Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Doctor's Visits, Emotional Health, Empowerment, Healthcare, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness, newly diagnosed illness

Truth Be Told

We teach children to tell the truth.  We take an oath to tell the truth when we get on the witness stand.  When we watch Superman, we hear “Truth, Justice, and the American Way”.  We’re caught up in the premise of truth and yet when we go to the doctor, we often hold back telling the truth.

Let me be clear, omission of facts (data) is not living your truth.  Minimization dilutes truth!  Trying to be or act the way our provider expects us to be/do diminishes our truth.

This is what I’ve learned after being a patient advocate for over twenty years.  If you don’t tell the truth, the raw, nitty gritty details, your healthcare provider is working with insufficient data.  If you don’t give your provider all the information, it’s like leaving ingredients out of a recipe…what a disaster.

Truth is a two-way street. If you aren’t honest with yourself, how can you be honest with your provider?  If you’re having a flare, don’t just believe it’s a passing thing and doesn’t need attention.  If you’re in pain, don’t dumb down the number on the 1-10 scale so the provider thinks you’re brave and can handle the pain with minimal intervention.  The opioid crisis is predicated on a lack of truth, making providers hesitant to prescribe narcotics for pain.

Truth is a funny thing because many believe it works on a sliding scale.  I want you to ponder the idea of truth on a sliding scale when it comes to your health and well-being.  I’ll give you an example.

One of the times I went to therapy, I was seeing a Jungian analyst.  He was a highly competent psychologist and I liked him a lot.  I trusted him.  After eighteen months of seeing him I walked into my session and initiated termination because I felt “healed”.  He was persistent in asking me if I truly believed what I was saying.  I’m stubborn!  I left therapy, telling myself I was healed.  Nine months later I was driving and pulled into a gas station to use a pay phone (I’m dating myself) and called him.  He answered, the first words out of my mouth were, “I need an appointment, I’m crazy” (not in the clinical sense, in my personal experience of how my life was going.)

I learned a lot about truth telling from that experience.  I learned that telling the truth didn’t diminish my worthiness or my life in my therapist’s opinion.  By telling my truth, I healed more quickly.  Best outcome was I felt lighter walking in my own shoes.

I encourage the patients I advocate for to be honest with their providers.  There’s a caveat here, sometimes patients feel they are telling the truth because they don’t remember/recall the complaints they’ve had between appointments.  It’s interesting that we believe an episode or experience isn’t important to tell the provider.  Every aspect of your health experience is important to the provider.

What’s the first truth you’ll tell?

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Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Doctor's Visits, Empowerment, Healthcare, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness, newly diagnosed illness

Still on the Journey…With Renewed Passion

I’ve been working in the healthcare field for over thirty years.  I’m a mental health provider, focused on the impact illness has on our physical, emotional, and spiritual lives.  When I started this blog, my intention was to share my insights and experiences as both a provider and a patient.  If you’ve read any of my blog posts or gone to my website (www.gregkatz.com), you know I’ve had an autoimmune disease most of my life.  In addition, I’ve nursed many animals with varying degrees of illness and written about their journey.

Over the past eighteen months, I’ve been enrolled and graduated with a graduate certificate in Health Humanities and Ethics.  It has opened my eyes to many unanswered questions for both patients and providers about their experiences in healthcare.  My classmates came from all healthcare arenas.  Our discussions punctuated the challenges of working in healthcare because of finances, policy, research, insurance, access, and a host of other dilemmas.  It has expanded my understanding of healthcare and made me a more informed and sensitive provider.

As I relaunch this blog, I wanted to share the direction I’m headed.  This year I’ll write about my experiences personal and professional.  I’ll explore how we can address doctor/patient relationships for optimal health.  I’ll share reviews of books related to both patient experiences and those of healthcare providers (educationally and in practice).  One of the key areas I’ll address this year is the concept of “legacy”. What are we leaving behind?  How will we be remembered?  What are we doing to improve our own situations and those of others?

I’m excited to explore these topics.  I’ll be sharing interviews with individuals showcasing personal experiences of illness as well as the handcuffs felt by many providers as they try and reconcile the realities of medicine with their intention for entering the field.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey and participate in the conversation.  Your voice is important because it’s about what we have in common, not what divides us (sound familiar).  I want all voices to be heard around the table because this is how we can advocate for what’s needed, what’s right, and what heals!

If you’d like to share your story (patient or provider), please email me at greg@gregkatz.com!

