I’m a huge animal lover and refer to myself lovingly as the Young Woman in A Shoe with so many animals she DOES know what to do!  I pride myself on making informed healthcare choices for my animals too!

What do I do?  All the normal things- walk them, feed them, and most of all love them.  Part of loving them is making sure that they get the healthcare that they deserve!

Rabies, heartworm, and miscellaneous bumps and bruises are all part of the responsibilities here along with some unexpected procedures from time to time.

Here’s what generally happens when I go to the vet with a problem:

  • Service with a Smile: I am greeted by someone who loves their job and knows me and my animals by name, with treats available.
  • Timely Attention: My appointments run on time or someone tells me that there will be a delay, giving me an option to wait or come back later.
  • Double Checking: The assistant confirms the reason for my visit and asks (at this time of year) whether I want a heartworm check for my dogs since it’s the season for it in Michigan.
  • Preventative Medicine Is Recommended: This is a very pro-active way to deal with healthcare and is encouraged when it comes to treating my animals.  Educating me about why this is an issue is really important so that I can make an informed decision.
  • The Doctor is IN: The doctor comes in and addresses my questions fully.
  • Dealing With Unexpected Procedures Thoroughly: If it turns out a procedure is recommended, the vet explains it to me fully to make sure I understand it.  I then make a decision and schedule it if I decide it’s necessary.
  • Clear Detailed Procedure Protocol: I get clear instructions regarding what I need to do before a procedure including deciding on blood work ahead of time, special diets to follow, etc.  These instructions are in writing and given to me at the time I schedule the procedure  ( which is before I leave the office in most instances.  I am also encouraged to call if I have any questions before the procedure
  • Professional After Procedure Protocol: When I pick up my animal following the procedure, I discuss with the vet what they found and walk away with written instructions for how to care for them.   The following day, I receive a call to see how things are going and whether I have any other questions or concerns.  If it’s a serious procedure, I often have to return to the office and there may be additional follow up calls by phone.

Now, picture your last visit to your healthcare provider.  Imagine being sick and having an unexpected procedure or test suggested to you.

Are you getting the same care that my animals get when you see your healthcare provider?

This is a rather provocative subject as frustration – of any sort – is really annoying, stressful, and confusing. It can also be embarrassing, creating depression and anxiety in its wake.  It can often make us (me too!) feel powerless, isolated and out of control. If you’re feeling frustrated just by reading this, I want you to know I really understand that and am in your corner.

(In fact, if this article is making you anxious just by reading it, I encourage you to skip to the bottom and answer this question:    What is your greatest frustration with your healthcare provider?  Know that you’ve helped me so that I can help you.)

When it comes to our health, that frustration is often multiplied by physical pain, emotional suffering, and lots of complications as a result of it all.

I want healthcare providers and people who deal with them to communicate clearly and get the job done together.

My passion is to create a bridge between healthcare providers and people who are struggling with some kind of health situation (whatever its nature) so that everyone gets their needs met.

There is no room for blaming our healthcare providers or ourselves (though it is a natural human tendency to do so) when we feel frustrated.  It’s a problem to be solved.

Steve Chandler has taught me how to turn problems into challenges, projects or something to work on.  It’s a subtle difference – but for me it’s been life-changing.  His approach has taught me how to look at unmet needs particularly in the field of healthcare, redefine those frustrations as something to work on and find ways to help others feel less overwhelmed, agitated and worried.

When we take our frustration and look at them as something to work on, they become more manageable.   That’s my job – not yours – and I need your help to do my job well.

As part of my job, I have created Patient Power and the Appointment Preparation Worksheet so that you can communicate more clearly with your HealthCare Provider.

I also realize there’s so much more that I can do to truly be of service which brings me to today’s question:  What is your greatest frustration with your healthcare provider?

Whether you’re dealing with something fairly often or it’s just the occasional visit and regardless of your situation, I would love your answer to this question.  I want to be sure your frustrations are addressed in my work and I welcome your posts here.

If you are more comfortable, please feel free  to contact me.   I welcome a confidential conversation with you via phone or email about this very tender subject.

