Desolation cries for company

Desolation cries for company

There was a new bounce in his step. Mr. Stefani stood a little straighter, and his face expressed an almost smile. Intriguing.

I had treated elderly Mr. Stefani, suffering progressive heart failure, for approximately a year. It was an exercise like table tennis. I told him how important it was to take medications on a regular basis – he kept forgetting. I told him it was important to avoid salt in his diet – he said he was a poor cook and it was easier to heat up instant meals. I told him it was important to get out and be part of social activities – he said he didn’t have a family, and didn’t really care.

“Why care?” he said.

He was sick, and, as he put it,

“What was there to look forward to in the beginning of each day anyway.”

This is a common story. When people develop heart failure, proper food and self-management of the condition is as important as taking correct medications. This may make a difference between being able to manage the disease at home or several hospitalizations in a year, ending up in the nursing home. Elderly patients, especially men, who do not have family support, are faced with a “triple whammy.” There is no-one who cooks proper food for them. Wham! No one reminds them to take their medications. Wham! And no one motivates them to want to live better and longer. Wham! Wham! Wham!

So what had happened to Mr Stefani?

After we went through these preliminaries –

“Have you been more short of breath?”

“No.”

“How much can you walk?”

“About a block.”

“Are you taking your medications?”

“Yes.”

“Are you keeping away from the salt?”

…we finally arrived.

“Yes, much better now,” he announced, “I have a new friend who cooks for me”.

Well, in all fairness he had said, “I have a new girlfriend.” I just interpreted it as a “new friend”. He went on to explain that there was now a young woman in her late 20s living with him, and she had taken over his kitchen and was helping him out in general. Hmmm. I wasn’t sure if I should ask anything further, something along the line of “Where did you find her?” However, Mr Stefani was more than happy to explain.

“I was driving along the road one day, and there she was, standing on the edge of the road. I stopped and asked if she needed a ride. She said she had nowhere to go. I asked if she wanted to come home with me, and she said yes. That’s how it happened.”

My patient seemed happy. His grooming was better. His feet were no longer swollen. I suggested that he bring his new friend to his next appointment.

The next appointment came in 6 weeks. Mr Stefani walked in with a young woman who beamed at me. I started asking questions about his health. Yes, he was feeling a lot better. She proudly presented his medication list. He told me how she was after him to walk every day. She told me how she had changed her Chinese-style cooking to be salt-free. He told me how he helped her look for a job.

There were questions I didn’t ask. Was she really his girlfriend? Was she an illegal immigrant? Was she hiding from someone? What did she get out of this arrangement? Was he paying her?

Looking at the two people in front of me, these questions all of a sudden did not seem so relevant. People at their heart need connections, and those two had found one.

Endless Rhythm by Robert Delaunay

Endless Rhythm, by Robert Delaunay

 

Self-care Tip: Be open to human connections wherever they occur. It may just save a life – yours or someone else’s.

Question: Have you made a connection with a person that was unexpected? Was it challenging? Fruitful? Embarrassing? Eye-opening? Tell us your story.

 

Introducing our new co-author at Friend to Yourself

Finally!

I’ve been hoping, asking, looking, waving awkwardly in the hospital hallways, trying to find someone who would join me in this great blogging experience with you on self-care. And, finally.

Please join me in welcoming Dr. Helme Silvet! You will love getting to know her, and she will love, as I do, sharing space with you. Keep on.


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Helme Silvet, MD, MPH, FACC
Loma Linda University School of Medicine
Chief of Cardiology, Jerry L. Pettis VA Loma Linda Healthcare System

Hello!

 

My Blog Journey

Sana (or Dr Q) and I have known each other for two decades or so (and yes, we have lived that long). We have spent hours talking about what makes us excited to be physicians, what gets us up in the morning, and what makes us upset. Finally, we decided that it was time to share some of these thoughts together. Taking care of self is a principle that we both try to teach our patients, but also practice ourselves in order to be effective parts of our families, communities, and humanity. The goal of this blog is to attempt both from the, perhaps, somewhat unique perspective of biology, and medicine as the starting point to self-care.

My Professional Journey

My medical experience started in the “old country” behind the Iron Wall – I grew up in Estonia and graduated from medical school there. After the Soviet Union opened its borders, I made my way to the U.S. and finished an internal medicine residency at Loma Linda University and cardiology fellowship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Lown Cardiovascular Center. Starting in 2003, I have worked at the VA system as a cardiologist. Along the way, I also graduated with an MPH degree from Harvard School of Public Health. I am passionate about making people get better – this includes preventing, treating and managing heart disease as a cardiologist – but also helping my patients make sense of their life journey. One cannot treat and prevent disease without caring for the whole person.

