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photo by permission, unsplash.com

Today is Day 8 of a 31 Days Of Surviving Chronic Illness.  You can catch up on Day 1 here.

Today is going to be a mashup of a few tips as well as some snags to watch out for while navigating through the medical maze.

Tests/Procedures/Medications ordered by your doctor

  • It is always a mix of hopefulness and fear when a doctor orders test, procedures or medications for you.  Especially when you are unfamiliar with what he has ordered.  We have a tendency to just blindly trust doctors but experience has taught me this is unwise. When your doctor orders a new test, procedure or medication do your research before going through with it.  A good doctor will not be offended if you tell him you want to think about it first or even get a 2nd opinion. Don't let them bully you! If it makes you uncomfortable or your "good sense" is telling you to wait, listen up.  Because although some drugs get in/out of your system quickly, some can take several months and could have devastating side effects to your already taxed system.

 Pharmacies

  • Just like doctors, there are good pharmacies and bad ones.  Ask your doctor or your doctor's nurse which pharmacies they find the most reliable.
  • Once you find a pharmacy you like stick with it.  It really helps to have pharmacy staff that recognize you.  Once they know you they are much more likely to do little favors for you, process your prescriptions faster, phone the doctor when problems arise, etc.
  • Even after you find a good pharmacy, watch them like a hawk.  Mixups in prescription medicine happen all the time.  I have been given both double and half of the medication prescribed by my doctor by a lax pharmacist.  When you pick up your prescriptions, before you leave, take them out of the bag and look for any dosage changes.  Check if there were any substitutions such as generic for brand name or change in delivery method or dosage changes your doctor forgot to tell you about.
  • You know all that paperwork they attach to your bag of pills?  Read it!  Always read the expected side effects and the possible drug interactions.  In a perfect world you could rely on the doctor and the pharmacist to convey this information but that just isn't reality.
  • Your local pharmacist can be a wealth of information so don't be afraid to ask questions.  A great pharmacist can tell you what to expect when starting a new prescription as well as warn you about little known interactions like taking thyroid meds with dairy (don't do it, the calcium suppresses thyroid uptake).
  • Some pharmacies offer their own prescription plans for a low annual fee.  One of my friends, who did not have medical insurance, was prescribed an expensive pill.  A pill she could not afford.  She was able to sign up for the pharmacy's private prescription plan and get the medication at an affordable price.  Pharmacies also have consultations for blood pressure, flu shots, diabetes management and other conditions.  Just ask your pharmacist for info on all the ways they can help you.

Labs

  • Again, there are good ones and bad ones.  Ask your doctor or nurse which labs they prefer.
  • Some are more expensive than others so it pays to do some shopping around.  Cheaper isn't always better, but cheaper isn't always bad either.
  • If you have a baby or toddler that needs to have labwork done, be sure to ask around for the best lab for pediatric needs. Some phlebotomists just have a talent for working with children and the nurses know who they are.

Insurance

  • I cannot stress how important it is to read the EOB's (Explanation of Benefits) that your insurance company sends you after you receive treatment or have labwork done.  The EOB explains how much of the cost your insurance company is going to cover.  But there are OFTEN mistakes, either from the doctor/labs end or the insurance company's end or both.  After my first knee surgery I received a $5,000 bill from the hospital saying that my insurance was only going to cover 20% of my surgical expenses even though the surgery had been pre-approved.  After I picked myself up off the floor, had a very heated conversation with a clueless insurance adjuster, had a 2nd conversation with a more helpful insurance adjuster, and lastly a conversation with my HR department, a HUGE problem in the contracts of my entire medical group (effecting thousands of people) was discovered. A couple days later my claim was resubmitted and was covered by insurance.
  • If you are unsure of the details of your insurance coverage first call the number on the back of your card.  If you are still confused talk to your HR department.  If you still need some help, talk to the insurance broker who helps your company purchase insurance.  The answers are out there, don't give up until all your questions are answered.
  • Just because your doctor orders the test doesn't mean it's covered by insurance.  Some tests are considered "non essential" by insurance companies so if you are low on funds, call the insurance company before you have a procedures or labwork done.  If your insurance isn't going to cover the cost, talk to you doctor to see if there is another test that IS covered. Or postpone it until you can find a way to pay for it.

So those are just a few of the tips & tricks I have, I'm sure some of you have a few as well. Feel free to share them here or on the Facebook page!

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photo by permission, unsplash.com
photo by permission, unsplash.com

Today is Day 6 in 31 Days Of Surviving Chronic Illness. You can catch up to Day 1 here.