It’s so common to notice what’s not working in our lives.  Whether it’s the news, the weather, or our lives in general – there’s usually something that isn’t exactly as we’d like it (me too!). One of the many reasons for this is the way we’re wired and our survival instinct. In the days of the cave man, we had to constantly be on guard for getting our basic needs met – food, water, shelter and survival.

Nowadays, those needs are often threatened in catastrophic situations or if we’re impoverished.  I don’t want to minimize those circumstances or that they exist.  In fact, I want to acknowledge that those are very difficult situations which millions of people bravely endure and send them my compassion and prayers.

So, why would I talk about survival and noticing what’s not working when this article is about 5 signs you and your provider are in sync? Good question huh!

Here’s the reason:  finding what works isn’t something we’re wired to do.  Why?  Because (in part anyway – there’s a zillion reasons for this) we’re physically and psychologically wired to figure out what isn’t working and fix it.

Having said that, let’s now shift our focus to finding the good. This is something I’ve learned from Jen Louden who continues to inspire me with how she’s helped me really notice all the things (and there’s a million of them too!) that truly are working in my life.  As I notice what’s working in my life, it seems (like the vine outside my window as I write this) to just grow – in infinite and surprising ways.

Here are the 5 key ingredients to a good working relationship between you and your provider.  There needs to be enough time and interest on the part of both of you for all of these elements to occur to be sure you’re in sync:

  1. Be Prepared:   Come to your appointment on time, preparing ahead of time and knowledgeable about what’s bothering you.  Use Patient Power to help you prepare including the Appointment Preparation Form and the 7 day Dosage Log if you’re taking medication or supplements.  That way you’ll know exactly what you want to discuss, be on top of your symptoms and won’t forget anything.
  2. Stop Talking:  Give your provider time to digest the information you give them.  Stop talking so they can concentrate on the information you’ve given them. Give them a chance to take some notes, do an exam, look something up or whatever else they need to do after you’ve shared your input.
  3. Honor the Balance Between You:  When I was little I used spend a lot of time at the playground across the street from my house on this seesaw. I loved it when my friend and I could both have our feet off the ground and be in balance.  That’s key here – you give information, they take it in and advise you. It’s a dynamic rather than a static process of give and take, reflecting back what you’re each hearing.
  4. Summarize:  Use Patient Power to be sure you’ve gotten the story straight.  That’s your job, not theirs.  Repeat what you’ve understood from them in terms of what’s going on as well as their further instructions.  This is a pivotal point and often where things get lost.  I developed an Appointment Summary Sheet as part of Patient Power to help you make sure you correctly understood their recommendations.
  5. Assess:  This is also up to you.  Figure out if what they’re suggesting is a match for what’s most important to you. You may be able to do this on the spot or you may need to take some time with what’s been suggested to research, talk to others and/or ask your part if what they’ve recommended is something you’re willing to do.  It’s really important not to ask them this obvious question:  “If it were your husband, what would you do?”  Why?  Because you’re presumably not their spouse and it’s up to you to make the choices that are right for you – not your provider.

Other helpful ingredients are caring staff members, a mutual sense of humor about life in general (and my situation in particular), wise insights from the staff or provider’s about why things are the way they are from me,  and having all my pertinent information available.  These things don’t necessarily make or break the relationship and they really increase my comfort level with getting my healthcare needs met.  After all, if I didn’t need help, I wouldn’t be there in the first place.

If any one of the key ingredients is missing, there’s a good chance your relationship isn’t really working. For me personally, when one of those ingredients in missing – my relationship with my provider isn’t optimal. That doesn’t mean it can never work; it simply means something needs tweaking.   There are many ways to improve your relationship with your provider – sometimes it just takes time.  And other times, there’s something that they’ve said or done that may be a deal breaker for you.  We’ll talk about deal breakers in another post.

Here’s the question for you:  How do you know that your relationship with your provider is working? I’d love to hear examples from your life of a working relationship and also am very interested if your criteria are different from mine.  People vary and other ideas of working relationships are always welcome here.

I’ve shared with you the importance of sharing clear, concise information with your provider so you can get the health care you need.  Using the Appointment Preparation Worksheet is an easy way to do this.

