Category

Family man

Pride Falls

By | ePatient, Family man | One Comment

I fell in New Orleans a couple of months ago flat on my face. No injuries, scraped my hands and arms. Freaked me out a bit and my friends. A week later, back home, I fell again. Same thing. My primary care doc and neurologist always ask, have you fallen? Falling is one of two outcomes we track together. (The other is, are you still playing your saxophone?) It’s been a long time since I’ve fallen. Outside. A year or more. I had to stop shoveling snow. I didn’t mind falling in the snow. Kind of fun. Worried my family, though. I do fall inside when I’m turning suddenly, like in the pantry or trying to vacuum.  I’m starting to be a bit alarmed about this increased falling. I stumble a lot normally but always catch myself. This is stumble and fall.  Not good. I worry about it at 2 am the apocalyptic hour.  Otherwise, I’m pathologically optimistic and flex my superpower: accepting what is.

I met a buddy (we’ve been dear friends for more than 40 years) in Washington recently. He wanted to go to the National Gallery.  He suggested we rent a wheelchair. I’ll push you, then we can spend more than 30 minutes looking at the paintings. He knows that my sightseeing endurance has been steadily decreasing. We spend more time to rest me each time I see him. I was reluctant.

My wife wants to travel. I’ve been resistant. I just don’t have the stamina anymore. I’ll be a drag. But, I love having adventures together (the nonhealth-related kind).

After the falls, I was in Baltimore for a meeting. I was telling a colleague about my falls. He uses an electric wheelchair, collapsible, with a joystick. He said I should consider getting one. He’s an amputee. He can walk most of the time quite well. Often the wheelchair will spend four months at a time in his garage. He doesn’t need it. But traveling can be wearing. It collapses and he can gate check it on the plane. Weighs 50 pounds. Folds with the pressure of one finger into the size of a medium size suitcase. Has a range of 14 miles. It’s 23″ wide. I’m intrigued. As a habitual doer, I bought one two weeks ago.

I feel like a charlatan. I can walk. I’m not paraplegic, I didn’t have a stroke. My chiropractor said, as long as I keep up my 3500-4000 steps a day, think of the wheelchair as an extender, not a crutch. What’s wrong with a crutch? I use a cane. Anyway, I’m testing it out. I’ve been aware of community accessibility issue for a long time, but now I appreciate every slope, every intersection, every pothole and crack, every lip that’s greater than one and a half inches. I’ve had to get out of the chair and right myself several times. That feels ridiculous.

When my mom starting falling, I suggested that she get a cane. Oh no, honey. That would be silly. I don’t need a cane. It would look ridiculous. I said, Ma, I use a cane. Do I look ridiculous? She replied,  oh, no honey, I’m so glad you’re safe. It’s a great accessory for you. No irony.

So, anyway. Sigh. Soon I’ll be comfortable enough motoring around in it. (I need to give it a name). Next, I’ll have to take it traveling. Ok, maybe I’ll feel a bit ridiculous. Pride recedes, Europe on the horizon.

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Appreciating Empowerment

By | Clinician, ePatient, Family man | One Comment

My wife and I spent some time trying to adopt a teenager after our son, Mike, died. We chose the adoption agency because, with them, the child made the decision whether or not to be adopted by us. The teen with whom we developed a relationship decided not to be adopted by us. Hard for us, but success for her! Empowered adoption. The clowns of Laughter League at Boston Children’s Hospital poke their heads in the room, May we come in? When the child says, No, you can’t come in my room, it’s success! Empowered hospitalization. Katherine Treiman at RTI shared an article with me about self-dialysis, Is “Empowered Dialysis” the Key to Better Outcomes? People connect themselves to their machines, draw their own blood, clean up the dialysis equipment themselves. More training time, lower mortality rates. Empowered dialysis, empowered hospitalization, empowered adoption. Wow. Radical. Controlling our own lives. A person, not a patient. What a thought.  I know the fatigue and stress when I feel powerless. My MS symptoms are much worse. I feel better when I’m in control. What I really like about empowered decision-making is that it doesn’t matter what decision is made. The physical, mental and spiritual benefits of empowered decision-making and care may be tough to measure. Is that because we don’t measure it or because we don’t know how to measure it? Still, we should practice it, appreciate it’s wonder, and learn to measure it.

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

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WHAT RESEMBLES THE GRAVE BUT ISN’T

By | Advocate, Clinician, ePatient, Family man | No Comments

Photo by Lily Lvnatikk on Unsplash

Apologies for the duplicate post. I changed hosts and lost this post in the migration.

My friend and story-teller, Susan Spivack, sent me this poem. Really spoke to me. I may be pathologically optimistic and live in a comforting, safe, privileged bubble, but I allow myself moments of despair, feeling sorry for myself, and overwhelmed with the pain I feel around me. Doesn’t this say it beautifully?!

