Grieving Our Former Selves Never Really Stops

When dealing with the daily challenges of chronic illness one never truly escapes the grieving process. We may, given enough time after diagnosis, learn how to cope with our new lives but glimpses of the past can seep in time and again, when we least expect it. Let me share with you just one such example of how this can happen, or at least how it happened to me recently. Continue reading “Grieving Our Former Selves Never Really Stops”

“Big Name” Food Store Pharmacy Penalizes Patients

I’ve been trying to figure out how to share this for hours since it happened. I am going to try to write this so that it makes the most sense, but beg your forgiveness if it is a bit disjointed in its presentation. I thought a great deal before deciding to write this post and decided I must share it so that others who may encounter similar situations can know that they are not alone. Continue reading ““Big Name” Food Store Pharmacy Penalizes Patients”

Time to Talk – #AtoZChallenge2018

Time is a finite thing when it comes to our lives regardless of whether we are healthy or ill. None of us know how long we will have on this planet before our time is up. This is a fact. Also a fact is that while many of us do not wish to talk about it we really need to be having the difficult discussions with our family about what we )and they) may desire should either become unable to make or communicate decisions regarding their medical care on their own. Continue reading “Time to Talk – #AtoZChallenge2018”

Invisible Disabilities NPR Article

I originally came across this article via NPR a year ago, and shared it from my personal page. Today Facebook reminded me of the original share, and I realized that it is still just as true today as when I shared it originally, as well as when NPR first published it in March of 2015.
Last night I had a conversation with a friend about the importance of the evolving field of palliative care, in that it is no longer for strictly terminally ill people on hospice care. The field of palliative care medicine is changing rapidly to include quality of life issues, as opposed to strictly end of life care.
But I digress. While I plan to cover the palliative care topic in a future post, this post is focusing on invisible disabilities and the challenges faced by those who have been diagnosed with them. I am one of these people with an invisible disability. If I happen to be having an extremely good day and am able to ambulate even a short distance without my cane, the only obvious sign of anything amiss would be an altered gait.
I regularly encounter dirty glances, stares, or even outright accusations of faking when someone sees me get out of a vehicle in a handicap accessible parking spot. This is regardless of my ability to ambulate, or even when I must resort to using a wheelchair for mobility, as I’ve had to do off and on for a great many years. It is worth noting that the days where I have an obvious assistive device such as a cane, walker, wheelchair, etcetera, I seem to get the questioning looks less frequently.
But if I have a good day and try to go to the store and not use the cane, I notice I seem to get more stares and sometimes downright nasty looks. I’ve had both the general public as well as occasionally employees of a store I am patronizing question me as to my right to use the accessible accommodations afforded to people like myself under the law.
I’ve even had numerous occasions over the decades, where what I can only assume was a well-meaning citizen actually called the police to complain that I had abused a spot that someone else could use. While these situations have always worked out in my favor with little more than embarrassment at the fact that I was stopped and questioned in a public venue by police, this is not something that I should have to endure.
Granted, I would rather deal with a polite, respectful agent of law enforcement tha  an irate, confused, or misinformed citizen who is not willing to be open-minded. However the fact remains that there are procedures for obtaining the privileges afforded to those with disabilities under the law, such as disabled parking placards, or license plates. As such, while I am sure abuses do occur, and I have seen it firsthand where a family member may use a disabled person’s vehicle or parking placard, I’d like to believe that this is the exception, not the rule.
It’s a shame….
The fact remains that if people can’t see an obvious disability, the typical reaction is that a disability doesn’t exist. It’s a shame that we’ve become a society that is so superficial that we either can’t, or won’t, take the time to look beyond what the eye can see. When will we finally begin to give our fellow human being the benefit of the doubt? When will we, as human beings, take the time to get to know more about someone who may be suffering with an invisible illness? I’d tend to bet that most of us know at least one person in our lives who struggles with some degree or form of an invisible disability / illness, that we may be very surprised to learn that they are dealing with.
 
We have become so entrenched in our own personal rat-race of life, work, and family that we often fail to notice or even care about the existence of such disabilities in others. This often holds true, even to those with whom we would consider ourselves close.
 
