Tough Questions, Informative Discussions, and Opportunities to Count Our Blessings

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From 2006 to 2010, I hosted a weekly radio show, sponsored by Upstate Medical University (Syracuse, NY). It gave me the opportunity to interview truly knowledgeable experts in every aspect of medicine and healthcare you can imagine.

It was an incredible learning experience. I would walk away from our recordings each week realizing that for every iota of information I knew or had just learned, there were millions of iotas I didn’t know, would never know, and might never even know to ask about. Gratifying, brain-stimulating, and sometimes overwhelming.

photo - dr eastwood

Dr. Gregory Eastwood

Included in the conversations was a monthly feature that focused on ethical questions in medicine and healthcare. I co-hosted the sessions with Dr. Gregory Eastwood, the president of the university, and a member of the Bioethics and Humanities Department. We made quite a team: the professional who, for decades, had dealt with these issues and the people who faced them, paired with me, the patient, who had never had to deal with most of them, but who tried to put herself in the shoes of those very frightened, overwhelmed and sometimes angry patients and family members who were forced to face difficult and often heart-wrenching decisions.

During those years we produced dozens of rich discussions, dealing with facts, reality, and perception, as affected by morality, religion / spirituality, culture, the law, and the human heart. I just loved those conversations – they made me think in directions my brain had never been forced to go before. (One of the results was the reminder to count my blessings. Few of us do that often enough.)

In 2010, I had to walk away from my hosting duties. My travel schedule had made it all but impossible to keep up the weekly recording schedule; totally unfair to the producers, and exhausting for me. I look back on the experience with gratitude for both the opportunity of meeting so many intelligent people with so much expertise, and the in-depth education I received on so many topics related to medicine, the healthcare system, and their impact on people.

Fast forward to today.

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The Binder, the Meltdown, and Some Advocacy Karma, Too

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I beg your indulgence today as I relate a personal story. I don’t usually do this – rarely do I share this much personal information! But I promise you, if you stick with it – it will make sense by the end.

As mentioned in last week’s post, my husband and I are getting ready to move. In less than three weeks, we’ll have begun settling in more than 1200 miles away.  Since we will have no basement (!) and since it’s just really about d*mn time (!) – we are cleaning out, purging really – getting rid of the excess stuff in our lives that we just don’t need or want to have to deal with (or don’t want our kids to have to deal with) in the future.

Yesterday was “clean out my office” day. It was a daunting task, a room chock full of everything from old computers to old paperwork, personal papers, workshop materials, plus books, books and more books, and more tchotchkes and little collectible things than you can imagine. Now about 2/3 of it is either set aside for yard-sale-round-2 – or is in the trash or recycling. Gone. Much of the rest is packed up and ready to move.

Today I’m actually feeling quite pious about the whole thing. I was organized, got started early, and played my favorite music – loudly –  all day. I made it as much fun as I could, considering the huge job that it was. By the time I was done, there was a certain “high” to having completed such a huge task.

Cleaning out was physically demanding. However, the real challenge was the emotional demand – something I had not anticipated. Cleaning out meant I dealt with memories all day long, some good, some not, and some alarming, as you’ll see in a moment.

I found my daughters’ birth certificates. I found the draft of my first book (one I never published). I found my divorce papers from 1988. I found all my newspaper column clippings – 6 years worth! I found my mother’s hole-in-one golf trophy from 1977. I found proposals I had written when I owned my marketing company, and thank you notes from past clients. I found the little give-aways from the radio show I hosted several years ago…. the list goes on and on.

Finding memorabilia means you revisit their history; it’s not like you can just sort those items without processing them.

And thus – the melt-down.

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Physicians Buying In – Bring on the Patient Advocates!

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Posted in the APHA Discussion Forum by one of our member advocates,

In the last week I have received calls from 2 potential clients whose physicians actually advised them to get a Patient Advocate! One was for medical insurance denials and the other was for patient navigation. It makes me really happy that physicians in my area are recognizing that we exist and can help their patients.

Followed shortly thereafter by another advocate who observed,

I know the clinicians I encounter learn to deeply appreciate my role-and, except for those who are dismissed, become more deeply engaged with my clients, who are their patients. MDs seem to be relieved with the presence of another pair of eyes scrutinizing the medical history, reviewing the pharmaceuticals (and my invariable submission of corrections to the medication record residing within the EHR), researching clinical guidelines, finding ways to better coordinate care, and averting potential catastrophes.

And still another who added,

We get lots of referrals from physicians. We just did a webinar for a group of physicians in our area. It’s a great way to get the word out. Glad to hear others are experiencing the same!

So why is all this news, and why does it belong in this blog?

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Do You Protect Your Herd?

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(Warning! Today I’m sharing a personal opinion for which I don’t expect total agreement. But I’m steadfast in my belief. I have science behind me. I’m girded for argument… bring it on!)

When I began my patient empowerment work in 2005, I had little or no understanding of the benefits of getting a flu shot except that – maybe – it would protect me from getting the flu. But I didn’t feel like I was at risk; I lived alone, I worked from home, my kids were no longer in school (where flu runs rampant!), and I was still relatively young. I’ve always hated getting shots, so why should I bother?

It was my right to say NO flu shot for me! And I didn’t get one.

In 2007, I became the patient empowerment expert for About.com, writing hundreds of articles and blog posts each year to teach patients how to become smart patients. My work required a great deal of research into every topic imaginable as it regarded taking responsibility for our healthcare, and making wise choices for ourselves and our loved ones.

Then 2009 rolled around and we began hearing about swine flu… THAT was when I began to learn more about the real need for flu vaccines, their history, how they work, the myths generated by the fearful and conspiracy theorists each year, and – yes – the merits of flu shots.

Since 2009, I have gotten my flu shot every fall. I’ve decided I’m unwilling to take any chances.

Take chances?  For what? (you might ask) My circumstances haven’t changed much since 2009 in terms of possible exposure, so why would I be any more concerned today than I was before then?

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Making the Case for Nonsense

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I suspect this discussion is going to surprise you as much as it surprised me.  The topic is Nonsense, but not Nonsense by its classic definition.  No, this Nonsense is quite different, and, frankly, sometimes it chokes me up.

Just published a month ago, Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing is the title of a new book by Jamie Holmes. Jamie is a Future Tense Fellow at New America, a non-profit, think-tank / forum / media platform that promotes the intellectual study of politics, prosperity and purpose. Part science, part exposé, part business lesson, Nonsense will surely leave you looking at your world very differently. It is extremely well-researched, easy to understand and, truly, just fascinating.

Specifically, Jamie’s Nonsense promotes ambiguity, its great utility for big decision-making, and its role in improved outcomes. And he makes a very good case for it.

Not what you expected, right?

In my lifetime, I have never handled ambiguity well. To me, it’s anxiety-producing limbo. It’s the road to hell – not knowing – not having the answers I think I need – not knowing how to deal with an important situation because I don’t have the important details. To me, ambiguity becomes an additional problem that just exacerbates the original problem. I can’t solve my problem or formulate my plan when I don’t have all the facts.

I raise this today for a few very different reasons. Continue Reading →

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