WHAT RESEMBLES THE GRAVE BUT ISN’T

Always falling into a hole, then saying “ok, this is not your grave, get out of this hole,” getting out of the hole which is not the grave, falling into a hole again, saying “ok, this is also not your grave, get out of this hole,” getting out of that hole, falling into another one; sometimes falling into a hole within a hole, or many holes within holes, getting out of them one after the other, then falling again, saying “this is not your grave, get out of the hole”; sometimes being pushed, saying “you can not push me into this hole, it is not my grave,” and getting out defiantly, then falling into a hole again without any pushing; sometimes falling into a set of holes whose structures are predictable, ideological, and long dug, often falling into this set of structural and impersonal holes; sometimes falling into holes with other people, with other people, saying “this is not our mass grave, get out of this hole,” all together getting out of the hole together, hands and legs and arms and human ladders of each other to get out of the hole that is not the mass grave but that will only be gotten out of together; sometimes the willful-falling into a hole which is not the grave because it is easier than not falling into a hole really, but then once in it, realizing it is not the grave, getting out of the hole eventually; sometimes falling into a hole and languishing there for days, weeks, months, years, because while not the grave very difficult, still, to climb out of and you know after this hole there’s just another and another; sometimes surveying the landscape of holes and wishing for a high quality final hole; sometimes thinking of who has fallen into holes which are not graves but might be better if they were; sometimes too ardently contemplating the final hole while trying to avoid the provisional ones; sometimes dutifully falling and getting out, with perfect fortitude, saying “look at the skill and spirit with which I rise from that which resembles the grave but isn’t!”

~Anne Boyer, “This project was co-curated by the journalism nonprofit the Economic Hardship Reporting Project and its Puffin Story Innovation Fund.”  ~https://billmoyers.com/story/poetry-month-what-resembles-the-grave-but-isnt/

Eulogy

My Aunt Kato (Kikke) Pomer (van Leeuwen) passed away this week at age 101.  Kikke was a Freudian psychiatrist who began medical school in the Netherlands just before the Nazis invaded. She and her family escaped to the United States, She couldn’t gain admittance to medical school here because she was a woman, a Jew, and a refugee.  A family friend suggested that she meet Albert Einstein and ask him for a reference. She did and he did.  She graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and practiced in LA into her 90’s. Aunt Kikke inspired and encouraged me in nursing, advocacy, and in life. I’ll miss you.

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Passover

By | Advocate, Family man | One Comment

My pathological optimism is under assault. How do I live with myself as a privileged white man? How do I continue my advocacy as a patient activist? This week I listened to Terry Gross speak with Maya Dusenbery on Fresh Air about her book, Doing Harm, The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick. I listened to Amy Chua speak about her book Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations on the Lawfare Podcast. I watched Samantha Bee on Full Frontal talking about women, history, and the treatment of pain. The wind has been sucked out of my sails.  I may style myself a feminist, but the country, the healthcare system, medical research and the breaks are designed for me. I certainly have my challenges, but they are minimal compared to those outside my shrinking white man minority tribe.

I care about learning what works for people – groups and individuals – as they strive for best health. Yet most historical evidence – research – has been designed for white men, not women, not refugees, not people with limited means and power. It makes me crazy. What is wrong with us? Plus, our nation seems to increasingly petty, mean, shortsighted, and self-interested.

OK, white boy, get over it. I once got myself in trouble at diversity training. I said, My father was gay, my parents were holocaust survivors and refugees, my brother and sister are of mixed race, and I’m a man in a female dominant field – nursing. And now I’m disabled.  My prejudices aren’t about gender, religion, race, disability.  I’m prejudiced against thoughtless people. I was not appreciated.

Anyway, nothing has changed from before this week and now. The world is still crazy. I live in a racist, misogynistic, mean-spirited country. Thankfully, there are tribes of people trying to do the right thing. I can’t afford to lose my pathological optimism.  I’m still working more and more on advocacy about making collaborative health choices (informed decision-making) with my health team based on science and my environment, circumstances, and values. Treating health choices as a grand experiment is still a sound approach. Try stuff, see if it works. If it doesn’t, adjust. I am so heartened by the March for Our Lives initiatives. Activated young people are our hope and our future.

It’s Passover, time to celebrate liberation. Liberation is not a destination, it’s the journey.

Thanks for listening to me rant. Good to be on this journey with you. We have work to do.

Thoughts on Liberation

Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.  Martin Luther King Jr.