What are your thoughts on how we can try to change this?
 
Read the article below for more information by NPR:

People With ‘Invisible Disabilities’ Fight For Understanding

Zebras #AtoZChallenge

Zebras     #AtoZChallenge

There is nothing more frustrating as a patient than having a provider look at you and summarily discount your symptoms as ‘impossible’. It is very common that we are hesitant, even afraid, of that which we do not understand. It is also true that those trained to diagnose and treat us could and should be held to a higher standard.

It is to them we look when our body revolts against us in ways which we do not understand. It is them to whom we turn when we feel our body couldn’t possibly be destroying itself as it seems to be doing. It is our physicians we look to for an answer of that which we cannot make sense of on our own. And that is how it should be for they are the ones with years and years of education and experience upon which to base their examination and diagnosis.

However, when learning the science of medical care, they are often taught to think of the most common diagnosis first. While on the surface this makes sense, oftentimes they fail to diligently pursue our entire history and symptoms in order to make a proper diagnosis. As with anything in life one must take into account all pertinent information in order to make a proper determination as to what is happening.

A phrase often used early in one’s practice of treating other human beings is “when you think hoofbeats think horses, not zebras.” While this may work in the majority of cases, I assure you that it does not work well in every scenario, nor should it be expected to. A better way to phrase this lesson would be “when horses no longer make sense, start thinking zebras”.

Frequently when a physician actually takes the time to perform a full and complete exam and history they are left at a loss as to precisely what the cause may be in their more complex population of patients. That is because those of us with complex medical problems do not present as the typical patient. Our symptoms may not even make sense presenting with each other. Nevertheless, we are very real and so are our symptoms. We deserve to be believed and to have our complaints and symptoms taken seriously regardless of whether they make immediate sense or not.

Both when working in patient care, and while being a patient, I have encountered too many stories of people suffering for years prior to receiving a true and accurate diagnosis. While it is true that sometimes a proper diagnosis eludes medical science, it is also true that sometimes when a diagnosis isn’t readily recognizable, we as patients suffer. Sometimes we suffer needlessly when just a little perseverance on the part of our medical professionals would provide an answer. Other times a diagnosis just isn’t possible.

My suggestion to medical professionals is to be willing to consider zebras when horses no longer make sound medical judgment. Don’t be unwilling to consider the obscure. Be more than willing to advocate for and on behalf of your patients right to proper diagnosis and treatment. Above all else, do no harm. For when you dismiss us, you are often causing irreparable harm physically, medically, and emotionally.

Do you have a story you’d like to share regarding a challenge in obtaining a proper diagnosis or treatment? Please share with us in the comments below.

F is for Keep Fighting! #AtoZChallenge

F is for Keep Fighting!     #AtoZChallenge

When facing a chronic health issue it is easy to lose the determination to fight at times. Many of us display great fortitude when fighting chronic illness. We don’t necessarily do this because we are any better than anyone else. We do this because this is all we know. We keep fighting for the next potential treatment, or if we are truly lucky a cure. We often fight one day, week, or month at a time, just trying to make it until the we make it through, or are faced with another challenge in addition to the one we already had.

Many people who battle chronic illness are faced with more than one diagnosis, or even side effects of the treatments aimed at improving our quality of life. Occasionally even the most steadfast warriors experience a rough day. During such a day it is not unlikely that they will question the quality of their life. Keeping it in perspective it is often a matter of making sure the positive aspects of their life outweighs the negative.

It is during these times that even the strongest of us can find that we wonder if it is worth the fight. Wondering if it is worth it is not a sign of weakness. In reality, the strongest among us will eventually have a bad day or period of time in which we can’t help but wonder. It is what we do when we experience these difficult times that determine both how we react and how we will come through the tough times. Realizing that tough times happen even to healthy people, should help to keep things in perspective.

The defining moment for us is not how we battle daily life, but how we face the challenges in our low points. By focusing on the positive and realizing that the low points are temporary you can get through almost anything.

What do you do to get through the extremely challenging times in your life?  Share your story with us below, and most importantly, keep fighting!

