Thursday, November 11, 2010

New Skill Set

I'm proud of my mom; she's someone who has, for the larger part of her life, not had any medical issues. I think she has done amazingly well in mastering the skill of how to navigate the medical system under challenging circumstances.

My parents are part of the generation which saw their own parents live out their lives only visiting a doctor if there was a dire issue: Broken bones, surgeries or a catastrophic illness. Most things either resolved on their own or the person died, simple as that. No routine screenings for colon cancer, no yearly pap smears or mammograms. It's no wonder the medical system can be difficult to navigate- many illnesses, tests and reasons to visit the doctor have come into being only in the past 40-50 years. My parents' generation has had no modeling for this aspect of their lives and are now having to set precedence for the rest of us.

Just knowing when to call the doctor is a challenge. What symptoms are concerning? What is normal, what's not? How does one find the best care for their particular situation? What makes a good doctor and how does a patient find one? None of this is taught to us and, unfortunately, it isn't something that comes naturally to most people.

Medicine is 75% science and 25% art, in my opinion. It's more than just looking at lab values, numbers, test results. It takes some creativity to weave all the information together with the information gleaned from the patient: how they are feeling, how their illness affects them, treatments that are going to fit in with their life. It's not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. Two people may have the exact same diagnosis, but with very different presentations and treatment plans.

Over the past few years my mom has faced an increasing number of medical issues, which she has handled with grace and good humor. She's a medical challenge requiring numerous experts and specialists, all of whom really need to work together since one change in medication can cause disastrous results. The learning curve has been steep- it's not easy to go from a healthy, active person to someone who needs to see a number of doctors, sometimes on a weekly basis.

I'm so happy she has a good care team in place, with most of her doctors at one facility, which both my parents are truly impressed with. Cooperation seems to be the key there, and an effort is made to accommodate the patient. For example, if tests are ordered they are scheduled at the time of other appointments, saving the patient a trip back in.

It's never easy navigating a change in circumstances, especially in terms of health, but I feel confident that my mom is in very good hands and can add that she is a top-notch patient. Definitely one of the more challenging aspects of life to master!

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