Complementary & Alternative Medicine (CAM)

Yesterday we took a look at the different types of traditional clinicians.  Today we are going to touch on a few alternative options in the medical world.   According to Mayo Clinic , "Doctors are embracing CAM therapies, too, often combining them with mainstream medical therapies — spawning the new term 'integrative medicine.'" These therapists and treatment facilities are not always covered by traditional insurance but  their ability to think outside of the modern western medicine box makes them worth taking a 2nd look at:

  • Spa/Massage Therapists- It may sound a little self-indulgent but a reputable, medically-minded spa therapist can offer so many alternative treatments.  I am not really a spa-kinda-girl however, I have found that regular massages with a qualified, highly trained massage therapist tremendously help with my pain management, particularly in my large joints like shoulder and hip.  Here are a few my local medical-spa offers:

  • Reflexology
  • Swedish Massage
  • Medical Massage
  • Thai Massage
  • Stretch/Flexibility Therapy
  • Hydro Therapy
  • Thalassotherapy
  • Light Therapy
  • Heat Therapy
  • Raindrop  Spinal Therapy
  • Naturopath (ND)- I’m all about doing things naturally, if I can. I feel that less chemicals is a wise approach to my already stressed out body. A Naturopath can offer alternatives in treatment, especially when it comes to prescription medications.  A Naturopath may also recommend tests that are not commonly ordered by a traditional MD. Naturopaths often focus on diet and supplementation and some offer shots or infusions. My mother saw a Naturopath when she was trying to get pregnant with my little brother.  For 10 years she tried to get pregnant, she went to see the Naturopath and 12 months later my little brother was born.  You be the judge. (side-note: some DO's practice in the same way a Naturopath does so if your insurance is balking at covering the bill from a Naturopath, you may have better luck with a qualified DO.)

  • Acupressure/Acupuncture- Some people swear by acupressure/acupuncture. I don’t quite understand it all, but Chinese physicians have been using it for thousands of years so it might be worth a try if you suffer from chronic pain.

  • Certified Health Coach- A certified Health Coach is like a Life Coach, but for your health care needs. " A Health Coach is a wellness authority and supportive mentor who motivates individuals to cultivate positive health choices. Health Coaches educate and support clients to achieve their health goals through lifestyle and behavior adjustments." If you need help staying on track with your health goals or research, a certified health coach can help.

  • Homeopathy- I like to think of homeopathics as wives-tales-proven-right. God provided so much for us in the way of plants and herbs that offer tried and true help with physical ailments and that is how most of our ancestors treated sickness.  It doesn't have to be weird or religious, it's simply a matter of taking a concentrated dose of a natural plant or other natural substance, usually under the tongue.  They are as scientific as the prescriptions from your local pharmacy, in fact some of the very same substances are used for both.  Over the course of my life I have used homeopathics to treat a variety of ailments such as cold sores, impetigo, bruising, allergies and more.  Some work better than others and not all homepathics work for everyone.  The great thing about homeopathics is they are readily available at your local health food store and don't cost more than $10-$15 to try.

You can read about more Complementary/Alternative therapies here. If traditional forms of treatment don't seem to be helping you, pick a couple alternative therapies and see if they can bring you some relief.  Please keep in mind that some alternative practices incorporate religious or spiritual elements so be sure to thoroughly research before beginning any practice that may be in conflict with your own religious beliefs.  I am a Christian and therefore there are some alternative practices that I am not comfortable with (ie: Reikki, certain forms of meditation, etc.).  I simply avoid those practices that I feel contradict my faith.

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Today is Day 5 of 31 Day Of Surviving Chronic Illness.  You can catch up on Day 1 here.

We tend to think of healthcare only in terms of our HMO or PPO, the local Urgent Care or our General Practitioner (GP), but there are so many other options and when you find yourself dealing with chronic illness or mystery infirmity it’s important to explore these other avenues of wellness.

Below is a list of some of the more traditional doctors, nurses, therapists and clinicians I have come across in the past decade. If you are  having trouble getting the medical care you need, try adding a few of these specialists to your health-care team:

Traditional

These doctors & clinicians are easy to find and are covered by most insurance plans:

  • MD (Medical Doctor)- Most family doctors are MD’s and there are some wonderful, caring & intelligent MD’s out there. However, sometimes MD’s can be super-focused on lab results and test numbers so if you fall into a sub-clinical category they may not catch it or be willing to pursue other possible causes,  For example, thyroid disease runs in my family and when I started exhibiting signs of hypothyroidism in my late 20’s I requested labwork.  My labwork showed that my thyroid hormones were just 1 point away from being officially classified as hypothyroid. Because technically it still fell within normal my MD did not at first consider that I might have thyroid disease.  But because he was an excellent MD, he later changed his mind and got me on a medication regime that made a huge difference in my overall health.  Not all MD's are the same so if yours is not helping you get better, it might be time to try a new one or another type of physician.

