Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Doctor's Visits, living with chronic illness

How Proactive Are You With Your Symtoms?

I’ve been very aware of my body for a very long time.  I know that many of you will say, “Well of course you know your body, what’s new?”  Well the truth is, and those of you with an illness I’m sure will concur, when you have an illness you have a new and intensified intimacy with your body, inside and out.

There are times when simple little things may turn in to big things.  While I was away, working out-of-state, I noticed that the amount of gum I was chewing had increased sharply.  You may be laughing at this point asking why chewing gum implies a symptom or illness.  Well to tell you the truth, I didn’t think about it for a couple of months.  When I returned home I began to wonder, much more focused, about what this could mean.

As I began to ponder what this might mean to my health it occurred to me that maybe I was chewing gum because I was thirsty.  As I began to explore this as a symptom I began to wonder about diabetes.  My maternal family has a long-standing history of diabetes.  My mother was diagnosed about four years ago with diabetes and began insulin injections a few months ago.

It was time for my annual lab tests checking my liver function and lipid panel.  When I called the nurse in the dermatology, I asked if it were possible for her to add a glucose test to the panel.  I was hoping she would be able to add this test instead of sending me to my primary care physician for this non-dermatology related lab test.  She did add this to my lab order.

I had the tests done and not only was my lipid panel great, my glucose level was right in the middle of the normal range. Obviously these results were great relief and one of those moments when I followed up an inkling in my body.  Having this knowledge of my body, my family history, and an knowledge of common illness symptoms helps as I move through life as a person with a long-standing health challenge.  My hope was not to add to the list of diagnoses on my medical chart.

How well do you know your body?  How much do you know about your family medical history?  Are you attuned to your body and do you notice subtle changes in your physical being?  These are important on your journey to health and healing!

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Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Doctor's Visits, living with chronic illness

An Interesting Medical Journey for my Black Lab

You’re going to think I’m a bit strange because the story I’m going to share is about my dog.  Believe it or not, my dog Tashi has had more medical problems than most of us will have in our own human lives.

It all started about five or six years ago when she acquired Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).  I don’t know how she acquired this infection, but it has been recurring relentlessly over the years.  Unfortunately MRSA isn’t curable, it becomes a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition.

The incident this past week started last Wednesday when Tashi awoke limping.  Her back foot (location of the MRSA wound) was swollen.  She ate breakfast and took her place in the family room and didn’t move for seven hours.  We decided to take her to the emergency vet that evening because she wasn’t engaging in normal activities and she couldn’t get up off the floor on her own.

The vet we saw, a young vet, was quite personable and very good with Tashi.  He did a thorough exam and was respectful of her pain limits.  The thing that caught my attention was his personal shock at how swollen her foot and leg had become.  He was perplexed hoping that maybe she had an issue with a bone or joint.  Because of the MRSA he had to be very careful about any biopsy or culture because he didn’t want to spread the MRSA if in fact it was present.

The radiograph didn’t show any abnormalities, a huge relief.  He did perform a culture of the wound on her foot, non-invasive.  He also prescribed a very strong antibiotic and pain medication.  We took her home with the hope that  she would begin the healing process.

Unfortunately as Thursday progressed, her leg became more swollen and this was worrisome.  The next step was to take her to her regular vet.  One more appointment and when he saw her foot he was also a bit perplexed and concerned.  She wasn’t putting pressure on her foot and the leg was swollen up to her hip.  He prescribed a second antibiotic and now we wait for the culture results.

The sad part is that animals can’t tell us other than behavior about their physical problems.  I feel fortunate to have medical professionals that are engaged in her well-being and take measures to create increased odds at healing the infection.  I didn’t know that the field of veterinary medicine doesn’t have a specialization in infectious disease.  The specialty seems to be on the horizon, but until that happens either a general practitioner, or in Tashi’s case her dermatologist/allergy doctor have to serve as our medical resource.

How does this translate into the experience of humans?  We don’t always have an answer for symptoms that arise from an illness.  It’s important to feel comfortable going to a specialist if you don’t feel that your illness/symptoms are getting better.  In addition, I felt it important for her regular physician to see her because he knows her history and her body.  He understands her response to past medications and infections.  He knows her temperament and tuned into her response when he exams her.  These are important because her history may have clues to heal the current medical dilemma.

Things are still uncertain and the fact that she’s over twelve years old doesn’t soothe my anxiety.  I can see the desire in her eyes to get better (my personal projection) but I’m hoping we make it through this health crisis.  I hope you maintain that fire in your soul to get better or well.

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with life threatening illness, Doctor's Visits, living with chronic illness

Does the Magic 8 Ball Have all the Answers?

Remember having a Magic 8 ball as a kid?  It felt so mysterious to see the answers and the direction of your life floating in green liquid.  The answers were, obviously, quite limited because there were just so many sides on the floating piece inside the ball.  It’s nothing like the Bat Computer; just put in all the information you had and it popped out the information Batman and Robin needed.

When dealing with a health challenge or some other life trauma we’re looking not for simple yes or no responses.  We’re not seeking answers that are so generic that the answer received could apply to life and death matters as much as to decisions about what brand of salad dressing to buy at the grocery store.  So what does it take to get the “good “ answers you wanted and need?

The truth is the answers can only be as good as the questions asked.  One of the things drilled into me during my psychotherapy training was the importance of good questions.  The questions needed to be open-ended, not able to be answered with a yes or no answer.  They had to be direct, no beating around the busy.  As I often stated to my clients, “Don’t ask the question, if you don’t want the answer”; truth is the only acceptable response.