I did nothing but international liberation politics for ten years, and usually it was like, you gain an inch, you lose a half an inch. It’s slow going, man. Steven Van Zandt

If you’ve got nothing to dance about, find a reason to sing. Melody Carstairs

On the road to liberation, learn to press Next. Even if there is no such an option. Talismanist Giebra

I am the bended, but not broken. I am the power of the thunderstorm. I am the beauty in the beast. I am the strength in weakness. I am the confidence in the midst of doubt. I am Her! Kierra C.T. Banks

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Trust

By | Caregiver, Clinician, ePatient, Family man | No Comments

I trust my primary care doc.  I trust my neurologist. I trust my instincts. I trust my gut. I do. I trust my wife. She trusts me.  That certainly doesn’t mean that we don’t question almost everything each other says. Trust is not blind faith. Trust is NOT no second opinions. Trust is for when I’m in a crisis and I can’t think clearly, I will listen to my immediate family and my two lead docs (in that order) and I’m likely to do what they recommend… unless I’m unsure. Trust is for when I need to make a decision but can’t or don’t want to. And these are all people’s opinions about what I should do with my life. I know I should lose weight. People I trust say I should lose weight.  It takes a certain alignment of the stars for me to lose weight. I lost 30 pounds eight years ago when the stars were in alignment. They were in alignment again three weeks ago. I’ve started to lose the same 30 pounds again.

I’ve questioned my primary care doc about taking cholesterol-lowering meds.  She wants me to take them. I’m not so sure. The evidence appears pretty clear. I’ve been taking them for nine years because I trust her. Now with Medicare, they’re going to cost me more. It has me thinking again.  I still trust her.  I’ve stopped taking them.

I trusted my doctors for twenty-five years as they worked me up, over and over, for cardiac issues.  Now I know I have multiple sclerosis, not heart disease. I’m a trusting fellow until I’m not.

A friend of mine had breast cancer. She asked her doctors, “Should I take chemo?” They all said yes. She trusted that they wanted the best for her, but wondered where their trust in that advice came from? Was their research current, reliable, and apply to her as an individual? She did the chemo.

Webster says, Trust = you can rely on the integrity, strength, or ability of a person or thing. Trust is respect + communication + context. Making choices about your health in a bed of trust is hard enough. Making choices in the swamp of distrust can be crazy making.

As a person, I try to build trust – in relationships. It starts with being trustworthy. I feel better in that bed of trust. Still, trust in myself, ourselves, is key. Ultimately, it’s our lives.  We face the consequences of our decisions. I’m greatly relieved that I trust I can adjust and make a different choice if the one I made didn’t work out. Trust.

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A Vision of Paying for Value

By | Caregiver, Clinician, ePatient, Family man, Researcher, Uncategorized | One Comment

I’m the child, Custodian and Healthcare Proxy of my 89-year-old mother, Alice. I live in a different state. My mother has diabetes and is depressed. Her care team, beside herself and me, includes medical providers in various health settings, community support agencies, and a full-time caregiver that helps her schedule and get to health-related services. My problem is to understand what my mother wants for herself and to track who says they’re doing something for her (including my mother and me), what they’re doing, and when they’re doing it. I want to know what it takes to do it (Can she afford it? Can she get there? Does it agree with her? Who will be with her? etc.). I want to know if the actions have the effects we thought they would. I want to know what her risks are and how we plan to prevent or respond to them. I want to able to keep track of all this and keep it current. I want to share it or have it shared from day-to-day and from setting to setting even if I’m not present.

This scenario describes a vision of healthcare for a caregiver and his mother. The vision lives in a context of social circumstances, physical environment, individual behavior, genetics, and medical care – the determinants of health. In the best of circumstances, healthcare dollars pay for this vision of best health for people, their families, and communities.

The goals of any payment method should be to reward high-quality care and to permit the development of more effective ways of delivering care to improve the value obtained for the resources expended. These goals are relevant regardless of whether care is delivered in a predominantly competitive or regulated environment, and whether the ultimate purchaser is an employer or the patient/ consumer. Payment policies should not create barriers to improving the quality of care. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Quality of Health Care in America. Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2001. 8, Aligning Payment Policies with Quality Improvement. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK222279/

This means that payment systems for treatment and services recognize quality (best health), support improvement and reward stakeholders (patients, caregivers, clinicians, institutions, and insurers) for the process and outcomes of best health. Read More

CEO of My Health Team

By | Advocate, Caregiver, Clinician, ePatient, Family man, Leader, Researcher | One Comment

I am the CEO (Chief Executive Officer, the boss) of my health team with a ton of subcontractors: my primary care doc and her practice, my neurologist and his practice, the radiology department at my local hospital, the neighborhood pharmacy, the utility companies… You get the idea. They get paid through my employment benefits, your and my taxes, and out of my pocket. Right now I directly employ my massage therapist and acupuncturist – fee-for-service. I also have pro bono team members: my wife (my care partner), my family, friends, and advisors.

