Fractured Communication in Crises

This week two of my readers described experiences of fractured communication with their clinicians.  One reader, a person in acute treatment for overwhelming anxiety, found himself watching and feeling the effects of dueling clinicians with widely differing diagnoses, medication regimens, and styles of communication. A collaborative, listening, empathetic physician versus a paternalistic, blameful, arrogant physician. Both physicians practiced in the same organization but in adjacent levels of care (one inpatient and the other outpatient). They didn’t coordinate care – they didn’t even speak to each other. The person with acute anxiety had to muster energy to advocate for himself and seek help from his partner. To little effect.  The other reader experienced a sickle-cell crisis in a hospital without a sickle-cell specialist.  She couldn’t get pain medication known to work for her.  She was classified as a drug seeker.  The treating physician wouldn’t communicate with the specialist who had treated this reader successfully many times and managed her long-term care.

So many levels of outrage here. How is it that institutions, practices, and people working in these two programs don’t know about disrespect, poor communication skills and lack of coordination within? Does nobody raise a red flag?  Where was the medical record? Where were the leaders? Continue reading

Scared?

My friend, Phyllis, in Cleveland suggested I might be asking the wrong question: “What works for me when I’m scared and what doesn’t?” You may recall that readers who have been patients and caregivers have been adamant that this is a key piece of information that should be in the electronic health record, especially needed in the ER. In 5+ years of advocacy I’ve been unable to generate interest from IT wonks. Anyway, I was whining about my ineffectiveness to Phyllis.

So let’s break it down a bit more. I’ve never met anyone in an unexpected health situation who wasn’t scared. Scared looks like: startled, numb, stomach ache, sweating, heart racing, catastrophizing , panicked……

It’s good to know in advance what helps settles me down. Deep breaths, meditation, hold my hand, a good laugh, quiet, a walk, listening to John Lennon, my wife and family, more information, respect from those around me plus listening to me, Ativan. My mom needed a hand to hold, control, opera. My friend needs someone from his immediate family and information, reduced stimulus, quiet, to be kept warm, headphones with classical musical. We all can use something. The unexpected health care situation can vary. My chronic condition, MS, could flare up – known yet unexpected.  You could break your leg – an accident plus pain. You could have a heart attack or kidney stones – sudden, debilitating, with pain. You could be alone or with someone you trust – very different scenarios. Continue reading

A Roller Coaster of Love

225 weekly blog posts.  How do I do it?, a reader recently asked me. The health journey provides me endless material: fascination, intrigue, tragedy, empathy, frustration, wonder, curiosity, fear, and inspiration. As a nurse I’m blessed to participate in some of people’s most intimate moments as a guide, helper, ear, hand holder, and translator. As a team member and leader I study the puzzle of how people think, emote, decide, and relate trying to get anything done safely and ethically in the most consuming, illogical, nonsensical, complex system imaginable. My palette includes the desire and dilemma of habit change, the tangled web of cultures, the enticing potential and hype of technology, the flood and inaccessibility of data, the vital impossibility of policy change, and the insane contradiction of money surrounding,  driving, tempting, confounding health. Can I tease out the simple and illusive filaments of the magic levers of best health? What works, how do we know? How do we find, share, and use evidence? How is uncertainty communicated, how does information about groups of people relate to me, a single person?  I love sharing my broad and thin knowledge of health as a coach and a writer. As a person on my own health journey, writing this blog stokes my fire – feeding and renewing my pathological optimism. Actually, I start with a nut of an idea, sit down with that idea on Sunday and write. Takes about an hour. I used to read the drafts to my mom, now my wife. It never turns out the way I think it will. The post writes itself. I’m an old hippie – at the end of the day the health journey is a roller coaster of love. Thanks for the ride.  See you next week.

This week my son, Mike Funk, would have been 40. Lord, I miss you, Mike. You still inspire me. You’d be proud of your seasoning family.

Clinical Practice Guidelines – Oh My Aching Brain

Last time I saw my Primary Care Provider I asked if I needed to keep taking my Crestor, a drug to reduce cholesterol. She pulled out the clinical practice guideline for the treatment of blood cholesterol released by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association. Every couple of years I ask her the same question. Do I really need this? Does it have long-term side effects I should worry about? I’m 63 years old, when can I stop because I’m too old? With insurance it costs me $300 a year out-of-pocket.

How many clinical practice guidelines are there? I could find no specific count – thousands I’m sure. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)’s National Guideline Clearinghouse lists 1975 guidelines.

Who writes guidelines? What is the evidence to support guidelines? Which guidelines apply to me? How often do guideline writers  rewrite them when new evidence comes to light? How long does it take for people at the center to become aware of guidelines and use them? Continue reading

I’m So Discouraged

Several times this week I heard a variation on: I’m so discouraged, I thought I was doing better. I just keep sliding back. I really suck at this. The topics: meditating every day, losing weight, managing anxiety, soloing, recovering from surgery. I heard each from more than one person. Several people said it about multiple things. One person, me, said it about losing weight and soloing. Two things strike me here. First, sucking and second sliding back. Can’t we give ourselves a break and celebrate that we’re trying? I’m trying to meditate every day, lose weight, improve my mental health, solo on my sax!!!! Yippee for me. Yippee for us!!! Recovering, healing, learning, changing habits doesn’t happen in a straight upward line, steadily better. It’s two steps forward, one step back. It’s up and down, first wildly so, then smaller cycles of up and down, over time with forward progress. Looking at just 2 data points only frustrates us, since we tend to recognize the down after the up, rather than the up after the down. In each of the scenarios someone heard the other and provided a good job, way to go, keep it up, keep me posted, call me anytime

I honor you’re work of healing, learning, recovering. Good job, way to go, keep me posted, call me anytime.

