Have empathy for your doctor.

Regular readers will know that I’m a fan of active engagement in our health-related decisions. To do this effectively, it helps to know several things about the healthcare system. This understanding will relieve your frustration with the way things are, and it may also make you more empathetic toward the doctor who doesn’t listen when you try to participate.

1. The healthcare system is a product of the consumer culture, and is designed around money.

Doctors are paid for a very short appointment time with each patient, usually about 10 minutes. That means appointments are booked close together and the doctor is invariably running late by the time the first patient leaves.

From the patient point of view, this means a long wait after arriving at your scheduled time. It also means your doctor may seem rushed, harried, and unwilling to listen to your explanation of what’s going on with your health. And, if you have the impression that doctors only want to hear about one issue at the appointment, that’s true. Ten minutes doesn’t allow enough time to sort out even one problem, never mind a complex health issue.

Sanity strategies…

  • Take a book, listen to your iPod, or decide to enjoy leafing through magazines you don’t normally read.
  • Book your appointment far enough in advance so that you can get the first slot in the morning or after lunch.
  • Don’t plan your next activity for the day based on the time you would be free if you got in to see the doctor as scheduled. You know it isn’t going to happen, so be realistic and save yourself the stress.

2. Physicians are the product of a system that has trained them to think a certain way.

Conventional medicine is based on the fix-it principle: diagnose (i.e. label) the condition and prescribe something to relieve symptoms. Conventionally trained  physicians do some things very well. They are the people you want when you have a medical emergency. They know how to swing into action to stop bleeding, stitch up wounds, fix broken bones no matter how severe the damage, and generally put Humpty Dumpty back together again. They also have access to state-of-the-art equipment to do advanced tests and complicated procedures.

Humpty Dumpty needs to be put back together

Image via ClipartFest.com

But it’s another story when you have a chronic illness. Their abilities to put you back together don’t help when lifestyle changes are the best prescription. Sadly, there are major gaps in conventional medical training. Unless doctors have taken extra courses, they know next to nothing about nutrition. When it comes to exercise, they wouldn’t know what to recommend beyond the basics unless they have studied it for themselves. When you have a crick in your neck, they can give you something for the pain, but they aren’t trained in how to adjust your spine.

In essence, medical doctors have been schooled to see health issues as individual problems that require medicine to get rid of the symptoms. They do not have holistic training that looks at the function of body systems and how they interact with each other.

Conventional doctors are schooled in using pharmaceuticals but not herbals, homeopathics, or other forms of more gentle treatment. The cynical part of me would refer back to point #1 about the monetary basis of healthcare. Pharmaceutical companies have huge amounts of profit at stake and put a lot of attention on promoting their products to both patients and doctors. They position pharmaceutical drugs as the only solution to health problems.

Sanity strategies…

  • Be clear about your health biases and preferences. This helps you find the most suitable practitioners for you. For example, if you prefer prescription drugs only as a last resort, ask questions to find out if that is your doctor’s philosophy. If it isn’t, you can decide how you’ll manage that with your doctor or if you’ll look for another who’s a better match. It’s not a question of right or wrong, but whether there’s a fit or not.
  • Assemble a team of practitioners. A family physician is a must. He or she has a unique knowledge base, is able to prescribe pharmaceuticals if you need them, and is your access to the system including hospitals and labs. Other possibilities for your team include a medical doctor with functional training, a naturopathic doctor, Ayurvedic doctor, chiropractor, nutritionist, physiotherapist, Chinese medicine doctor, acupuncturist, massage therapist, psychologist, and energy practitioner.
  • Seek out practitioners before you are in a health crisis, if possible. Consult friends with similar values and preferences for recommendations. You can also find on-line reviews in some cases.
  • Arrange for an introductory meeting. My current GP booked a “meet and greet” appointment with me when I enquired about becoming a patient in her practice. These days there is more emphasis on the patient-doctor relationship. I think it’s fair on both sides to meet before diving in so there is the space to develop rapport.

3. Your doctor is confined by the system – e.g. office policies and constraints of the insurance plan that covers your care.

This system can be a brutal workplace for your doctor. In the following video, a family physician shares her experience. This was filmed at Dr. Pamela Wible’s physician retreat. Pamela Wible is a medical doctor who has humanized her medical practice and is on a mission to reduce physician suicide. For more, check out her TED talks.

