypertension.  However, if you reserved your numbers and counting for those things that are vital to your health and wellness and left the counting off the non-essential things don’t you think your quality of life would be better?  Leave a comment and let me know what you’re counting that is or isn’t working for you.

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

Warning Will Robinson!

I was feeling a bit nostalgic last night and began thinking about television programs I watched as a kid.  All the regulars came to mind, but “Lost In Space” came up in the next discussion about bad movies.  I started reminiscing about “Lost in Space” and the robot was one of my favorite characters.  The voice, and of course the warning with his arms swinging made him more believable.

Over the past four days two of my co-workers have had a family member go in for emergency surgery.  In both cases it was quite serious and had they not gone to the emergency room when they did they both may have died.  Did they have any warning?  Were there no indicators prior to the moment of excruciating pain that there may be a problem?  In some cases I know where is no warning, but in many if not most there were indicators that were explained away as something else in the individual’s head.

Pain is not normal, unless of course you bash your toe into the nightstand in the dark (then scream loudly and even use an expletive or two).  Pain is an indication that there is something not right and yet many of us, if not most of us explain pain away.  It’s kind of the like the frog in the soup pot.  The frog was put in the pot in cold water and then put over the flame.   The temperature increased by inching its way up the thermometer and the frog didn’t realize the subtle increase and eventually was boiled to death.

We’re a culture that explains pain away with a pill.  We come up with scenarios that discount why we’re in pain and continue with the activities at hand.  I currently have a co-worker that is going through treatment for cancer.  His pain is quite bad and the doctor’s don’t seem to be able to control it.  It’s also because of the type of cancer he has and its progression that are causing the pain.  I hope the doctors have told him that his pain will increase over time.   Those are the circumstances where pain is understandable, and our tendency to obtain medical care is more prominent.

Do me a favor.  When you have time (this applies whether or not you have a chronic or other life-altering illness) sit or recline in a quiet place.  Make sure your clothing is comfortable and not pulling or tugging.  Simply close your eyes and from head to toe do your own body scan.  Start at your head and just slowly and consciously do a scan from head-to-toe.  Notice if anything feels different, is sore, or painful?  These are your body’s way of letting you know it needs attention. 

Don’t wait till they have to rush you to the emergency room…take the time to become familiar with your body.  It will save you a lot of trouble, pain and problem.s

Posted in Caregiving

It Could Have Been A Hallmark Commercial

Welcome to Caregiver Friday!!

Every so often I have an experience that let’s me see how the folks at Hallmark come up with their movies and their greetings cards.  A scene that couldn’t have been scripted better if the best writers in Hollywood wrote it and the best actors in the country played it.  It’s what love, compassion, and understanding is all about, and when I see it in person it renews my faith in what we as humans are capable of when caring for another individual.

It was an elderly gentleman (probably late 80’s) and his adult daughter.  They came to buy him a new mattress; sounded like he was moving in with her after living independently up till this point.  We gave them all the paperwork they needed to pick up the merchandise.  At the end of the transaction she takes his arm, and says to him, “I’ll wash this (the mattress pad) before we pick p the mattress so everything will be clean and ready for you.”  Then they walked arm-in-arm out of the store and went home.

As I watched the two of them interact and then leave the store I thought about how lucky he is to have someone in his life that would care for him so lovingly and gently.  I thought about how independent he is trying to be and is doing quite well given the circumstances.  I thought about how lucky he is to be receiving the support he needs and being allowed to stand on his own two feet, literally and figuratively, so that this transition is as easy as possible.  Then it occurred to me; she’s lucky to have someone in her life that taught her by example about being loving and gentle.  She’s lucky because she was shown the importance of allowing someone to maintain their independence no matter their age.  She’s lucky because she is to have learned that independence doesn’t have to mean being submissive, but a collaborative experience.

I hope as caregivers you re-experience what you were taught by example about being someone’s caregiver.  There is a trickle down theory in place and it shows itself in moments like the one I was honored to witness.  What’s your Hallmark moment?  Leave it in the comments part of the post and let’s all experience what’s possible.

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

I Hope You Find Your Pot of Gold

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!!