My Life Journey

Between my two sisters and myself, we have lived in 5 different countries – this has made for interesting holidays! Seeing different parts of the world up close has given me plenty of experience, but has also come with a certain sense of displacement. It has been a continuous struggle in my life to figure out where I fit in the wide world in general, and in my little microcosm of a world in particular. In this context, it has been fascinating to learn different things from different cultures, and observe how people with different life experiences can effectively communicate with each other. And I noticed that somewhere along the way, my quest for truth and knowledge is giving way to a quest of understanding and compassion.

Disclaimer

The thoughts on this blog are my own and do not represent entities I belong to in a professional capacity. The stories that I tell are true in principle but the details may have been changed to protect people’s privacy. The blog is not meant to offer professional advice or treatment advice for specific medical conditions; the goal is to share ideas, general principles and stories of a personal journey.

 

STOP! DON’T STOP! The quandary inside of us when deciding to take medication

Everyone says “Hi” to my dog, Timothy… Way more than to me. Silence.

Is it the springy fluffy hair, I wonder? They walk up, even speed, out of an unseen shadow without inhibition and rub him down. He is pleased every time, to say the least. Do I regret all the painful laser hair removal treatments I got years ago? Hm. I am half Lebanese after all and few really know how much fur I really came with.

(Curly-cue.)

Steve came looking for help. I spied him in the hallway before clinic. That’s always a little awkward for some reason. Running into someone out of context. Like we both are caught out of costume and the curtain just pulled up. (Gotcha!)

His strings pulled in, an inner tension, apparent even then. He looked susceptible to emotional or physical attack when we caught each others eye. I could see him wondering if this was “her”, his psychiatrist. What was he expecting?

When patients come in for treatment, it’s comparable to anyone acting on a realization that they’re vulnerable, asking help from a stranger. It can take immense courage.

Part of this understanding is what contributes to the awkwardness of meeting in the hallway, out of context. We are both a little undefended there.

So what would bring a person to do this to themselves? It doesn’t sound pleasant when put this way – vulnerable, asking help from a stranger.

Steve had a wife, kids, a job, a house, and a pet. Inside this bubble, Steve didn’t think he had reasons to feel the way he felt. He looked for them and felt stupid because everyone told him how good he had it. Nor did Steve see reasons to behave the way he behaved. He described his story, a rolling out of his life, like that of a hand stitched carpet. In it, we saw together that he had anxiety then, and then, and then. He had coped well mostly, until he hadn’t. Then he would spend some time falling out of circulation and incurring losses. Then he’d recover and forget. He’d forget that worse patch and redefine the lines around the man. Then again the lines would smudge, he’d get anxious and irritable beyond “control”, grapple within the darkness of the white noise, which panic brings, grapple for reasons why the anxiety came again. His identity would be so threatened, the suffering, the feedback from everyone around him would pull on him, that the lines of his person frightened him into treatment.

There Steve was. Timothy at his feet with his puffy furry head in Steve’s lap. Steve asking for help. At the same time as asking for help, he would also refuse, stating caution.

“I don’t want to change myself.

I like being the person who gets things done so well.

I like accomplishing things.” (He thought it was his anxiety that allowed him to do this.)

It reminds me of the, “Stop! Don’t stop!” that I’d tease my brothers with when we were kids.

People think that taking medication changes who they are. Understand that in order for this to be true, that would mean medication changes DNA code.

“Doesn’t it change my brain chemistry?”

Let’s say that were true, that medication changes brain chemistry. Still that isn’t changing your DNA. The DNA is what gives a person “personality,” or, what many of us say, “Who I am.”

After getting laser hair removal, I didn’t change my DNA, but I don’t have as much hair. When my kids were born, I checked, and sure enough, DNA…. They’re gorgeous! Wink. (That’s done with one heavy cluster of eyelashes around my dark Lebanese eye.)

Question: What are your fears about taking medication?

If you have taken medication, how did you see it affected your identity?  What happened to who you call, “Me?”

Please SPEAK! We need to hear you. Keep on!

Self-care tip: Self-care means taking care of yourself even at the biological level. It starts with “Me.”

 

Desperation – When to Speak

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I’m about to park in LA for the LAX protest against the immigration ban.

Last night my husband and I debated whether to come or not and were both disappointed to realize that we both wanted to be here. I mean, it’s Sunday and we don’t get a lot of down space. We have our kids who, thank goodness, still want more time with us. We have projects and exercise and self care that is on our agenda. We are moving away from a “zero percent progress” every day toward something better, right?

Apparently, I’m a moderate. I haven’t felt the pain. I don’t have the fire. But not very long ago was the Jim Crow era, where our parents came from.  When there’s something I’m passionate about, I have to get my feet moving or I’ll miss it.

But this immigration ban is bad. This is just xenophobia and racism.  It is personal. I think of my Lebanese cousins who have been in the war and immigrated to our country with their hairy arms and scars. I think of Mom. I think of my in-laws who arrived in New York from the Philippines with $5.00 in their pocket.