Here’s my formula for making informed choices about your health care:

Clear Concise Information + a Competent Provider + Understanding What’s Being Advised = You Making The Choice That’s Right For You.

A key component of my Patient Power Manifesto is that I will only deal with competent providers.

Today, we’re going to talk about how to be sure you’ve got the right provider for you.

Here are some mindful questions that I use when I’m evaluating my providers.  I prefer mindful questions over absolute criteria as finding the right provider is a work in progress. It’s a good idea to evaluate this question regularly to make sure your healthcare needs are being met:

  • Does your provider know that your illness exists and is real? There are many providers who may not “believe” in fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, mononeucleosis, pms, hormonal imbalances and repetitive stress injury, for example.  That means they can’t help you because they don’t believe in the illness.
  • Is your provider listening to you? If they aren’t willing to listen to you carefully, they aren’t the right provider for you.
  • Is your provider willing to spend the time that’s necessary to do a physical examination? In some cases (i.e. high cholesterol) a physical examination may not be necessary.  But, in many cases where the issue has a physical component to it (i.e. repetitive stress injury, back pain, fibromyalgia) a physical exam is mandatory.
  • Is your provider willing to share what he observes and explain how they’ve come to their conclusions? This is an often overlooked point by some providers as they simply skip on to the treatment plan without explaining how they’ve reached their conclusion about what’s in your best interest.  A good provider will share what they observe and explain how they reached their conclusions in a way that you can understand.
  • Is your provider willing to  answer your questions and give you instructions about what to do next? We’ll discuss this in greater depth in the next blog post but it’s important that you understand what their recommendations are before you leave the office.

What’s your version of a good healthcare provider?

A client of mine has had chronic back pain for a while and things are finally starting to resolve. It’s been going on for a while, she’s been through countless physical therapists, exercises, etc. – everything has helped to a degree, but she’s now able to put it all together and feeling more alive.  She can now go out to dinner with friends, mow the lawn and do other things that were previously off limits because she was in so much pain.

Yeah for her – her success has been a very hard won struggle!!!

I give her so much credit for working sooooo hard to get out of pain.  Seriously, it’s so much easier to live with things sometimes than to actually deal with them – especially when you try so hard and it’s so frustrating.

Moving on with our story here. . . . .

She spends a ton of time on the computer doing her best to create a sustainable business that creates a livelihood for her and her family. She’s a dedicated Mom with kids that are her heart plus a huge animal lover.  She’s got some phenomenal ideas and is finally figuring out a way to put it all together.

Ooops – too much time on the computer apparently has caused her hands incredible pain.

She’s purchased my eBook Patient Power and we were talking the other day.  She said to me:  “I can’t POSSIBLY see my doctor about this – I can’t handle one more thing related to my health.  I’m at my wit’s end.”

I listened deeply as she continued on, in tears, trying so hard to “get it right already” and so sick of trying hard and as she put it “getting nowhere.”

Knowing it was the wrong time to remind her of her progress as she was in such a funk, I simply asked her:  “Well, what do you already know that works for you when you’re depleted and in pain like this?”

“Ahh”, she said, “Great question.”

What I know is I have your book and am taking Advil for this in varying dosages.  I could record those on your 7 day dosage log and get more information about what’s working and what’s not. I could use an Appointment Preparation Worksheet to note what my symptoms are, what helps and what doesn’t, when they are more pronounced.”

I was ECSTATIC that she could see the tools she had already in place that she could use to gather information.

In the meantime, she’d ask for suggestions from others who she felt might know something about this, researched on the internet, and come up with her own suspicion about what this is.

Note:  I never advocate self diagnosing!  But, I am a strong supporter of getting good clear information about what’s going on with you before seeing your provider in non-emergent situations so that they can truly be of service to you.