Screen-Free Sabbath

Week 3 of my wife and my Screen-Free Sabbath. Feels pretty good. After the first week it feels like a relief.  I’m reading more books – paper and not Kindle. Turned off my e-mail and social media notifications. They were all still there at sundown Saturday. No emergencies. Sitting still more often – some alone, some with my wife.  Got my recumbent trike out, tuned up and rode it. Had to buy some paper Sudoku books. It affects my week as well. I’m looking at the phone less often, meditating more. Still using the iPhone for texts and phone calls-have only received a few. Using it when playing my sax: playing my recorded rehearsals, metronome, etc. Sitting on the bus or subway more often looking at people and not the screen. Noticing the blue sky and spring colors. My grandson freaked out: Will I have to do it too? All week? OMG. He’s relieved that it’s just Grandma and Opa and not him, unless he’s at our flat sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.  I’ve spoken to several parents who have 5-7p screen-free every day, others do a 24-hour period as we do.

Continue reading

Experiences, experiments, reflection, action

This week people told me stories about a moment in their health journey – Symptoms, people, relationships, procedures, thresholds, feelings.  Completely fascinating, inspiring, and gut wrenching windows into life’s challenges and tragedies. I heard,  I’m worried, the surgery worked, I can’t find a clinician who listens to me, my condition recurred – worse, my family’s supportive and grieving, how will I manage my job, I fell, my mother went into assisted living  (all from different people). Other people told me about work they’re doing – research, businesses, experiments.  I heard, let me tell you about the study I’ve been doing about multiple sclerosis, I’ve learned a lot about the stages that a person goes through as they gather information about chronic illness, I’m helping people succeed in their startup, I’ve found 5 people who have had the same success managing their chronic fatigue.  I read studies this week about reducing opioid use,  predicting resource use in chronic illness,  and improving the ability of individuals and clinicians to communicate and set mutual health goals.

Actually, this is a normal week. Experiences, experiments, reflection, action. All tie together. Each necessary, none sufficient.

A caregiver is [not] a caregiver, is [not] a caregiver

When my mother was dying I was a long distance caregiver.  My mom made her own decisions, shared them with us, sought advice from me, asking me to research meds and treatments, wanted help with scheduling, wanted me to attend some of her appointments with her (mostly by phone) and gave me access to her electronic health record. Our family had open and dynamic communication. I was the health coordinator, my older sister helped manage business, my younger sister was her companion. These roles evolved over the years and solidified as our mom declined. Continue reading

Engaged with Sax

Shopping for a new neurologist I had three screening questions:

  • What’s your response time to emails?
  • Do you use OpenNotes?
  • How would you work with my acupuncturist?

The first doc said, ‘I don’t use email, we don’t have a portal. What are OpenNotes? What do you mean you’re shopping for a neurologist? You either want me or you’re wasting my time.’ 

The second doc said, ‘If you email me, my nurse practitioner or I will get back to you within two business days. If you need us sooner, call my office.

Of course, we have OpenNotes. If I get something wrong, let me know. I know a lot about drugs and therapeutics and how they affect groups of people. But, I don’t know anything about you. My job is to learn more about you, and we’ll test different drugs and therapeutics and see what works for you. You are an experiment of one.

Oh, you use acupuncture? You’ll have to educate me. I don’t know much about that. I’m interested in anything that helps my patients. Seems like everything works for someone. And by the way, how’d I do? We could have some fun together.’
Continue reading

How many words for pain?

There are 46 words for snow in Iceland. How many are there for physical pain in English? Googling synonyms: Suffering, aching, torture, throbbing, discomfort, ache, sore, throb, sting, twinge, shooting, irritation, tenderness… I recall sitting with my mom when she was dying of pancreatic cancer, trying to understand what her pain felt like. Ma, is it sharp, dull, aching, constant, ebbing and flowing?  The more descriptors I tried to come up with, the more frustrated she became with me.  No words worked for her. Yet she tried to describe it to the hospice nurse or doctor without success.  Granted, my mom was home bound and bedridden. She was past the place where function didn’t mattered. How does your pain affect your ability to socialize and work? The way I manage my annoying neurological pains is to get to know them intimately. Meditate on the pain. Sensation, location, travel, duration, what makes it better or worse…. It takes the edge off, helps me be less freaked out and I can manage with less medication. I find my professional team intrigued by my desire to describe it in such great detail. I’m a bit of a freak. Turns out that acupuncture and mindfulness help me enough with my short bursts of radiating neurological zapping down my limbs that I don’t need medication and my function isn’t disturbed.  I recommend that you read Rosalind Joffe’s blog this week, Can You Talk About Your Chronic Pain? Continue reading