What have immigrants done for America? Well. Look around. What have you done? This is who we are.


In a protest, community is strong. Unity is strong. Today, there was some prodemocracy stuff, but there was also a lot of anti-Trump-eting and name calling.

The protest felt a little like people were peaceful. They were upset. There was a lot of Trump-fest going on. But it wasn’t just that. There was a little anger with a little despair. Those guys were suffering, but it could lead somewhere.

When we start protesting a person, it becomes a zero-sum. We lose the opportunity. We didn’t waste all of the opportunity today. It was mostly a foreboding of what could happen.

When Martin Luther King marched at the Lincoln Memorial, it was very organized. They had basically shut down the city bus transport by not using them and choosing instead to walk seven miles to work, or set up car-pools, an early Uber system. They were unified in their despair. MLK had been put in jail many times for his fire. He was not moderate. When he spoke, he spoke about justice and equality, and didn’t give stage to McCarthyism. He mentioned him, but that was it. If Trump were president at the time, he would have gotten the same mention in his speeches and letters.

MLK said in his letter from Birmingham Jail, that moderates are just as evil because they are not going against what’s wrong. And that’s what’s wrong with all these things is because we are moderate.

So one of the reasons we go to these things is so that we don’t allow things to passively happen.

“Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

We have a general idea that this isn’t right. But we don’t have that despair. We are privileged. But we have a sense that this is wrong. So that’s why I move. To help me understand.

Maybe we, in this generation, have not suffered enough to stay focussed on the principles being violated here. We are America. We believe in humanity. We do not discriminate against another race. We do not believe our race is better than theirs.

The world is small. A refugee physically, manually by another human’s own hands, who is being pushed away back into the ocean from a Greek beach because the Greeks cannot feed their own countryman, affects all of us. Starvation changes one’s belief systems, I am told. These people are not moderate. They are being violated. I don’t want to be a part of who violates them. It doesn’t need to be said that I wouldn’t want to be them.

greece-refugees

Why do we march? To get our feet moving. We want to learn more. We march to help us understand.

 

Self Care Tip: Find your fire, take a stand.

Questions: What’s your story about immigration? How is this personal to you? Keep on

 

This is What America Can Give You

I told my patient today,

“You’re smart, you’re beautiful, you’re young, you’re healthy. This is what you have. Go and do it. Fight hard. You can only control yourself. Don’t wait for someone else to fight for you. This is what America can give you. The opportunity to fight hard for yourself.”

Keep on.

Electroconvulsive Therapy: Addressing the Stigma

http://www.medpagetoday.com/resource-center/Advances-in-Major-Depressive-Disorder/ECT/a/61938?eun=g8732591d0r&xid=nl_mpt_special_reports_2017-01-16

The Heroic Patient

imagesSorena wore a black knit scarf around a thick neck, folds between scarf and skin. She came in with reflective smooth skin and frozen brow.  After many botox injections, she increasingly found it difficult to change her expression.  People often accused her of not caring about difficult things they were disclosing, and she realized the issue was, she couldn’t move her forehead.

She had a lot of empathy and was frustrated that people didn’t understand this.

We pulled at this idea for some time, recognizing a tension unplugged for her with each injection, a relief she experienced at visceral level. She just felt like she had to get her injections, driven toward them, like a bee toward the hive.

At some level it takes courage to get through the day.  She sees the effect.  Despite the fact that she should take a break from Botox, she can’t stop and this feels frightening.  She’s freezing her face.  It’s a terrible thing to know she has to stop something she is driven to do. It’s really hard. She’s trying to get through each day.

I told Sorena, “What you do every day to deal with this is brave. It’s harder. You have so much strength. You are doing it. You are getting through.”


I’m considering starting a podcast, “The Heroic Patient.” What do you think?

I want to interview Sorena and others with heroic life journey’s for you to discovery, connect with, increase awareness of, and appreciate.

The idea is to interview a world-community patient who will tell their “story.” It enters through the physician’s office doorway and increases transparency.

Many in our world community do not have a great understanding of what a physician nor a patient do in this exchange. You may think, “Well, everyone is a patient so at some level they do.” But:

  • How many, do you think actually go into a physician’s office?
  • How many variety of physicians does any one patient see in a lifespan?
  • How many get to tell their story?
  • How many of us hear each other’s stories?
  • How many of us understand how a physician solicits the details of a story so someone is “heard?”

If a patient were to learn the ‘behind the scenes,’ thought processes, interview techniques and analysis of the physician, would that be helpful to the patient?  Would the doctor learn from this dynamic interplay, and would the interview process evolve and grow from this? How would this effect stigma of all variety? Who knows?

What do you think? Is there a need for the “Heroic Patient” Podcast? If so, what are your recommendations and opinions?

The idea is that we are designed for connection. It’s friendly, remember? 🙂

Keep on!

Self-care Tip: Get transparent to get connected! Be a friend to yourself.