  • DO (Doctor of Osteopathy)- You may have seen these initials after a doctor’s name and wondered what they mean.  DO stands for “doctor of osteopathy” and refers to the type of training they receive after attending medical school.  All aspiring doctors attend medical school, graduate, then test to become licensed to practice medicine, but it is at this point they they continue their education to become an MD, DO or some other specialty. A DO will go on to receive an education with a greater emphasis in whole body wellness. “ D.O.s often address medical conditions from both a medical and lifestyle perspective. D.O.s place an emphasis on getting to know a patient’s lifestyle, family and unique concerns, which better informs their medical treatments.”  DO’s will often have a lot of training and experience in allergies, hormones, chiropractics, sports medicine and other treatments.

  • PA (Physicians Assistant) or NP (Nurse Practitioner)- The major difference between a PA/NP & and MD is that an MD does a specialty residency program after completing their 4 years of medical school; PA’s and NP’s each complete their respective educational programs but not a traditional residency program. But don’t let that deter you from trying a PA or NP! There are many complex reasons for a student to pursue a PA/NP license instead of MD but among those reasons are that PA/NP schooling is less expensive, a PA/NP will get into the job market sooner (read: make money faster) and forgo the administrative stresses of being a full fledged MD.  PA’s/NP’s must work under the supervision of a doctor, but often have a less strained schedule and in some cases are more thorough when taking a  health history of a new patient.  They do have some limitations but don’t don’t rule out a care professional just because you see “PA” or “NP” after their name.

  • Chiropractor (or DC)- While I have benefited (most of my life) from good, old fashioned chiropractics, most people do not realize that Chiropractors are not just “bone crackers”.  Chiropractors, like DO’s, are often trained in other treatment options:

    • Active Release Technique (A.R.T) is a newer treatment that is used by some chiropractors as well as physical therapists and sport medicine specialists.  It focuses on  soft tissue manipulation of tendons, muscles and ligaments that can loosen scar tissue, gently stretch tight muscles and re-oxygenate the treatment area.  If you suffer from chronic pain you might give A.R.T. a try.

    • Many chiropractors offer massage from a licensed massage therapist as part of treatment and get this: massage treatment through your chiropractor can often be billed to insurance.

    • Chiropractors (as well as other physicians) often have special dietary/nutritional/weight loss programs.  They can counsel you through subjects such as macro-nutrition, detoxing, customize an eating plan and more.

  • Internal Medicine (or IM)- internal medicine doctors are specialized in the “ management of patients who have undifferentiated or multi-system disease processes.” In other words, they are the sleuths of the medical world.  If your MD is stumped, try seeing a Doctor of Internal Medicine.

  • Endocrinologist (or END)- they specialize in hormones and regulating them. However, they usually specialize in just diabetes and thyroid problems.  If you are having sex hormone problems (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, etc.) you may have to seek out an endocrinologist or other physician who specializes in those specific hormones.

  • Allergen Specialist (or AI)- Seasonal allergies as well as food allergies/intolerances can wreak havoc on your body.  If you just can’t get rid of that “tired” feeling, you might consider specialized allergy testing.

  • Licensed Nutritionist or NTR)- If you have never received training in general nutrition or or struggling with cravings such as sugar, taking a few training sessions with a licensed nutritionist can set you on a great path to healthy eating.

  • Physical Therapist (or PT)- A good physical therapist can help you develop a fitness plan that works around any injuries or pain issues that have been keeping you from your fitness goals.

These are just a few of the clinicians I have come across, there are many others that are commonly accepted by insurance and the medical community at large.  Share with us if you know any more!

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We are on Day 3 of a series called 31 Days of Surviving Chronic Illness. You can start Day 1 here.

In this chronic illness equation we all have one known common denominator: something is making us sick.  But after that things can get confusing. Frustratingly confusing.

Now, I’m going to say something strange, possibly even offensive and if it applies to you please give me a chance to explain it further before you stop reading and send me hate mail.  What I need to say is this: if you went to the doctor and the doctor ran some tests that came back positive with a clear diagnosis... you’re one step ahead of the rest of us.

Please don’t shoot me for saying that!  Hear me out.  I’m NOT saying that you are fortunate to have an illness, maybe even a terrifying illness like leukemia or MS, I’m not trying to minimize your pain or suffering. Illness is a mental and physical terrorist to everyone.  Everyone.  

What I mean is this: you have the one thing the rest of us bang our heads against the wall trying to come up with: you have a diagnosis.  You know the enemy you are fighting against.  Your doctor probably gave you a pamphlet that told you more about your disease and maybe even gave you an overview of what your treatment would look like for the next few months or years.  And after dealing with the shock of hearing you have “X” you probably got on the internet and searched for more information on your particular illness, learning about the symptoms, the progression, the end result.  You might have even connected with other people, in a support group or on the internet, who are suffering from the same affliction and found some comfort in knowing you aren’t alone in this pain.  When loved ones ask you, “What’s wrong, what did the doctor say?” you can say “I have ‘X,” and they will nod their heads in sympathy because they know exactly what “X” is.

