Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Having a Voice in Healthcare, living with chronic illness, overcoming adversity

I Wish My Vet Saw People

If you follow me on Twitter (@GregKatz2), Facebook, or on these posts you know I have a black lab named Tashi that was diagnosed with MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) about seven years ago. Half her life has been spent visiting doctors, taking a host of medications, and having numerous tests where she’s been poked and prodded to get cultures. Throughout this process she has endured pain and discomfort, never giving up her loving nature.


After fighting her most recent infection for the better part of a year, I’ve had the chance to be grateful for her doctor (Dr. B). He’s dedicated to her well-being. He took her case and as a result changed the infection control policies at the Veterinary Hospital. Most of all, I’ve watched him spend time with Tashi, never giving up on her and always trying to make her as comfortable as possible. What could he teach medical students who will eventually be treating us in doctor’s offices and hospitals?

Meet the patient where they are. I’m fortunate because I feel as if I’ve become partners with my medical providers. I always ask questions and I’m aware of the latest research on my own conditions. There is no power play in the exam room. Our vet is very sensitive to the power dynamic and when he examines Tashi he sits on the floor so he can see her eye-to-eye. He will often bow his head so that she knows that he doesn’t have to be dominant, in theory. He’s also the keeper of the treats, always a way to endear himself to her.

Follow-up is very important to the health and healing process. I feel like I’ve attracted patient positive doctors. They’ve been concerned and their follow-up has been extraordinary. One of my doctors had ordered some lab work and I didn’t do it within a timely manner. I received a phone call from him saying he hadn’t seen the results come across his desk and wanted to make sure I had gone for the lab tests. I felt like he was definitely looking out for me. Dr. B goes above and beyond the call of duty. After Tashi has an office visit, the phone rings about 8pm a couple of days later (after the vet office closes), the doctor checking to see if she’s making progress. Wouldn’t you like a follow-up call from your doctor to see if you’re making progress?

Dr. B always dialogues about side-effects and outcome strategies. He’s clear about what I’m willing and unwilling to do for treatment. Some of the medications Tashi has been on have had such horrible side-effects that they have been removed from the repertoire of possible treatment strategies. Minimizing suffering while seeking treatments that work is paramount to us working as a team. Dr. B doesn’t make it a “my way or the highway” session.

What can you take away from my experience with a vet that treats Tashi as if she were a person? Never allow your doctor to talk down to you. Be clear that you may not have gone to medical school, but it’s your body, your health, and your journey. Let the doctor know what’s important to you regarding the relationship. I always share with the doctor my professional background in healthcare so he knows from the start I’m going to be very involved (sometimes too involved when I begin to self-diagnosis. Read my post on anchor bias).

Select a doctor that makes you feel like you’re a priority. Unfortunately I spent five months taking Tashi to the vet a minimum of three times a week for treatment so I had a lot of time to ask questions and discuss her progress. Stay in contact with your doctor so he has up-to-date knowledge of how you’re doing. Many healthcare systems have email for their staff; use it! Don’t be afraid to ask questions in between appointments.

Lastly, find a doctor who has a strong commitment to compassion. Dr. B has always treated Tashi as if she were his own. He has done amazing amounts of research on her condition and is always looking for the latest and greatest treatments for her condition. I wish he saw humans because I’d be his first patient!

Looking to explore how to select a physician that is willing to partner with you?  Looking for education, support, and inspiration when facing a health challenge?  Visit

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Follow me on Twitter: @GregKatz2

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

Hanging On For Hope

The diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness brings anxiety. It throws the individual and their family into a world of the unknown. It pokes and prods us to become vigilant in our search for hope. The hope is that there will be a treatment protocol that will cure or at least alleviate suffering. As I’ve discussed in the past, there is a difference between getting better and getting well. Cure is the hope, but it’s not always possible. So what is possible?