This doctor is not alone in her experience. In 2014, Atlantic Magazine investigated the issue of disillusioned doctors. According to “Doctors Tell All—and It’s Bad”

…students (like the doctors they will become) are overworked and overtired, and they realize that there is too much work to be done in too little time. And because the medical-education system largely ignores the emotional side of health care…doctors end up distancing themselves unthinkingly from what they are seeing.

Dr. Daniel Friedland is addressing the issue by providing conscious leadership and resiliency training for healthcare providers. He, like Dr. Wible, is doing his best to help his colleagues navigate the broken system without being broken by it. The question is, just who is fixing the system?

Only time will tell the whole story.

I welcome reader comments on my blog. They get me thinking. Here’s one, in response to my post, written after I tripped and gave myself a black eye.

Great blog today. I love how an unfortunate event becomes blog fodder. 😊

It made me aware that I hadn’t actually thought of my black eye as unfortunate. And with that awareness, I remembered the story that first shifted my thinking about good and bad fortune.

Here’s a charming version, narrated by philosopher, writer, and speaker, Alan Watts. Born in England, he moved to the US in 1938 and began Zen training in New York. Watts, who died in 1973, is best known as an early interpreter and popularizer of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience.

So what can we make of this ancient teaching?

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Dilemmas of Decision-Making

Information overload combined with a lack of clear answers can be confusing, frustrating, and discouraging. It’s tempting to think it would be so much easier if life were black and white, if someone else could tell us the precise course of action to guarantee the results we want. But that won’t be happening any time soon.

And really, that isn’t the point of life, as far as I can tell. From my viewpoint, life is about learning and growing. And health issues certainly provide us with opportunities to do that.

So it’s on us to be conscious and engaged when making health-related choices. Here are a few thoughts to consider.

1. We are organic, not mechanical, systems.

Repairing a mechanical system is usually a straightforward, clear-cut, logical process. Not so with living systems, which are elegantly complex and sometimes incomprehensible. We have a capacity for emotion, interconnected body systems, and strong survival instincts. No wonder it’s challenging to zero in on the one correct thing to do.

2. It helps a lot to adopt an experimental mindset.

Because maybe there isn’t just one perfect answer. Maybe it’s a zig-zag path to where we want to be.

In this culture, we tend to look for a direct path to the right and perfect solution. This search can have the unintended consequence of preventing  any action at all because you can never be really sure you’ve found the correct one.

On the other hand, an experimental approach allows us to be curious. It opens up possibilities and gives you a chance to learn what works and what doesn’t. It’s a time-honoured approach, as illustrated by this story from Thomas Edison’s friend and associate Walter S. Mallory.

I said to him, “Isn’t it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work you have done you haven’t been able to get any results?” Edison turned on me like a flash, and with a smile replied: “Results! Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work!”

With an attitude like that, there’s no need to feel like a failure when you try something that doesn’t work. After all, you were just testing a theory, not staking your reputation for success on it.

3. You’ll be a lot more confident in making health decisions once you learn to access your innate self-knowing.

Self-knowing is the key to being able to rest easy with your decisions. It’s the aspect of decision-making that provides the greatest opportunity for growth, and the one that’s easiest to overlook.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore how you can marshal your resources to know what to do. In the meantime, here are The Delta Rhythm Boys to sing us out…

The party’s over. Now what?

It depends on what we set in motion.

This new year I was surprised to find myself more aware of it than usual. When I heard that 2017 is the beginning of a multi-year cycle, my heightened interest made sense. Each new year is a time for new beginnings, but the first year of a new cycle sets the tone for the next decade or so. Worth paying attention to, I’m thinking!

Another view of the significance of this time of year has to do with nature’s seasonal cycles. We have just passed the winter solstice, the time when we have the least amount of daylight and the days are cold in my part of the world. In terms of nature and growth, the harvest is completed and there’s a tendency toward rest and hibernation.

The stage is set.

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Making Marshmallows? Yes!

Homemade marshmallows

So there you have it. I decided in favour of tradition. I got out my recipe card and the 1950s candy thermometer that my aunt passed on to me. I went back to making marshmallows for Christmas.

Not without some thought, as you might have guessed. Last week I said I’d be thinking about it, considering that sugar is a primary ingredient in homemade marshmallows. So this post is about how my thinking got me from there to here. If you want the recipe, you’ll find it here. Continue reading