Not everyone shares that experience.

For the rest of us, a diagnosis is elusive.  We have a laundry list of symptoms that add up to nothing at all.  Our doctors run a slough of tests only to have them ALL come back “normal”.  But we don’t feel “normal”.  We are physically and mentally exhausted and  maybe even in excruciating  pain.  We feel like we are slowly, painfully losing a war against an unknown invader.  And when the doctor runs out of ideas, we run out of hope.

If that’s where you are at, if your doctor has run out of ideas, I want you to know that your journey doesn't end there.  There IS a diagnosis for you, too.  But you might have to have to fight the system to get it.  You might have to fire your doctor and find one that is invested in your journey back to wellness. You might have to think outside of the box and try some tests or treatments that you've never heard of.  You might have to take vitamins (gasp!).

For the rest of this week I am going to be sharing about doctors, tests and managing the medical maze. I’m going to throw a lot of ideas out there, they may not all apply to you, but hopefully you will find something that sets you in the right direction towards your personal wellness.

Stay tuned!

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photo used by permission from unsplash.com
photo used by permission from unsplash.com

(Today is Day 2 of a 31 Day series on Surviving Chronic Illness.  You can start Day 1 here.)

Over a decade ago I started on a journey I did not choose to take. In fact, if I had known the struggles that this path would take me through, I would have given up before it even began.

Illness. Pain. Sickness. Disease.

It's not a topic people are excited to talk about yet not one of us makes it through this life without being affected by it either through our personal health or the health of a loved one. Or a coworker. Or a neighbor.

If you don't read another line of this 31 Day series I want you to know...

There is hope.

Being ill for long periods of time can make you feel like giving in, giving up. It can make you feel hopeless and forgotten. It can suck the air right out of your lungs leaving you feeling wilted and empty.

But there is hope.

I made it through to the other side, at least for now, it seems. After nearly 13 years of wondering if I would make it through one more day, I'm well on my way to recovery and excited about the future I wasn't sure I would live to see.

But it took several years before they could even put a name to what was ailing me. It took even more years of experimenting with various tests and treatments and doctors prescribing me Prozac because they simply ran out of ideas. Throughout those days, months & years I had to somehow keep moving forward. I had to hope beyond hope that someday I would feel like "me" again. I had to get up every morning and face the day not knowing if I would find the answers I needed to get me back into the land of the living. Because when you're sick over extended periods of time without hope, you aren't living. You're just existing.

So I'm writing this series to tell those of you in the middle of your own struggle with chronic illness, I get it. You don't have to explain yourself to me, I already know a little of the pain you are feeling. For those with loved ones who are ill, I empathize with you. I know how frustrating it can be to want to help but not know what to do or say.

I am not a doctor or a clinician of any kind. I have no special training in pathology, epidemiology or psychology. But I've been sick. God knows, I've been sick to the point of giving up. As difficult as that road was, I learned a few important things along the way that not only brought me hope, they gave me joy. I also met a lot of people who battle disease in their own way and shared their wisdom with me.

People don't like to talk about sickness and to be 100% honest, I don't either. It is a dark phase of my life I'd just as soon forget. But then it would be wasted. All those years of struggle and pain would be a complete waste. I don't want them to be wasted, I want them to count for something. I want those days of suffering that nearly buried me to rise up out of the ground to become an Ebenzer of healing; body, soul and mind.

I want to hand over to you the various keys that unlocked my gateway to wellness. I want you to find the joy in life again. I want you to live and not just exist. I want to give you hope. 

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surviving chronic illness

Each October The Nesting Place (aka: The Nester) hosts a challenge called 31 Days Of... in which bloggers/writers commit to posting one new article each day about any topic of their choice. The first year I participated I wrote for 31 Days on "The Simple Things."  It was a pretty tough challenge but I truly loved the practice of writing for one straight month.  And "simple things" was a fun and easy topic.

So this year I'm participating again, this time on a subject that has been pressing on my heart for quite some time.  I knew I needed to share some of these things with my readers but I wasn't quite sure how to go about it and then the 31 Days Of challenge provided the perfect venue.

My topic of choice this year is 31 Days Of Surviving Chronic Illness.  It's a more serious topic than I've tackled before but my hope is that it will be informative and encouraging for those who are suffering from chronic illness or have loved ones that do. The series will run October 1st through October 31st.

I hope you will follow along on this 31 day journey with me.  If you know someone who is suffering from chronic pain or illness, please share this series with them, I will provide several sharing links as we progress through the month.  And if anyone has any questions or a subject they would like more information on please, please feel free to contact me.

Thank you for sharing this journey with me, y'all really are the best.

Don't mind me, I'm just running some tests on the new site.  Will this nightmare ever end???

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