As CEO of my health team, I try to lead and manage. Leading is building and fostering relationships, finding service providers as needed, setting health goals, coming up with a plan to meet my goals, and learning from our mistakes (what doesn’t work).  As a leader I find ways to share information among the team, and, of course, I fundraise and cheerlead. Leading is also about succession planning.  Who will lead when I can’t? Managing, on the other hand, is negotiating service agreements (contracts), actually seeing that the tasks in the plan happen as desired, maintaining the team and it’s connections, and trying to fix what isn’t working. It’s a tough system to lead and manage. It’s exhausting. I have some of the skills I need, but nowhere near all. There’s very little training for Health Team CEOs- no certificate or degree. The pay stinks. There’s no vacation. I can’t resign. Read More

Fibro Mama – Book Review

By | Caregiver, ePatient, Family man | One Comment

Fibro Mama: Pregnancy and Fibromyalgia by Melissa Reynolds

Odd, isn’t it? A book review about pregnancy and pain by a guy! Well, I’m a dad, an Opa (grandpa), registered nurse, and a patient activist.  I have Multiple Sclerosis and I know chronic illness and pain management. We had home births with a midwife at one and no midwife at another. Enough about me. I’m reviewing the book because Melissa asked me to.  Thanks, Melissa.

Look, no one knows someone else’s experience, it belongs to them. As Melissa says in her introduction, “I can give you tips about what worked for me. … However, in the end, it’s you putting one foot in front of the other.  That’s how we live, right?”

Lived experience and a dollar fifty will buy you a Pepsi. Lived experience + self-awareness  + systems thinking + good storytelling is golden. Add brevity and it’s priceless. Melissa’s book is priceless. Took me half an hour to read it through once. I marked it up and spent a couple of hours reading it again. Here are the best parts (for me, a guy, who will never be pregnant):

  1. 16 natural pain relief suggestions – I use many of these myself for muscle tension and cramping. Great list. I never tried oils. I may.
  2. The sections about the three trimesters, immediately post-delivery, and the first 6 weeks all include sleep, exercise, meditation, and a pain management plan.  They’re basic and vital. She lays it out for you.
  3. I can’t evaluate the extensive section on nursing except to say that it’s comprehensive and empowering. I always love the response, “there is no wrong choice”.
  4. Using help is big, really big. Melissa has a great care partner. She says to insist that s/he/they be allowed to be with you 24/7 whenever you’re a guest in an institution. Absolutely. Pregnant or not pregnant, fibromyalgia or no fibromyalgia, this is true.
  5. Last, but so not least – Tips to Cope with a Fussy Baby When You’re Sore. She’s buying minutes for you. Dad’s too.

Thanks for the opportunity to review this fine book. You can get it here.

 

See also:

How Many Words for Pain?

Managing Pain

A Caregiver is [Not] a Caregiver, is [Not] a Caregiver

Health Partners

Blessings. Giving Thanks.

By | Family man | One Comment

Grateful for our blessed life together. Grateful for our home with the footstep rhythm of family upstairs. Grateful that our means are enough to live within. Grateful for the ability to do good work. With so much suffering in the world, grateful for those working to make our lives and others’ lives better.  We share 7% of our gross income each year. We give to Planned Parenthood, Amnesty USA, WBUR, WNYC, WGBH, Radiotopia (check out Ear Hustle), the National Partnership for Women and Families, Arlington Food Pantry, The Greater Boston Food Bankthe Free Wheelchair Mission, the Housing Corporation of Arlington, Partners in Health, Doctors Without Borders, the Museum of Fine Arts, Project Sleep, the Pann Mass Challenge, Wikimedia Foundation, Regina Holiday’s Cinderblocks and the Walking Gallery, Mothers Out Front, the Hispanic Federation, the Arlington Library Foundation, the Harlem Jazz Museum, and several others. We thank them for their inspired and inspiring work. We are one.

Receiving with Reckless Abandon

By | Caregiver, Clinician, Family man | No Comments

My boy, Mike, died 15 years ago today (sigh). Here’s a link to a video of an interview with Mike 4 months before he died. (11 minutes).

This anniversary and attending the National Caregiving Conference last week made me think about being a caree, someone who is being cared for. My grandmother, my mother, and Mike were carees. Mike accepted his mortality but didn’t want someone to have to wipe his butt. That was a point too far. As a Holocaust survivor, my mother craved being cared for all her life, yet was deeply ambivalent until her last days. She fought for control and felt deep gratitude for a warm, kind hand. My grandmother wanted more care than she needed (in my opinion, not hers). I mostly sensed fear. I’m only just tasting being a caree. Read More