Anyway, here are a couple things to learn from this amazing client:

  • Get Your Facts Straight:  When you’re in pain and don’t know what to do, gather your facts together.  Figure out what helps, what hurts, and keep track of it.
  • Write It Down:  Use Patient Power to stay on top of your symptoms, your medications to give clear information to your provider.
  • Be Kind To Yourself:   It’s okay to wait in a non emergent situation when you’re “at capacity” dealing with health issues provided you’re not jeopardizing your ultimate well being.
  • Work with What’s Happening To You Right Now: Remember life is always changing.  Ask for support from friends, family, online communities that you are a part of.  You never know what you may find.

Question for the day:  What’s going on with you where it would help to have more information but you are “at capacity” dealing with whatever is on your plate?  How can you work with what’s true right now?

I’m in your corner, it’s hard when you feel like $%$%  and you can work with it just as this client did using Patient Power as your pathfinder!!!!

I’ve done several posts on the importance of filling out an Appointment Preparation Worksheet which you can download for free by clicking here.  But, that’s only one half of the equation.

The other half of the story is making sure that when you tell the provider what’s going on with you and what you need help with, that you clearly understand what they are suggesting to you.

I developed an Appointment Summary Worksheet to help you do just that:  get the facts straight first so that then you can figure out if what they are suggesting is a match for your needs.

Let me give you a real life example from a courageous client of mine.  He struggles with serious depression and has been in remission for many years.  Unfortunately, he had a serious setback which really “took over” his life in a debilitating way.

Those of you who have struggled with depression may know that its symptoms are often confusing and pervasive. This client was having a lot of trouble describing what was going on with him and he called me because he couldn’t fill out his Appointment Preparation Worksheet in a way that made sense to him.  He felt paralyzed, confused and overwhelmed YET also on top of his game enough to know he needed help.  He had the insight to know he needed to see his therapist and scheduled an appointment.

I am honored that he chose me by scheduling an appointment so I could help him fill out his Worksheet ahead of time. I have a gift for helping others find language for things that can be very difficult to describe and it is my privilege to share that with others.  He could have also chosen to call a close friend or family member.

The point:  When you need help and don’t know how to describe what you’re experiencing, ask someone you trust for help.

The Appointment Preparation Worksheet states:  “Describe Your Current Symptoms”. I asked him some follow up questions and here were his answers to me.  As he told me his story, I typed his answers onto the form.

“Anxious when I wake up in the morning, have difficulty moving and getting to the bathroom, then feel overwhelmed with details.

Force myself to exercise which helps until I get to the cool down.  Hard cardio is especially helpful.  When I cool down, all the anxiety comes flooding back in as I think of everything I have to do during the day.

I remember my precious cat who was recently killed, and think of all the other losses in my life, I can’t stop crying, I can’t meditate, I lose my appetite.

I take my anti-anxiety medication and feel better for about 3 hours and then it starts all over again.”

The second question on the Appointment Preparation Worksheet is:  “Additional Symptoms/Changes/Questions you have”

v  He told me what medication he was currently on and that he was staying away from toxic people, taking his vitamins, drinking water, and taking simple action.

v  He said he wanted help with getting off the anti anxiety medication and figuring out what had him so triggered that he felt so depressed.  He said he wanted to focus on his work again and wondered who he needed to talk to or see to get some help with this?  Was he in the right place to get through this?”

The therapist was so impressed with the form that she asked whether he’d mind if she kept her copy for his records. He was thrilled to have given her useful information that she could refer back after his visit and they scheduled a return appointment.

He then explained to his therapist that he wanted to send her a summary of what she had heard her say to makes sure he had gotten it straight.  She requested that he send this to her by pdf.

He was kind enough to copy me in on his Appointment Summary Worksheet to show me how it worked for him, wanting to make sure he had the story straight.

Here’s what he said:

The Appointment Summary Worksheet asks: “What did the provider say:” Here is his response.

v  Look at the losses that led up to the situation before you found yourself feeling so depressed before your pet was killed?

v  Go back through your history since you’ve seen me last, using a calendar if it is helpful to see whatever changes, losses, insults, difficult things that took place leading up to this event?

v  Think about how your children were affected by your behavior:  what they saw were symptoms of your illness, not the real you and you can follow up with them in an appropriate way to repair those hurt feelings they felt from seeing you in so much pain.