I went to my closet this morning to pick out my shirt and remembered it’s St. Patrick’s Day.  Let’s face it I’m not Irish, I’m a Jewish guy with Eastern European heritage, but why worry about what color I’m going to wear?  Because otherwise all day long (and I work a very long day) I’ll have to hear that I didn’t wear green.  I guess I wave the white (or better green) flag on this one.

However, I really wanted to speak about the idea that there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow with a little leprechaun sitting there waiting for your to catch him and claim it.  Since your diagnosis has the contents of your pot of  gold changed?  When we were little, or even before the diagnosis maybe the pot of gold was money, but since your diagnosis is it the same?  I ask that question because money doesn’t necessarily change your situation.  Look at Rock Hudson who spent months in France hoping for a cure for AIDS and still dying.  Elizabeth Edwards had plenty of money and still she died.  Annette Funicello (who was recently admitted to the doctor) has been facing Multiple Sclerosis for years and she has/had money, didn’t seem to change her health…so what’s the pot of gold?

The other thing that we hear at this holiday is the “Luck of the Irish”.  When I’ve heard Oprah Winfrey discuss luck she states, “Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.”  If that’s the case how are you preparing for getting better or well?  Aside from instantaneous remission or a miracle is there a way to get better or well without preparation?  By preparation I’m referring to following a treatment plan, traditional medicine or complementary medicine or some other form of healing practice, doesn’t matter to me; what matters is the preparation.  The opportunities may rest in finding a doctor or medical practice that is in-the-know about the latest literature and treatments.  My dermatologist(s) have all been avid readers and researchers constantly bringing me updates without me having to ask…that for me was luck because I felt secure in my treatment and my medical team.

Okay, I confess I do hope for that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow when I won’t have to take medicine anymore, visit the doctor or the lab, and certainly don’t ever have to worry about a flare.  Until then I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, creating my own opportunities for health and healing, getting the best medical are possible, and keeping myself steeped in a community of people who are on the same journey….

Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

Where is Your Sanctuary?

Welcome to Art and Healing Wednesday!!

We all have special places that bring us a sense of peace when we’re in that environment.  I’m a big water person; love the beach, a river, any body of water that moves gives me a sense of relaxation.  It’s a multi-sensory experience because there’s the feel of the water, watching it run, and the sound it makes as it rushes past me.  Everyone has a place like that be it the mountains, a forest, or some other venue such as a museum, a car showroom, etc.

Yesterday I finally got my act together and pulled out all my sewing supplies.  I decided I’d go to the quilt shop which fortunately is only about 2 miles from the apartment.  When I walked in it felt like coming home.  I noticed a sense of excitement and ease in my body.  There was a change in my respiration, it became slower because I was comfortable and relaxed.  I had a conversation with the salesperson who told me about a monthly sewing group that meets at the store.  Most importantly, I got to look at and touch the fabric. 

So where is your sanctuary?  I obviously don’t believe that you have to be in a building with clergy to have a spiritual experience.  I remember years ago when I first started quilting I couldn’t get in to the synagogue for the High Holy Days (I wasn’t a member and didn’t have a ticket).  I decided to drive to the quilt shop and I sat in the quilt shop for over three hours and realized that was my sanctuary.  It was a place where all of me; body, mind, and spirit could come together and be in alignment. 

You don’t have to be “artistic”, but being in a place that allows you to feel connected and engaged is vitally important in your journey to health and healing?  If you’re a film lover, don’t you get a rush being in a movie theater?  Isn’t there something intoxicating (in a good way) about watching a film on a huge screen with a good sound system?  Remember, this isn’t about a place of worship, but a place that makes you feel connected to yourself on a higher level.

When you tap into your sanctuary you give yourself a gift.  You provide your body, mind, and spirit with a place of safety and security.  It’s a place you feel like you belong and that bring you joy.  It’s a place where you’re able to let your defenses down and gives your body a period of time where it doesn’t have to be on alert because this sanctuary is a safe place. 

I have to say I feel the same way about bookstores, new or used doesn’t matter.  The feel of a book, the smell of a book is soothing.  The selection keeps me engaged and although I don’t have to “play” with anyone else while I’m in that sanctuary; I’m aware that  everyone there enjoys the same thing…there’s a sense of community, with an individual twist.

I hope you find a place you can claim as your sanctuary.  I’d love to hear where your is, leave a comment and let’s see all the sanctuaries in our community!