Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What You Learn Makes a Difference - for the Caregiver and the Patient

Information doesn't have to be digital to be helpful!
What are you learning? Have you or your loved one faced a health challenge by pretending it doesn’t exist? We all know someone who has. How are you educating yourself about your needs? The fast pace of medical advances challenges us, the consumers of medical care, to educate ourselves. Learn about your condition and ask that doctor questions. No matter what stage of life you are in, the better you understand your own body, the better you and your doctor can create a winning team to avert medical crises and maintain good health.

Gone are the days when anyone should get away with having the Dr-God mentality. Do we want our physicians to have all the answers, sure. But it's just not a reasonable way to approach healthcare anymore when we have so many resources available to us. Every person and every body is unique.  By matching your body and its needs to information available, healthcare becomes more proactive then reactive.  

If you or a loved one area dealing with a health crisis, arm yourself with information. Does the thought of Google-ing the dozen lettered diagnosis your doctor's just dropped in your lap make you want to run and hide? You're not alone, but if you let your fears overtake you, you're losing out. Some doctors discourage internet use with concern that their patients will not interpret the information they receive accurately, increasing fears. But if what you learn empowers you to ask questions, and you get answers and a better perspective on your care. That also inspires more confidence in what your doctor recommends, then everyone wins. Some doctors encourage internet use, knowing that if a patient takes time to educate himself or herself when they are ready and aren't just relying on what can be learned during an office visit.

Not secure with Internet search engines? There are medical libraries in many hospitals with librarians who will help you find more information. Community libraries are also a good start. The key is to get some information and start processing what you learn.  

I'll give you some tips for gaining information and support from others, such as in support groups, in a future post, but for now, I want to encourage you to seek information. Read any information the doctors give you about your condition and let them know how that information sits with you. There are so many things that your doctor doesn't and can't know about you and there is the gap that only you, an empowered patient or caregiver, can fill.

For example:  You have been diagnosed with cancer and have started chemotherapy. Dehydration is a concern and it's listed in the drug information sheets you're handed by the infusion nurse. If you read about the possible side effects, like dehydration, you can recognize the symptoms before they land you in the hospital. Take that one step further. Instead of just assuming you need to drink more water, you talk to the doctor about what other things you can do to help prevent dehydration. Gatorade?  What if you don't like it?  Are there other options? Ah, the doctor mentions that melons are great for not only getting necessary fluids but also in balancing electrolytes? Electro whats? It's okay if you don't know all the terminology. What does matter is that you're discussing a proactive approach to maintaining your
overall health instead of reacting to something that can be prevented.
Oh, melons - Watermelon? Love it? You know to stock up before your next round and plan some fun snacks. You're taking charge of what you can. You can't make the cancer go away on your own, or predict your body's reaction to chemo, but you can be armed with information to make choices that make a difference.

Once you start learning about your condition, share what you're learning and your response to the information with your loved ones who care. Sometimes they don't know when or how to talk with you about what you're going through or what your caree is going through but they want to. Sharing what you've learned opens the door to bonding and building a support network for your specific needs. 

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