I’m always on the lookout for news about new treatments. I feel like an information and referral resource for friends and family. It’s a role I enjoy. I’m honored that people in my life trust me enough to share their experiences. My ears and eyes are always open for some information that I can pass on to ease the illness experience.

How vigilant am I in my search for hope and healing? I was watching Jeopardy last night and across the bottom of the screen there was message that said, “FDA approves new medication for MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). That sent me directly to the computer to see what the news flash was about. If you’ve been reading my posts you know my dog has been living with MRSA for the past 6+ years. I need hope.

Our lives have revolved around a cycle of diagnosis and treatment. After a while you feel like a hamster on a hamster wheel. The cycle is repetitive and each time a culture gets sent to the lab we hope and pray that there will be some medication that will tame the infection. As you know if you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness, there’s no guarantee that treatments will work forever. We hope that someone in research and development will bring forth a new strategy while we still have time.

Hope also requires that we invite others into our lives. We can’t be everywhere and know all. Inviting others into your life, like others have invited me, giving you a personal research team always on the lookout for an interview, news article, or like yesterday, a message crossing the television screen.

Hope isn’t only about faith. There’s a practical side to hope based on technology, research, and organizations that lobby for money to bring forth new treatments. Whether the future holds a space for you where you get well or get better, remember that hope is a strategy. It needs to be part of your treatment regimen!

Diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness and looking for support, education, and inspiration?  Visit

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

Helplessness…Uncomfortable to the Core

If you’ve read some of my past posts you know that I have a black lab mix named Tashi. She’s thirteen plus and has been fighting MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) for seven years. The past ten months have been one infection after another. The bacteria are sneaky, mutating every six to eight weeks requiring a new culture and new meds. She’s been so patient! In addition to medication, she gets a laser treatment on her foot every other day. It’s a great experience for her because the treatment is painless and she gets lots of treats from the entire staff at the vet.

So why am I feeling helpless in this moment? This past weekend she developed conjunctivitis. She had a discharge that was making her continually rub her eyes. We took her to the vet and he prescribed medication. Yesterday I woke up and noticed that instead of progress, her eyes looked worse. They were so bad that she could hardly keep her eyes open.

Her regular doctor was off yesterday so she got to meet a new vet (new for her). The doctor was kind and considerate. She knew about Tashi’s history because she’s been teaching the entire staff about MRSA and all the troubles that come with this diagnosis. New meds, eye drops to soothe the itch, and lots of love will hopefully make the difference.

Helpless because I can’t make her feel any better. She can’t rub her eyes so she has to wear a cone (the famous radar dish) so she won’t irritate her eyes. I’m putting ointments and drops in her eyes every couple of hours. I feel helpless because in trying to make her feel better I have to do everything in my power to prevent her from irritating her eyes even further. I feel helpless because being so vigilant with the MRSA that a different infection leaves me feeling defeated.

I feel helpless because I can’t explain what’s going on to her, and all she can do is trust that I’m going to help. Helplessness is very uncomfortable. A different kind of uncomfortable than the itch and pain she’s experiencing because it’s my soul is uncomfortable. This type of experience teaches me that I can only do what’s humanly possible.   I can only be compassionate and proactive about her medical condition, but I don’t have the power to heal her. Uncomfortable because it shows that I have limitations and surrender is my only option.

Our story continues. She’s a happy girl, although uncomfortable in this moment. She’s full of love. She holds spaces of trust and love in her heart (so maybe I’m projecting a bit). We’re a team! There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do to ease her pain and discomfort. There isn’t anything I would do that would jeopardize her quality of life. There is only one thing I do have power over, ensuring that she leaves it all on the table, living a life that’s full of love, fun, and connection.

Diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness?  Looking for education, support, and inspiration?  Visit

Exploring how Art impacts Healing?  Visit

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

What I Continue To Learn From My Dog About Living With Illness

I have a black lab mix, adopted from the shelter at 9 weeks old. Her name is Tashi, from Alice Walker’s book The Color Purple.   We’ve shared many amazing times together and continue to do so even though she’s slowing down a bit at the age of thirteen. About seven years ago she contracted MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), a staph infection that is often drug resistant. In the past, we would tame the infection and get at least a few months of remission. Currently, we’ve been fighting a never-ending infection that keeps mutating eluding our efforts for remission.

I can tell you about the long list of doctors and tests she had endured, but I want to focus on the appointment we had yesterday. It was time for a new culture because the antibiotic we’ve been giving her the past six weeks stopped working. The progress stalled and that just means without further intervention we would start moving backwards.

The doctor came into the examination room and we had our usual conversation about treatment possibilities and then he took Tashi to the back to secure the culture. The culture entails giving her lidocaine (a numbing agent) to minimize her discomfort. The doctor then takes samples the size of a pencil eraser from her foot. He then closes the puncture site with sutures that she’ll have in for the next three weeks.

When the doctor walked her out to the lobby he told me when to expect the results. He then said, “This is the best she’s ever done, I guess we become accustomed to things that we never thought we’d have to endure.” It was an odd thing to hear, but I got it; she’s a trooper.

Every time we got to the vet I’m amazed that she doesn’t fight me upon entering the building. The staff adores her and gives her love. The doctor, the perpetrator of what some might call medical intrusion, adores her and treats her with the utmost respect. She has an innate understanding that even though these people inflict pain, no one is out to harm her in any way. Her level of trust and “go with the flow” mentality seems to diminish the trauma and pain of the procedures she so effortlessly endures.

Healing environments have to be built on a foundation of trust. Trust that the medical team is on your side and that anything they’re doing is to help, not hurt. They need to find ways to provide a level of comfort because procedures can be painful and are often scary. Tashi is always surrounded by a loving energy that seems to shield her from the trauma of the procedure.

Tashi is a role model for what it takes to keep on going with a potentially life-threatening illness. She is able to endure procedures, endless rounds of medications causing side effects like loss of hearing and yet she’s loving, playful, and trusting. Trust is something so crucial on the health and healing journey and I continue to learn how it manifests by watching what Tashi endures on a daily basis. She’s my teacher.

Diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness? Looking for support, education, and inspiration? Visit

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

Lessons from Bella

I have two dogs and both have had their fair share of medical issues.  I’ve talked much more about my black lab Tashi who has suffered with recurrent infections due to MRSA.  I’ve learned a lot about facing illness and creating a new normal from her.  This past weekend my other dog, Bella, visited the vet because of a cyst in her ear.

As it turns out, Bella has a hematoma in her ear.  It was drained and a cortisone injection to reduce the swelling was administered.

During the examination the doctor noticed Bella required dental work with the probability that a tooth would need to be pulled.  If that weren’t enough, she has a cyst in the middle of her head that we decided is she’s going to be under anesthesia should probably be removed.

Bella was sent home with a bandage covering her ear.  Unfortunately, she kept trying to remove it so we had to get one of those big radar dishes for her head.  The poor thing was bumping into walls, tripping over things, and was generally a bit disoriented.

This morning I took Bella to the bet for her procedure.  She was very good in the exam room, probably because she was scared.  She began to shiver.  Her anxiety was evident and trying to console her did little good.  The vet was very good with her and he too tried to console her.  So why am I talking about a 10-1/2 year old dog?  Because dogs don’t understand their pain, the medical procedures they endure, or adjusting to medical devices for their own protection.

On the other hand, as humans we also don’t understand pain, medical procedures, or medical devices that become part of our every day lives.  Too many of us try and make sense of our illnesses, but is that even possible?

When we enter the medical arena we often try and hide our fear and anxiety, but it still always comes through.  Because illness is so disorienting how do we try and alleviate the panic?  It’s important to have people in your life that will help you disperse the anxious energy.  Talking, engaging in creative activities, finding a spiritual director, illness coach, or psychotherapist helps with those anxious moments.