The next question on the Appointment Summary Sheet reads:  What are the next steps for you? Here is his answer:

v  Contact psychiatrist’s office on Thursday and give the nurse an update on my condition.  Maintain anti anxiety medication and ask her advice about continuing it, clarifying dosage and ask about what to do about insomnia.  Ask if I need an appointment.

v  If suicidal thoughts are present, ask for an appointment as soon as possible.  Let them know I’m continuing with social worker and have an appointment next Monday.

v  Look at the individual disappointments, losses, insults, and hurts using a calendar that led up to my current feelings.

He emailed the Appointment Summary Worksheet to his therapist who will either email him back that he got it straight or correct it and he’ll send a revised copy.  If he ends up seeing his psychiatrist again, he’ll bring this approved Appointment Summary Worksheet with him.

Notice how this works:

Preparation Helps:  He went to his appointment with this therapist fully prepared with a list of his symptoms, concerns and questions.  When he got there, he handed it to her as he was too upset to talk and felt it would save time.

Listening Carefully:  She gave him some things to think about which he is now verifying by using the Appointment Summary Sheet

Verifying The Information:  He will submit the Appointment Summary Worksheet via email to his therapist first to make sure he got it straight.

Following Up:  He will wait for her feedback or contact her in 3 days and be sure she received it.

Think It Through:  He will do his assignments, prepare his answers for his next Appointment Preparation Worksheet with his therapist and share his Appointment Summary Worksheet with his psychiatrist if he chooses to see him.

Sounds like a lot of work huh?  Well, that’s one way to look at it.  The other way to look at it is taking this in small steps de-constructs a previously life threatening condition and makes it manageable and has the potential to create a more satisfying life.  I’d say that’s well worth some attention that actually takes very little time to do once you get in the habit.

Notice the effects:

The System Works:  The patient and all providers are all up to date on what’s going on with his mental health  Everyone is well informed about the medications and psychological issues that have led to his condition

Patient Power:  The patient is doing his homework by looking at what individual issues may be contributing to his depression.

Notice the longer range effects.  This is the biggest bonus – the patient is now getting the healthcare he deserves from competent providers who are willing to use their professional expertise and direct it specifically towards what he needs. Hopefully, the patient’s symptoms will continue to improve as he continues to participate in partnering with his providers.  It’s a win-win for everyone.

Think about your own well being.  Maybe your issue is more physical in nature like diabetes, obesity, migraines, fibromyalgia, or heart disease.  Perhaps you have a combination of things going on such as depression as a result of dealing with chronic pain or celiac disease.

Maybe you don’t even know what the problem is but you know something is bugging you though you can’t put your finger on it.  It may be a knee injury that keeps acting up or maybe it’s a result of some surgery that isn’t healing quite right.

My point:  Whatever it is, you can deal with it with competent healthcare by giving clear information and making sure you understand the recommendations that have been given to you. I have given you one of the tools with the Free Appointment Preparation Worksheet.

That is only half of the equation though because you must be sure you understand what is being recommended. You do that by using the Appointment Summary Worksheet which is part of the instantly download-able eBook Patient Power:  Get the HealthCare You Deserve.  Along with the other simple to use Worksheets that take very little time and energy, you have an opportunity to take charge of your health and get your needs met.

It has been a long time in the making and dreams really do come true.  I am proud to announce the birth of my long overdue contribution to healthcare.

My eBook, Patient Power:  Get The HealthCare You Deserve which you can immediately download, is finally for sale today.  Here’s what you get:

  • Appointment Preparation Worksheet:  Helps you be thorough and organized when talking with your provider so you’ll never forget another important detail.
  • Appointment Summary Worksheet:  Helps you verify you got the story straight
  • 7 Day Dosage Log:  Keep track of your medications/supplements and their effects in this easy to use log that helps you give your provider clear accurate information on what’s going on with you
  • Medical Summary and History Form:  Take 10 minutes to list your surgeries, illnesses, allergies and update it easily so you always have your medical history at your fingertips

Here’s who Patient Power:  Get the HealthCare You Deserve is for:

  • People who don’t have time to take care of those niggling aches and pains and don’t want to deal with the healthcare system because it’s so overwhelming.  This will guide you through the system with structure and make it easier to get your needs met
  • People who have chronic illnesses such as fibromyalgia, back pain, arthritis, etc
  • People who are managing  conditions such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or heart disease
  • People who are alone, dealing with physical or mental health concerns and trying to do it all while being their own caregiver.
  • Caregivers who are trying to help others who are in pain or dealing with chronic conditions.