E is for Being Excited About Life! #AtoZChallenge

E is for Being Excited About Life!     #AtoZChallenge

So you or someone you care about has a chronic illness. It isn’t the end of life as you know it.

Remember the excitement for life that you had before you got sick? You can have that again! Just because your health has changed, maybe even drastically, does not mean all is lost.

Today, more so than ever before, technological advances have enabled even the most limited in physical activity to remain at the very least mentally active. So if you have the desire, there are lots of things you can do to remain active and yes, even passionate about life!

Without going into specific examples based on your previous level of knowledge and expertise in any given area, there are still a variety of things you could do to occupy your mind and your time. You could use your previous knowledge to educate others. For that matter, you could use your current situation as a catalyst so that, when you are ready, you can share your experience with others. You could decide to pursue further education and new career goals.

Maybe you are not only chronically ill but also suffer from the effects of chronic pain as I do. If you find yourself unable to hold regular employment, all is still not lost. There are still plenty of ways you can continue to feel like you have something to contribute. Even something as simple as becoming a volunteer in a facility or unit that made a difference for you.

While maybe that isn’t as fulfilling in your mind as employment, I can tell you that there is something quite as fulfilling as being able to give back to those that have taken the time to help you when you needed it. Remember when you were at the worst possible point in your health and someone took the time to stop and talk with you? Remember how good it felt that someone actually cared who maybe didn’t need to, in the aspect that they weren’t being paid to do so? You can be there for someone else. Maybe you encounter a patient who could draw inspiration from the fact that you had been where they currently are, and you prevailed.

Become excited about life again!

Have you found a new purpose in your life after health issues? Share your story with us below!

C is for Compassion

C is for Compassion

Compassion, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is the “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it”. Or in more simple terms, “it refers to both an understanding of another’s pain and the desire to somehow mitigate that pain”.

Compassion is often an undervalued trait in people as a whole, especially true in the field of healthcare. I’ve had some wonderfully compassionate and caring nurses, and physical rehab specialists of various disciplines, and physician assistants. These people were able to make a very challenging and difficult situation much more tolerable by the seemingly simple act of compassion.

But it really isn’t a simple thing. Some practitioners I’ve encountered, mostly very competent ones, had an apparent lack of ability to show compassion or basic caring for another person. To these few, I was simply a medical challenge placed in front of them upon which to practice their particular healthcare craft.

While these people seem to be the exception to the rule, I find it distressing that anyone in such a caring profession could be without the ability to care about their patient as a human being vs. an illness or disease. These few function as robots who take input in the form of symptoms and spit out a diagnosis in response.

Are we to blame for this, or is an inherent lack of ability to feel for their patients? Is it a result of the demands placed on our healthcare practitioners by an extremely taxed and highly regulated system of medicine? Did they somehow lose their compassion in the bureaucracy of our healthcare system which seems to be run by the insurance companies rather than sound medical judgment? Or have they simply shut off their emotions in an attempt to survive in the sea of healthcare battles they find themselves in on a daily basis?

This article is neither an attack on our healthcare system nor what may or may not be wrong with it. Rather it is simply some observations based on real life experiences that beg for these questions to be answered.

Share your thoughts, with us, below.

Believe…

Believe…

No matter what you are going through, you must believe…

  • In your strength
  • In your abilities
  • In your worth
  • In humanity
  • In yourself!!!

Sometimes in life we find ourselves facing a life altering event of some sort. It could be the loss of a job, or the loss of a loved one. Perhaps you’ve suffered some sort of major medical crisis or traumatic injury. You may think I am being vague, and you’d be correct. I am intentionally being vague because what constitutes a major life changing event is often subjective and as such it varies from one person to another.

Despite the catalyst for your challenge, there are some common reactions and challenges. Depression and even grief are very common results which can add to decreased feelings of self-worth. Recognizing these emotions and their existence can aid you in facing the challenges of adjusting to the circumstances of your individual life challenge. While simply existing may seem counterintuitive to the point of this, sometimes just existing shows your desire and willingness to work through your challenges. Don’t sell yourself short, for sometimes willing yourself to survive is no small feat! The days when you feel up to it,  believe in good things to come. The days you lack the strength or ability to believe this, just believe in making it through the minute, hour, and day in front of you. If you do this over and over, one day you will find yourself suddenly moving on in a positive new direction, despite your challenges.

