Friday, June 19, 2009

Caring for the Caregiver

I haven't posted for a while, and wanted to write an update. My last post was in early April. That was a difficult month. My dog had two surgeries, a week apart, for bladder stones, some of which had gone into the urethra. He's doing fine now, but there was a lot of stress and some interrupted sleep while he was going through the surgeries and recovering. I had a really busy week the week of the second surgery, and by Sunday I was worn out. That evening, on April 19, I started to feel terrible, and on the 20th I found out I had pneumonia.

I've never had pneumonia before, but I've know quite a few people who have had it, and all warned me not to overdo, because I could relapse and have an even worse case. Friends and some doctors told me it would take a month to six weeks to fully recover, and some said it took them even longer. I went back to work after almost a week off, but I've been trying to take it easy. It's only been in the past few weeks that I feel like I've gotten back to my usual energetic self. I haven't been hiding away from the world - I traveled to Ohio for my nephew's wedding in mid-May, and had some of my son's bandmates stay at my house Memorial Day weekend when Chasing Canaan did some concerts in the Dallas area. I've also had my college age kids come home for a few days to a week, here and there, and it's been nice to spend time with them. Now, I'm catching up on all the things I put off while I was sick.

So, what is caring for the caregiver? It's simply this. We need to take care of ourselves to do well at taking care of others. Sometimes it's really hard to make our own needs a high priority. It feels selfish. One of my friends tells people he counsels that taking care of ourselves is not selfish, it's enlightened self-interest. I'm one who tends to get out of balance, and sometimes, I just need to stop a while and do things that are good for me.

Last week, we had a big storm in North Texas. My house lost power 7 p.m. on Wednesday, and power wasn't restored until 11 a.m. on Friday. Those two nights without electricity were fortunately quite comfortable in temperature. I was amazed at how much more ready I was to sleep when I'd spent the last part of the evening doing everything by candlelight. Usually, I'm up too late, doing something online, in a fully lit room. I may experiment with turning the lights down sooner each night, because staying up too late is one of my worst habits. Electricity is a wonderful thing, especially for powering air conditioners in a Texas summer. I want to be wiser in how I use it.

I'm also focusing on improving my health. A year and a half ago, my sister gave me a set of CDs by Dr. Mark Hyman called "The Five Forces of Wellness." This doctor had worked as a conventional physician, got very ill, figured out how to get better, and now works in a field called functional medicine. Conventional medicine takes the approach that if you find the right drug to treat an illness, you've solved the problem. Functional medicine focuses on trying to find out why the body is getting sick. There is often a discoverable cause that causes a multitude of symptoms. "The Five Forces of Wellness" talks about five things that make us sick, malnutrition (eating the wrong things or not absorbing nutrients), impaired metabolism, inflammation, toxicity, and oxidative stress. From listening to the CDs and reading Dr. Hymans book "Ultrawellness", I began to realize I had inflammation and impaired metabolism, may have had some other problems, and never really felt completely well.

I've been going to conventional doctors for years, and have been prescribed more and more prescription drugs, several for asthma and allergies, two for high blood pressure, one for thyroid, one for hormones, etc. I've been well enough to function. This year, my doctor wanted me to try yet another drug to help the breathing problems, mentioning that maybe I had emphysemia. My health plan had changed, and I was paying about $500 a month for all these medicines. I decided to start looking for a different type of doctor. I found one trained in functional medicine, and got on her waiting list. When I got pneumonia, I felt even more strongly that I needed to figure out how to improve my health.

In May I went to my new doctor, and have been tested for food allergies, hormone levels, adrenal funtion, thyroid, C-Reactive protein, and the usual blood sugar and cholesterol tests. I've always had really good numbers on cholesterol and blood sugar tests, but the new tests showed problems. I'm now taking certain supplements and vitamins to help my adrenal system function better. I'm working at improving inflammation by avoid foods I react to. I never knew how many food allergies and intolerances I have. So, in the past few weeks, I've been eliminating yeast, chocolate, wheat, oats, corn, corn products, gluten, eggs, dairy products, a few kinds of seafood, olives, and mushrooms. I do think I'm getting better. My head is not so stopped up, my digestive system is working better, and I can mow the grass outside without starting to wheeze. My singing voice has been clearer, too. I'm expecting continued improvement, and eventually hope to cut back on my prescriptions, under doctor's supervision.

Since the major change in diet is so new, I've bought books like "Feast Without Yeast" and "The Gluten Connection", and am trying to learn how to make enjoyable meals without the ingredients I react to. It's a good kind of challenge. All these changes have kept me busy, though. I do plan to keep blogging, but I need to slow down a bit to focus on other things.

In my work as a bereavement coordinator, I've heard thousands of stories about how loved ones have died. Many had chronic illnesses that got worse over the years, until they became too sick to survive. If doctors are discovering solutions to chronic illness, and some of that suffering can be avoided, I really want to know about it. I don't want to be someone's sad story in ten or fifteen years. I'd like to live a healthy life until I'm in my late eighties or nineties, and then die after a short illness. It could happen. I hope it happens to me.