You can read more about it here and get it at the introductory price of $25 right now. 

Special thanks to Sarah Lacy, Rebecca Leigh, Havi Brooks and Jeff Sarris for helping me create this. 

It is my mission to help others make informed choices about their healthcare and provide a pathway through the healthcare system so you can get through things with greater ease and clarity.

I hope it helps each and every one of you get the healthcare you deserve.  Wishing you good health as you use the Patient Power Process.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time harping on the importance of preparing ahead of time for your appointment with your provider by downloading your free Appointment Preparation Worksheet and filling it out beforehand.

OK – so you walk in prepared and you share what’s going on with you.  Now what?

Chances are good that your provider will need some additional information – she may do an exam, ask some more questions, peruse your records, and suggest a few options for you. 

You may feel a bit overwhelmed at this point.  Or maybe you’re hyper-focused on what she’s saying trying to catch every word. 

Or even tuned out to what seems like a lot of mumbo jumbo while you wait for her to deliver “the verdict”.

Here’s where you need to stop and listen very carefully:  take a moment to just tune in to your body. 

Whatever she is saying or doing can wait for you to do this.  It doesn’t matter what you miss in that moment – you’re catching your breath.  We all have a right to do this and that includes you.

This strategy of Stop, Look and Listen is part of tht Patient Power Manifesto where you take control over getting the healthcare you deserve!

So, stop in that moment and check in with your heart.  Are you still breathing?  Just notice – no need to do anything else. 

You can even say “Hang on a second” – though it may seem awkward, the provider will take at least a second hanging on while you catch your breath.  So, mission accomplished right?  Believe me, no one will remember it at the end of the day and she’ll probably appreciate the brief pause, whether she acknowledges it or not.

(And if you’re not comfortable doing that, no problem.  You can’t do this wrong.  Just make a mental note before going into the appointment that you’re going to try this okay?  Don’t take my word for it -experiment and see)

Then,  ask her to repeat  what she’s said it if you think you’ve missed it.  Say something like this, ” Oops – missed that.   What did you say?”  Very simple – you can even plant that line in your head as well or write it on your Appointment Prep Sheet if that helps. 

(I still write it on mine to remind me to stay focused.  Kinda ironic -but it works for me!!)

In fact, even if you think you know what she said – verify your understanding.

Why?  Because if you don’t understand what she is suggesting – you cant’ make an informed choice about what’s best for you. 

Do you remember this game in nursery school, telephone, where you’d go around in a circle whispering something in the next person’s ear and by the time it got back to the beginning of the circle it didn’t sound anything like the original message? 

There’s something similar to that going on when you’re talking to your provider about something that’s bothering you  – we all naturally tune out at one point or another. 

What I’m suggesting is to intentionally tune out so you can tune back in more clearly and get the message straight

Why?  Because once you get the story straight you then have a great opportunity to see if what’s being suggested is truly something you want to consider.

Once you’ve slowed the process down, verify whether what you’ve heard is correct.   

You can say something like this:  “So, I wanna be sure I got this straight.  You’re suggesting that I get a fasting blood test done immediately, not eat for 24 hours beforehand and do it before next Thursday correct?” 

Keep doing that until you clearly understand everything that has been suggested to you.

A good provider wants you to understand what they are suggesting clearly because they care about their job.  And they care about your well being.  So, your part is to tune in fully to what they are recommending and verify that you got it straight.