Despite battling multiple major and chronic health issues and injuries over the last twenty years, I’ve had plenty of days where even I simply had to get through the next hour, and then the next one, one at a time until I made it through the day. Days like this, when I feel as if I just can’t go on, often leave me surprised that I made it through. On the very challenging days, ‘simply existing’ isn’t a sign of weakness. On the contrary I feel it is a sign of strength when you make it through any given day, despite your challenges. So believe in yourself, because if you don’t, how can you expect others to?

As time marches on and you adjust to your situation, you may well decide that while you understandably miss your previous sense of self, you can pursue another passion you hadn’t previously thought about. The only limit to what we can achieve, is our own perception of our situation. While very real limitations may in fact exist, it isn’t uncommon for us to feel that they are insurmountable. Sometimes what we perceive as a limitation, may actually reveal itself as a strength as you begin to work through things and pursue options you hadn’t previously thought about.

I highly recommend journaling to help you comprehend the flood of thoughts and emotions you may be experiencing. Write every day. Write especially on the days you don’t feel like it or just plain don’t want to. Later when you go back and read it days, week, months, or even years later, you will likely find things that surprise you. When you are in the midst of a major challenge, you may not be able to think clearly, or even understand everything you may be thinking or feeling. I’ve spoken with a great many people who swear by journaling to get the jumble of thoughts out of their head, onto paper where they suddenly find themselves more relaxed and thus more able to process all the thoughts. Some people report feeling a calm sense of objectivity when reading their own journal, as if it is someone else’s words that they are reading. This can give a fresh perspective on how to best manage the challenges before you.

Have you had a major challenge in your life that, despite it feeling insurmountable, you made it through? Feel free to share in the comments.

Above all else, remember to just believe….

Inpatient Mental Health Just As Important As Physical Health

Most often when we think of someone being in the hospital, we think instantly of their physical health. However, mental health can play an important role in healing physical issues as well. The mental health aspect of healthcare, when it comes to physical maladies is often overlooked, or simply not thought of as often as it should be. I am a firm believer that every patient who has been admitted to the hospital should receive, at the very least, a cursory mental health examination. By doing so, properly trained staff may well be able to predict the need for further psychological or even psychiatric interventions.

This cursory exam should be performed on each and every patient who is admitted to the hospital, to identify potential concerns. This should apply even if the patient is entering the hospital for a seemingly simple procedure or even something that may be as considered as routine as giving birth. Whether the patient is a veteran like myself, with maybe a new and unfamiliar medical condition, or a relatively healthy person who has experienced a life-altering medical or trauma related incident that has led them to the hospital. Either of these patients can experience many forms of anxiety which can manifest itself as anger towards others including staff, and by the untrained professional caregiver be considered as non-compliant or even belligerent, when all they truly are is scared and anxious of the unknown.

I have personally once been prematurely discharged from the hospital by what I deem to be an improperly trained resident who had convinced his attending that I was being belligerent and argumentative. In reality I was suffering the well documented effects some people experience from steroid medications, nicknamed “roid rage” in the medical community. It is so aptly named because the patient becomes argumentative, belligerent, and occasionally even physically violent on steroid medications. While I partially blame this on inadequate training of the resident managing my case. I further blame it on inadequate oversight and supervision of the resident by his direct superior who signed off on my discharge without ascertaining all the facts for themselves.

By having and properly utilizing mental health services, you can prevent unnecessary “labels” such as non-compliant and belligerent from being applied to patients which carry their own risk of further using or heightening anxiety. By making the appropriate mental health referrals, you can not only reduce the stress a patient may encounter, but improve their physical recovery as it has been well documented over time that mental health can most definitely affect physical health in a variety of ways. Emotional distress can manifest itself into physical symptoms which in turn could easily complicate proper diagnosis and treatment of a patient, especially if the providers have not considered the patients mental and emotional health appropriately.

