Sunday, March 15, 2009

Fight The Good Fight

I am a pacifist. Actually, lately I suspect that I'm also a pacifier, though I try to encourage the baby to not loiter too long after eating. The point is... what was the point? Oh, the point is that I haven't slept in a long time and can no longer hold a train of thought.

Oh! No. The point is, I generally avoid confrontation. If you are going to yell at me, I'll probably just give you what you want to save my eardrums. Please don't tell my child this, though he likely suspects my weakness for shreekiness. Take last night, for example, when I felt that 3 hours seemed like an appropriate amount of time to swing a person. My 10 lb 14 oz opponent disagreed. We compromised, concluding that I'll just swing him in my arms until he starts high school, and he'll never cry again. And it's fine, really it is!

There are some times though, when I cannot walk away from a fight, when standing up for myself becomes not just a matter of principle, but my well-being and possibly my survival. This is when the discussion turns to my health. There are no people more worth fighting for than myself and my family, nothing more important than our health, and no doctor or facility that will ever back me into a corner. Which is not to say that I go around looking to fight endocrinologists or to imply that I enjoy going head to head with psychiatrists. I have deep respect for those in the health professions, especially in Canada where the vast majority are overworked and underpaid for their efforts. Actually, Canada is a big part of the problem. Canadians are the rest of the problem. Oh, Canada.

Because of our FREE! and wonderful health care system, we wait in long lines to see a doctor and are just grateful to be seen. We are less inclined to realize our rights, since we aren't paying for the service (directly) and, well, the doctor knows, right?

But what about when the doctor isn't right, or the treatment just isn't right for you? What if the wait time is too long? Maybe the specialist you were so lucky to get into didn't listen to you or rubbed you the wrong way? Well, then you remind yourself that your tax dollars pay for these services, and you speak up. I realize this is easier to do when you have the vocabulary and training behind you, certainly hospital staff are less likely to think you are just a pain in the butt when tell them you have an acute gluteal antalgia, but even the less eloquent have rights. You are entitled to a detailed and thorough examination and explanation of your problem. You deserve to know your treatment options, including what happens if you don't accept a proposed treatment. You are entitled to seek a second and even a third opinion. You should be free to ask as many questions as you have, even the stupid ones. You deserve to be treated with respect and empathy. We need to understand that when we visit a doctor, we are hiring him to do a job, paying with our tax dollars instead of our wallet. We have rights.

I recently exercised my right to fight the system. A day after checking out of the hospital with my new son, I had to return. The baby was fine, but I was only a few degrees away from having cat scratch fever. The doctor recommended antibiotics, which after confirming that they were compatible with breast-feeding, I agreed to take. It was further recommended that I stay the night, and since I had no plans except to hallucinate my fever away, I also agreed. Then I was told that while I was welcome to stay chez Women's College, for FREE! natch, my 4-day-old son was not welcome, since he had already checked out. The hospital claimed that there was nothing they could do, it was impossible, their hands were tied. This was the best option they could come up with.

And just like Dee Snider, I wasn't going to take it.

To separate a newborn from his mother, his comfort, and his food source because of administrative 'impossibilities' was unacceptable. So much so, that I was prepared to take my medication, go home with my infant and return the next day for my next dose and follow-up, a plan the hospital did not like. After negotiations and help from my husband and midwife, we came up with an acceptable solution, one that satisfied my medical and personal needs. But I wonder what a more timid or 'compliant' patient would have done, and I feel for the patient who doesn't know that they can say no or request a different plan of action.

Fighting for your rights doesn't mean being belligerent or demanding, but rather it means tactfully insisting on getting the care you need. In my health history, this has meant 'hiring' a neurosurgeon, a midwife and an obstetrician, a family doctor, and many, many chiropractors. These experts have helped me to manage different concerns, but always it is me who is ultimately responsible for my health decisions and outcomes. I have declined some medications and taken others. I have refused some tests and demanded others. I have asked for help getting earlier specialist appointments when my body told me not to wait and been a patient patient at other times. I do my best to make my doctors aware of my expectations, my needs, and my preferences, and this way I have been best able to look out for myself, and know that I will always be OK. I hope that you can say the same.

As the Beastie Boys teach, "you've got to fight for your rights" party... but it still applies. Give a new mother a break, this was the best closer I could come up with on 3 hours sleep, besides, I'm busy swinging my son.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

You Make Plans...

There is a lot of talk these days about 'health plans'. These two words don't always go together well though, 'cause when it comes to your health, anything can and will happen.

I hope this isn't scary, but rather freeing. You might exercise a little or a lot, eat at Burger.King daily or never, follow the rules or break them, and typically, your health will follow suit. But sometimes the exercise freak has a heart attack, and his chubby friend rushes him to the hospital. Sometimes the yogi has low back pain and the weekend warrior cruises unharmed. Sometimes genetics/fate/happenstance intervene, despite (or in spite of) our best intentions.

So what is a fatalist to do? How does one accept that we can't always control or even predict how our bodies will behave? As corny as it sounds, I think the answer is to accept and let go. Search for the message in the event. Listen to your body, really hear what it is saying.

It is not unusual for people to come to me in crisis right before Christmas. Or a vacation. Or a wedding. Back pain often strikes at the worst time possible, in part because there really is no good time to be laid out flat on your back (well, not many good times). Fortunately, there are things you can do to expedite the healing process - chiropractic comes to mind (!), but always, time and patience are required. If you are injured, as frustrating as it may be, listen to your body, hear its message. It might be that you need to slow down, rest more. When we ignore the whispers (ooh, my back is a little tight!) the body shouts (AARGH my back REALLY HURTS!!!). Pay attention, spine owners!

I have a long history of painful back episodes, most coinciding with major life changes, as though my body was trying to sabotage my plans; the first time my back 'went out' was right before I started university. Other major flare-ups conveniently occurred at the start of my chiropractic internship, the week before my wedding, and during the first trimester of my pregnancy. My back is my weak spot and is at risk when I am under stress, and I now understand that I need to take extra precautions ahead of potentially stressful times. I get an adjustment before the vacation, start yoga before I'm stressed, get a massage before I really need one. I try to avoid being shouted at by my body by giving it what it needs, before it NEEDS it.

But it doesn't always work, and inevitably, we all will get aches and pains. So when those old familiar (painful) feelings come back, relax. Cancel your plans, call in sick, visit your chiropractor, have a massage or some acupuncture. Invest in a good reusable ice pack (really people, spend the $5, and make the peas for dinner!) and rent some DVDs (I recommend Arrested Development - even funnier the second time around). Get some rest, chances are you need it.

Remember, this too shall pass.