So, the words for today are STOP, LOOK, AND LISTEN.   When you are at your appointment and you can see you’ve lost focus (for whatever reason), try this:

  • Stop:   Check in with how you are feeling right now – and you do this by taking a. . . .
  • Look:   Check inside yourself by noticing your breath, your feet, your heart beating and then you . . . .
  • Listen:  Verify what has been suggested to you and make sure you’ve gotten it straight

Even if you feel like you completely understand what your provider is telling you, take a moment to be sure.  Why?  Because double checking your information is like wearing a belt and suspenders too: you’re taking that extra step to be sure your covered.

You can practice Stop, Look and Listen – not just before you cross the street – but anytime you are in a situation where you want to pay more attention to details.

My book, Patient Power:  Get the HealthCare You Deserve, will be coming out shortly and it will show you how to apply this strategy to your appointments so you can be sure you’ve gotten all the information correctly to make informed choices.  Stay tuned for more information on this.

Try this for yourself and let me know how it goes.

I want to share a story of a client of mine whose struggling with depression and hypothyroidism.  She’s in her mid 50’s, self employed and has been in remission from her depression for about 8 years.  She thought she was well beyond it as her life has opened up in surprising ways.  She’d worked with a therapist for many years, learned priceless tools to help her cope and though life continued to be stressful for her she had the tools to keep things together until BAM. . . . things changed.

First it was insomnia.  Then, she started having various aches and pains that she tried to ignore but eventually had to address.  She described her mood like a stick shift on a car where she could feel a sudden jerky downshift as she became paralyzed, indecisive, tearful and unfocused.

That’s when she contacted me.  We talked about what was going on with her and she cried as she described how alone she felt and how difficult her life had become.  She felt that she’d used up her “pass” with her support system – that no one was really interested in what was happening with her.  Yet, because she had been through this before, she held out hope that there was light at the end of the tunnel.

I suggested she contact her primary care provider and make an appointment.  I talked her through the Appointment Preparation Worksheet so that she’d remember what her issues were when she saw her doctor.  I invited her to make two copies so that if she fell apart at the doctor’s office, she could just hand the doctor a copy and say “read this.”

That’s exactly what happened.  She walked into the doctor’s office and sobbed uncontrollably.  She couldn’t even talk.  They ordered some bloodwork, gave her instructions for taking her basal body temperature and a prescription for anti anxiety medicine to take as needed.

That’s how an Appointment Preparation Worksheet can literally save the day when you’re in too much pain to communicate clearly. 

She called me after the appointment.  She felt heard and understood – all her questions were answered and she knew exactly what to do next.  We talked through what things made her anxious and how she would use her anti anxiety medication.  She decided she’d find other ways to get through anxiety than use the prescription.

That’s an example of figuring out whether what the provider was offering her was a match for her values.

The following week, she called me again and was once again despondent.  She couldn’t stop crying, didn’t know why, had done her basal body temperatures and called the office, which resulted in a crazy making game of phone tag.  It was so frustrating as even though she had told them she had a private voicemail where they could leave a complete message, the messages were: “This is Sue from Dr. Helpful’s office.  Please return our call” – so not helpful at all. 

I suggested she call the office, ask to speak to the nurse and if she couldn’t get through to schedule an appointment.  She balked at the idea – she didn’t want to take the doctor’s time.  She thought she should be able to handle it.

Here’s an opportunity to practice Patient Power:    I reminded her that she deserves good healthcare.   If she trusts this provider, this is an opportunity to step up to the plate and get and give clear complete information.  We filled out the Appointment Preparation Worksheet together again.

This time, though, she left the Appointment Preparation Worksheet at home unfortunately.

You know, the amazing thing about preparing for your appointments ahead of time is even when you forget the sheet, the sheet is still working for you.  Yes, it’s better when you have the Appointment Preparation Worksheet to refer to – but life doesn’t work out perfectly for any of us.  She remembered why she was there, got the instructions she needed and is doing better today.

So, here’s what you can learn from this.  It applies to any situation – whether you’re dealing with depression, pain, or some other conditon.  Just substitute whatever is going on for you with the word depression and see how it fits.