What would happen if you really experienced the anxiety so you could disperse it into the universe?  We expend so much energy trying to hide it or suppress it that we are continually exhausted physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  I had a clinical supervisor who said, “You can’t get out of something if you’re never in it”.  It’s like dancing around the mouth of the volcano…sometimes you have to jump in so you can know what you’re getting out of, experientially.

My dogs are my examples for coping with illness.  They seem fearless, truly a projection.  They provide me with insights into the illness experience that I wouldn’t have made conscious any other way.  It is because of that, that I am eternally grateful and I make sure any way I can be of service to them I will.

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!

Posted in Uncategorized

Swine Flu: Why is This Different?

Every news cycle over the past few days has been consumed with stories about the Swine Flu (I realize that the CDC is calling it something different so pigs aren’t insulted).  The World Health Organization is involved along with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and it helped facilitate the immediate confirmation of the new Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.  It truly is a global issue that not only impacts health but economics around the world and in particular Mexico.

Viruses are around us all the time.  The hope is that our immune systems can keep them at bay, but when they can’t all hell breaks loose.  I’m particularly sensitive to these issues because I have a dog, yes a dog, who has been diagnosed with MRSA and Pseudomonas, not to mention staph infections.  These infections are prevalent in our healthcare settings and they don’t make news regularly…why do you think that is?  People die from these infections, but they aren’t casually transmitted and the big issue is they don’t impact the global economic situation like the Swine Flu.  The tentacles of the Swine Flu reach far and go deep…is that the only time when we put our attention into fighting illness?  I think I’m having one of those cynical touchstone moments that I discussed in a previous post.

One of the things talked about repeatedly on the news is how to protect yourself from getting infected.  Yesterday NPR had a story that gave us listeners a lesson on how to wash our hands.  They wanted everyone to know how long you should wash your hands for (20 seconds) and what song you can sing to get to the 20 second marker.  Are we so naive about our health?  Do we have such issues of entitlement that we believe we don’t ever have to take any precautions?  Isn’t that the thought around HIV… I can’t get it so I don’t have to worry about safe sex? 

We have to begin taking better care of our health on a regular basis, not just when we increase the alert level.  We have to know what our risk factors are and how we can take better care of our bodies so we won’t have to confront the illnesses lurking in the shadows waiting for us to let down our guard.  What will you do to take better care of yourself?

Posted in Uncategorized

Metallurgy and Health

Our country is always looking for sources of energy and one of the industries in the US is mining.  We mostly hear about mining for coal since we need to run our electric plants and heat our homes.  Scientists are looking at other areas, particularly metals and seeing how they can impact your health.  The big health issue in the news is the dramatic increase in hospital infections such as MRSA and C-diff.  These infections can be life-threatening so coming up with new and innovative ideas for curbing the spread of infection is welcomed.

Last Friday, NPR’s Science Friday had a scientist on who was discussing the impact of copper on your health.  We all remember all those folks wearing copper bracelets in hopes of curing arthritis, but as it turns out copper may be bacteria’s worst enemy.

Preliminary studies show that copper and its alloys, brass and bronze, have anti-microbial effects.  In essence, they serve as sanitizers or resistors to infection.  A study is being conducted looking at the impact that having copper covered bed rails, call buttons, etc. will decrease the transmission of life compromising infections.  The study is being conducted at three hospitals: Memorial-Sloan Kettering, The VA in Charleston and MUSC also in Charleston.  The researchers chose three hospitals that have specific populations that might be more prone to these hospital based infections.

It’s this type of research that is working to make hospitals safer.  No one wants to spend any time in a hospital but if you do wouldn’t it be nice to know that your environment isn’t a bigger health risk then the disease that’s challenging you?  Any steps we can take to make the hospital a place that truly works to ward off disease and promote health is a step in the right direction.