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Emotional Health, Healthcare, Living with Illness, overcoming adversity, Spirituality and Health, Storytelling

How Does It Feel to Be You Right Now?

We live in tumultuous times and it’s scary waking up every day with so much uncertainty in the world.  The truth is, even when things are in alignment politically, socially, and atmospherically, the person we are is always in the uncertainty zone.  How is that possible?

We’re complex beings physically, mentally, and spiritually.  If you look around your community, watch the news, or truly listen to the stories told by your friends and family you come to understand the depth of our complexity.  Unfortunately, along with complexity comes fragility, that sliver of vulnerability that exposes our human Achilles heel.

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My father called me a couple of days ago and opened our conversation with, “You know I’m at an age where a lot of people I know are dying.”  If nothing makes you vulnerable (at least in your own mind) mortality usually creates an emotional and spiritual gash in our armor.  It makes everything frighteningly real.  It exposes our imperfections while simultaneously accentuating our strengths.

We greet one another with the age-old question, “How are you?”  What are we really asking?  If you ask the question, are you prepared for the truth? I like the question “How does it feel to be you right now?”  It’s a question of connection.  It gives the person you’re connecting to the ability to be in the moment.  It gives each of us the opportunity to understand what it’s like to live in the body, mind, and soul of another human being.

I was involved in an ethics discussion about the interaction between doctors and their patients.  We were exploring the idea of empathy. When we have these discussions, the debate is often about sympathy and empathy.  Noted anthropologist, and one of my mentors, Angeles Arrien expanded the continuum.  Her research and experience shared that sympathy amplified suffering because it emphasized the pity we felt for the another.  Sympathy often comes from the vantage point of “better you than me”.   When we’re empathetic, we end up doing the work for the other person, letting them off the hook because we take on the pain.  However, if we feel compassion we don’t have to go into the emotional state of the other, but we can be totally present.  The state of presence is healing.

Where are we going with all of this?  I want to be present with you.  I want to know what your life is like right now because it’s your true story.  When you share how you are right now there’s an aliveness we can experience any other way.  Let’s shift our perspective and begin asking this very important question and see how our experiences with others change and deepen.

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, Healthcare, living with chronic illness

Chronic Can Be Costly

In the old days, before your diagnosis of a chronic or other life-altering illness, when you got sick you may have gone to the doctor, paid for an office visit and lo and behold you got well.  There weren’t repeated trips and co-pays for office visits.  There weren’t endless tests or supplies needed, maybe a bottle of Tylenol.  The cost was minimal financially, and the cost emotionally and spiritually was minimal too.

Then you were given a diagnosis by the doctor and everything changed.  You began to see your doctor more than you see some of your friends or family.  Your new inner circle consists of lab technicians, insurance personnel, and your medical team.  Chronic illness is expensive.  Let’s take Type 2 Diabetes as an example.  It not only about the costs associated with a change in diet, but the meter, the lancets, the test strips, and the follow-up lab work with the doctor.  There is no end to the costs and for many this becomes a financial and thus an emotional burden.

This week the New York Times Online ran an article about the cost of Type 2 Diabetes.  They state, “Already, this incurable and often debilitating illness costs the country’s health care system a staggering $174 billion a year.”  They go on to say that because of the personal cost of managing the disease only about 25% of Type 2 Diabetes patients are getting the care they need.  Don’t you think that’s shameful?  Doesn’t the healthcare system and the powers that be understand that by not taking care of those with Type 2 Diabetes you end up taking care of patients with heart, kidney, and circulation problems.  Does paying for test strips and meters costs less than having to hospitalize someone to amputate a limb?

The New York Times cites Consumer Reports Health in a report they produced stating that, “diabetes patients spend an average of $6,000 annually for treatment of their disease.”  When you think of the cost, understand that these are net dollars.  As a “civilized” society can we continue to look the other way and not treat those who need our help.  Yes, there needs to be a partnerships and Type 2 Diabetes patients need to do their part (just as my mother is doing) by eating properly and getting enough exercise.  It has to be a partnership, but a true partnership, not one in name only.

If you have  a chronic illness what has the cost been to you?  I’m not only talking about the financial cost, but the emotional and spiritual as well.  Let your voice be heard!

Posted in Healthcare

Lack Of Medical Insurance Makes People Do Crazy Things

Last week I wrote a piece about what happens to people when they don’t have medical insurance and the troubles it creates in the long run.  I’m writing this piece because my fear is that those of you without insurance or even those of you who do but decide you know better than your doctor are often, literally, taking your life in your own hands.  I’m talking about taking responsibility for your health, but making life and death decisions that may not end up working in your favor.