What is it that you want to ask your medical team about your health?  What do you want to know about the course of your particular disease?  How much do you want to know about what’s on the horizon for treatment or research (always make sure your medical provider is up-to-date on what’s happening in the field by reading journals, attending conferences and other disease specific trainings).

The Buddhists will tell you that life is all about living in the question.  That would require every dialogue to propel you toward the next question.  Living in the question is a type of soul-searching treasure hunt with the question being the clues to the next leg of the journey.

How good are you at asking questions?  How detailed are your questions?  Are pointed are your questions?  I guess it depends on how much you honestly want to know.  Think about it the next time you ask someone, anyone a question.  Think about the answer your seeking and let that be your guide!

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Doctor's Visits

The Dancing Doctor

Last night was the final episode of NY Med.  I’ve shared my love for these shows because they show a behind the scenes look at the places you and I fear most.  I believe that overwhelmingly these programs show the staff in a different light than we’re used to, a more compassionate, almost goofy staff going about their daily business just like you and me.

One of the cases last night was an eighteen-year-old boy with Crohn’s Disease.  Because of his illness, the young man look as if he were about twelve or thirteen, very skinny, and not as tall as one would expect an eighteen year old to be.  The goal for the young man’s surgery was to remove the scarring that has occurred over the years and as well as the damaged part of the intestine.  Watching this young man was inspiring.  What he wanted most was to be able to eat whatever he wanted and be like his friends.

The young man went into surgery with the Chief-of-Surgery at the helm and a very conscientious resident.  The surgeon aside from the Chief-of-Surgery is one of the most prominent gastrointestinal surgeons in the country.  The young man was in good hands.  The surgery was successfully completed, the surgeon spoke with the family and at the end of the show we hear that young man has gained some weight and grown an inch; an enormous success.

When they interviewed the doctor about the case he was ecstatic.  The young man was going to thrive, something that had been out of his reach while facing this debilitating illness.  The sweetest part of the interview was when the doctor began an impromptu tap dance.  He was thrilled that this young man was going to move on to have a fulfilling life.

Surprisingly, this type of lightness and humor was not what we usually see when we go to the doctor.  I’m fortunate to have some fabulous doctors, none who dance, but certainly have shared their own personal life experiences with me, increasing their level of humanity in my eyes.  I still see them as the expert, but they aren’t necessarily on a pedestal.  They are just as human as I am, and when I can connect with them on that level, my confidence level increases, and I feel part of my own healthcare team.

What would you want to now about your doctor?  Have you ever thought to ask?  My healthcare provider has physician profiles on their website to help members choose a physician they feel they can relate.  The profile not only includes their medical training, but their interests and sometimes some personal information about their family.  I utilize this information when I have to make a decision.  I’m not picking a physician who’s passion is the biking and mountain climbing; we wouldn’t have much in common, but I am impressed by the range of interests and passions of these physicians.

Do you feel it would be helpful if you saw your doctor more as a mortal than a demi-god?  What would make you a bit more comfortable with your medical provider?

Posted in coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Doctor's Visits, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

What My Visit to the Vet Taught Me This Week!

You ever watch shows about international homes and the homes don’t have addresses, they have names.  My house is called “The House of 16 Legs”.  Why you might ask?  Because I am blessed to have two dogs and two cats who seem to rule the house…humans are only there to provide kibble, recreation, and treats.

Over the past four or five years my black lab, Tashi, has been fighting a variety of infections.  She got diagnosed with MRSA (a very stubborn, often drug resistant virus), and if that weren’t enough she is allergic to a bunch of plants, weeds, and assorted other allergens.

It’s odd when my dog and I both have our own dermatologists.  It’s odd to even type those words, but it’s true.  Tashi’s dermatologist is also an allergist so she’s got two specialists rolled into one.  This week it was time for our semi-annual check-up to see how she’s doing and to adjust her medications if necessary.

During her routine examination the doctor asked if anything has changed since her last visit.  Fortunately, nothing really changed; her health, her appetite, and her resolve are all flourishing.  She’s getting older and has developed some new maladies, but nothing out of the ordinary.

The next question was specific to her allergies.  The doctor wanted to know how she was doing because here in Colorado we’ve had a tough allergy season.   I commented the only thing I noticed is that she, and my other dog, Bella, have been doing that internal sneeze that sounds like a snort.  When I mentioned that my other dog was also engaged in this snorting the doctor’s ears perked up.  She asked me some more questions and offered a provisional diagnosis.  She believed that both dogs had nasal mites and both needed to be treated of they’d continue to pass it back and forth.

So where am I going with all of this?  Had I not mentioned that my other dog was having the same symptoms, the vet wouldn’t have been able to pursue this line of questioning and detective work.  It never dawned on me that they could have something other than a simple allergic reaction to something in the yard.

How does this translate to you following your diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness?  It is imperative that you share all that’s happening with you to your doctor/medical provider, no matter how insignificant you believe it may be.  After this experience, I have restructured how I will prepare for my doctor visits.  I am more likely to mention things that I previously would have attributed to a medication side effect, change in weather, or exhaustion.  I believe I’ll be more forthcoming with information about my concerns because as I learned, small things can actually be something more serious or complicated than I would have assumed.

What small factoids have you not divulged to your medical provider?  What tidbits of information do you think if you shared would give your medical provider greater insight into your actual health status?  What problems could you possibly avoid if you tell the whole story?

Have you had an experience like this? (Ok maybe not at the vet)  I’d love to hear what happened…share you story in the comment section below and let’s learn from one another!