  • I know I may sound like a broken record here but please do yourself and your provider a favor and download the free Appointment Preparation Worksheet, fill it out ahead of time and bring two copies with you to your appointment.
  • If you’re struggling with depression, please ask for help.  There is help for you.
  • If you’ve had depression and been in remission, sometimes it shows up again – often when you least expect it.  Of course, that’s alarming and disappointing.  That’s a very natural reaction – it’s painful to be in that spot that is so amorphous and indescribable.  Remember that you’re not alone and there’s a way through this.
  • Depression, by its nature, is pervasive – it can affect every aspect of your life.  It can seem like you’ve always had it and will never get over it.  And that’s just not true.
  • When you’re not feeling well, it’s the hardest time to step into your authority and speak up for yourself.  It’s also really important that you find a way to say what’s true for you – despite the fact that it is so very hard to do.  If you need help with this, contact a friend or you are welcome to contact me and I will help you get the healthcare you deserve.
  • Hang in there – and I don’t mean to sound trite here.  But, part of dealing with depression is hanging on til you get the help that you need.  That’s another thing you may need support with and I can help you.

Having said all this, by all means, if you’re questioning your ability to keep yourself safe you MUST let someone know about it so that you can get the help you need.  You matter – get the healthcare you deserve.


It’s NOT a Nightmare

January 4th, 2010

The other day, someone said to me:  “Your work sounds so depressing.  Helping other people deal with being sick sounds absolutely awful to me.  I can’t handle this kind of stuff.  How do you do it?”  This remark really made me think about how I help people.  I then stumbled upon the first page of my website and reread it.

I hired someone to write my website quite a while ago.  Though it shows up every day as my home page, to tell you the truth I haven’t read it in a long time . 

I was horrified, shocked, appalled  surprised by what it said.  Why?  Because my home page doesn’t really accurately share what it is that I help people with and it scared the be-jesus out of me just reading it.  To think that that is what’s on MY website with my knowledge, well – needless to say – I’ll  be changing it just as soon as I write some new copy (which couldn’t be soon enough as far as I’m concerned!)

(Digressing here for just a moment, I take full responsibility for the contents of my wewbsite.  I read it at the time and approved it.  I was not a victim here.  I hired this copywriter and internet marketing talks about the importance of “addressing the pain that your target market feels”.  I think that’s what I got swept away with this marketing approach.  Like Maya Angelou says:  “When you know better, you do better.”  I know better now.)

The headline on my first page reads:  Is there a pathway through the nightmare of serious illness?

Here’s what I would say today:

It’s not a nightmare.  I help people look at what’s happening with all its complexity and break it down into manageable do-able things to work on.   I help them find ways to sit with their feelings compassionately while also taking care of the objective details that need to be handled.  I help them adapt to the changes that inevitably happen with these situations.   

I don’t have the emotional charge that they have so I can be objective as we look at what’s happening in their lives.   

The people who work with me feel successful because they get things done that are important to them.  They feel more confident as they find different ways of getting through this.  They end up feeling better about the way they handle things because they’re in touch with their true needs and facing things in a way that works for them.  They have more energy and focus which is what they really need to get through this.

The people I love working with are those people who aren’t feeling well and have been trying to figure out what the problem is.  They are usually frustrated, in pain, would rather not deal with the whole thing, and wish it never happened in the first place. 

I really enjoy working with people who know that they’ve got a chronic condition like crohns disease, back pain, arthritis,  or diabetes, and are doing the best to manage things though they wished the situation would just resolve itself.

I also love working with close family members or friends who are doing their best to help out and also feeling stressed, burnt out, shocked, numb or overwhelmed with all the changes that are happening as a result of helping their loved one deal with their health situation.  

Sometimes the person who is struggling with this is dealing with the entire thing single-handedly.  Perhaps close family or friends aren’t available or don’t really get it.  In this case, the person whose sick has “triple duty” as they work with their own pain plus handle all the details including dealing with doctors,  work, and their other relationships.

I am absolutely passionate about helping others with these very real and scarey problems which are understandably overwhelming.  

When you know something is wrong and don’t know how to deal with it, it settles in the back of your mind and affects everything you do. 

Helping others handle these things with dignity, knowledge and compassion for themselves and each other is a privilege.  It is the furthest thing from depressing I can think of – and definitely NOT a nightmare.