To someone with a major or even relatively minor illness that requires hospitalization, and this is their first ever encounter with the inpatient aspect of healthcare, the experience can be quite stressful. The issues one may feel range from depression over the source of their admission, especially if it will be a long term illness or recovery, to loss of control over their own life and care, to anger (why did this happen to me), feelings of loss, or any range of emotions. It is important to realize that the first time patient, has absolutely no idea what to expect when admitted to the hospital. And realistically, most often staff themselves are too busy to explain each step of the way what the new patient may expect.

Even a veteran patient like myself, can find themselves feeling similar anxieties despite being sometimes intimately familiar with what to expect. Maybe the reason for this admission is different than precious ones, or you have a different physician with whom you do not have your normal rapport. Or maybe you are simply anxious over the unknowns of being hospitalized despite having been through it before. Maybe you are facing a potentially lengthy recovery that will require admission to a physical rehabilitation facility or even to a skilled nursing facility, often referred to as nursing homes. While skilled nursing facilities are often also utilized for short and sometimes even long term physical rehabilitation, the stigma associated with the term “nursing home” may well cause further anxiety, and yes even fear in a patient. These items need to be addressed before they further complicate the patient’s recovery.

Not only is it perfectly okay to feel this way, but it is also entirely normal for some people to be more susceptible to the stressors of being hospitalized in an inpatient setting. This does not imply weakness of either mind or body, rather it indicates that you are reacting normally to a stressful situation of which you have little to no control, or even any idea what will happen next. One in which it is often not explained to you on an ongoing and consistent basis what is going on with your care.

More than once, I’ve had a transport aide arrive at my room to inform me that they are there to take me for <insert random medical test here>, when I had no clue that such a test had been ordered, let alone even considered to be necessary by my medical team. Sadly this has become the norm. Patients in ICU often experience even more severe anxiety than those on a regular floor. Between the severity of their particular health condition, the unfamiliar surroundings, the and the unusually naturally stressful environment of the ICU itself, are all stressors to even the most experienced patients, as I myself can attest to having recently awakened on a ventilator when that was not expected in the least.

I’m not saying every patient who gets admitted to the hospital should be placed on anti-depressants or other mental health medications or treatments. What I am advocating, is that everyone involved in the patient care team pay attention for the warning signs of some of the aforementioned stressors that can also contribute to depression on a more long term basis if not addressed properly in the first place. Often an outburst by an otherwise very pleasant patient is a sign of something lurking below the surface such as anxiety, or even confusion over their healthcare.

As previously stated, a routine mental health screening wouldn’t be a bad idea to determine those patients who may be more susceptible to the above issues, or even those who may already be experiencing them, but are afraid to admit it for fear of feeling or being labeled as crazy. Mental health should be a part of every patients care management team, for both their own health as well as staff safety. If you have a patient who is feeling overwhelmed who may lash out, this then become an important safety issue for not only the patient but also facility staff.

During a recently particularly stressful day, and a relatively sleepless night due to that stress, despite being totally unrelated to my hospital admission, I was in a really sensitive and even downright bad and cranky mood. An innocent comment made to me by a staff member that I took out of context, led me to verbally lash out at this staff member. Thankfully this staff member was very familiar with me and new that this was way out of context of my normal demeanor. Rather than simply lash out in return to my outburst, she took the time to speak with me, and determine the real cause of my demeanor change. When all was said and done, things ended on a relatively positive and upbeat note. The particular staff member realized that right then was not the time to “push” me into the scheduled treatment, and graciously agreed to give me time to collect my thoughts and myself, in order to better face the day ahead. Further she agreed to make accommodations in her very hectic schedule to permit me to make up that treatment.

In closing, if you or a loved one finds yourself as an inpatient, be sure to be aware of the potential stressors that could further aggravate your health and your recovery. Don’t be afraid to reach out for an evaluation, or treatment if necessary. It is not an admission of weakness. Quite the contrary it is an admission of strength enough to know your body well enough to know it’s own limits, and to know when to ask for help!