The last post centered around my co-worker who is having serious side effects from his high blood pressure medication.  The Nurse Practitioner (NP) wanted him to come in for an EKG, but he’s currently working out-of-state and couldn’t go into the office.  Instead of finding a local medical facility to do the EKG, he has simply avoided the issue altogether.  The NP wanted him to call back in a few days, or sooner if he’s still having symptoms.  At this point-in-time he still hasn’t made that follow-up call.

On Tuesday I asked him if he’s still having symptoms and he replied in the affirmative.  He’d had some beers (not that he’s a big drinker) and then had to take another pill in the middle of the night.  Do you think he has called the NP to discuss the symptoms?  The answer is a big, fat, NO!!!

Here’s the difficult part, I don’t think he’s trying to place his health in danger, but I do believe he’s worried about what the medical bills will do to his financial situation.  Prior to this job he’d been out of work for 13 months.  The problem is that without medical care, five months of work won’t benefit his family in the long run if he’s permanently disabled or dies.  I keep wondering if he has a big life insurance policy to protect his family.

Since I can’t force him to go to the doctor all I can do is to continue to be inquisitive about his health.  perhaps if I’m persistent enough he’ll finally decide to take the actions he needs to protect his health and potentially his life.  My fear is that when people don’t have medical insurance they become, out of necessity, penny wise and pound foolish.  One trip to the emergency room will wipe him out financially, especially with the amount of tests they’ll end up running on him.

I guess I wouldn’t be hounding but he bought a new computer last week.  He can afford a computer, but can’t afford the EKG?  That’s something I just don’t understand and certainly wouldn’t approach him to explain.  When a computer is more important than your health what’s the message you’re sending to you body, to your loved ones, and to the world. 

I urge you to consider what you do because you don’t have health insurance, especially if you have some type of chronic or life-altering health challenge and how to make better decisions.  Find a social worker at a community health center who may know resource that can assist you for low-cost or no-cost  care.  Don’t wait for something to happen…this is the time to be pro-active.

I continually hope that my co-worker will wake up one day after having some symptoms and say to himself, “Gee, maybe I should look into this”.  I can’t insert thoughts into his head, but I can prime the pump,  but he’s got to make the final decision.

Posted in Healthcare

Lack of Insurance and Self-Medication

I’m witnessing first hand how desperately we’re in need of “good” healthcare reform.  I’m working with a guy in his mid-forties.  He’s overweight, has high blood pressure that he takes medication for, and is under a tremendous amount of stress. 

The other day at work he told me he was having heart palpitations.  He didn’t understand that what he was experiencing wasn’t a palpitation but an irregular heartbeat.  I asked him to call his doctor immediately.  The problem is he lives in Florida and we’re working in Texas.  It was a Sunday afternoon so I had him leave a message so they would get back to him first thing Monday morning.

He’s off on Monday, so on Tuesday he reported that he spoke with the Nurse Practitioner (NP) and she wanted him to come in for an EKG.  He told her he was out-of-town and that he’d call back in a few days.  He’s not going for an EKG locally because he doesn’t have insurance.  He’s hoping the NP will simply write a prescription for a new drug with different side-effects instead of checking to see if there are greater problems.

In addition, on his own, he’s changing the dosage of his medication.  All of this is frightening, but it’s indicative of a healthcare system that is so expensive that those without insurance will sacrifice their health, possibly their live because it’s too expensive.

Personally, I would never leave my house if I didn’t have health insurance.  I’m fortunate and grateful for the insurance I have.  I can’t imaging having to deal with a long-term health issue and potentially making sacrifices because each doctor visit or prescription meant possibly not making a mortgage payment, or putting food on the table.

I’m not sure what the solution is, but there’s got to be a better solution than what’s currently on the table.  I don’t believe the new healthcare reform will change all that much, and for people like my co-worker I don’t know that his ability to obtain reasonably priced healthcare will be in his future.

For those without insurance, many of the pharmaceutical companies have patient assistance programs.  If you need a low-cost or no cost doctor visit check a community based health clinic.  Many are funded to provide services to those who are uninsured.

Whatever you do, don’t play doctor.  Don’t self-medicate.  Don’t take it upon yourself to determine what tests you need or don’t need.  This is the time for you to make your voices heard because healthcare is vital to the sustainability of our culture.