A Few Words...

What is written here is my opinion and personal experience only. I am not qualified to give advice - medical, legal, or otherwise. Please be responsible and do your own research regarding treatments, diets, doctors, and alternative therapies.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Lessons from the Front Lines

We all view life through a unique lens.  How we respond to our circumstances is relative and probably depends on a combination of our innate temperament and our life experiences, among other things.  In general, my own temperament is such that I tend to over analyze things.  When faced with a dilemma, I want to classify my options into nice little black and white boxes and then, as my husband says, I ruminate.  When coping with a chronic disease, this is not a particularly helpful approach to take.

My life experiences, fortunately, have afforded me some unique insights into how others cope with chronic illness, most of the time it's not just a nuisance disease, but something of the life-threatening variety.  It is a humbling experience to sit with someone as they work through the details of how they are going to adapt to their "new normal".  As we all know, a chronic disease can affect every aspect of one's life and lifestyle.

While I am simply a resource to help my patients learn to meet their nutrition needs, this alone is often an overwhelming and emotional task for them - and me!  Their disease state, treatment, and/or surgical interventions can have a profound effect on what they can and cannot eat.  While not insurmountable to change, it cannot be overestimated just how much what, when, and how we eat is a part of who we are.  So while my focus is always on the science and practice of nutrition, there is quite a bit of psychology that goes into applying this knowledge.  Oh, and marriage counseling, too!  By that I mean, Mr. Smith will say, "I'm eating just fine."  While his wife begs to differ.  And so we must all come to an agreement of what the problem is or if there even is one.  But I digress...

As we (meaning me, the patient and their family or caregivers, as well as the rest of the medical team) work together through the patient's nutrition options, I often learn more about who this person is, who they used to be, and who they hope to become, sometimes as they are just beginning to see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.  You know what light I mean.

I had a bit of an epiphany at work recently.  I realized that many of the patients I meet with are currently, or have been at some point in their lives, quite successful, powerful, and in control.  Just like those of us with Meniere's.  I'm sure they used to exude confidence and strength.  But usually when I meet them for the first or tenth time, they nearly always have furrowed brow lines, fear in their voices, and a palpable aura of anxiety surrounding them.  At least a few tears are not uncommon.  This is the average person I come across with a cancer, or other life-changing, diagnosis.

Once in a while, though, people take it to a whole new level.  Please keep in mind, I am not judging anyone's response to a clearly very stressful situation.  Whether it be cancer, advanced diabetes, dementia or Alzheimer's diseases, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, or Parkinson's disease to name a few, these are all life-altering conditions with few options for treatment.  But, for a few people, this really knocks them off the rails.  It can really be quite frightening for them and everyone around them.  The level of angst can often get in the way of the patient's treatment and result in a very poor quality of life.  Some people are able to pull themselves together with the support of their family, friends, and professional counseling, but others sadly do not.

It's observing the people on the other end of the spectrum that softens my heart and inspires me, for they have an important lesson to impart. As I have explored with them how they are coping with their disease, as I always do since this can certainly affect appetite and compliance to nutrition recommendations, this person usually says something to the effect, "Well, this is it.  I will do what I need to do to manage my symptoms as best as we can, but I am not afraid.  This is just how life goes, isn't it?"  Yes.  Yes, it is.

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