As one of the Orlando therapists at Life Skills Resource Group, I have the honor of serving clients from diverse backgrounds and ages. In my “day job” I work in a hospital, where I see patients every day who are struck with the unexpected trauma of an injury or illness. I have been focusing my counseling work on clients who are coping with chronic illness and traumatic injury. It is a great way to blend my knowledge of counseling with my experience in the health care system. I will see clients sometimes who are tearful and depressed due to being in unmanageable pain. Sometimes they are searching for a diagnosis, other times they have been told they have a chronic, incurable “condition”. Being thrust into the medical system when you have always been “healthy” can be a shock. You lose so much control over your life. A doctor is telling you what you can’t do. A nurse is telling you to “take this medicine”. You may feel confused and overwhelmed, and feel that you have no say in your treatment. This is not true!
As a social worker, we work to show people the tools to advocate for themselves. YOU are the person who knows the most about your own (or your child’s) medical condition. A doctor or other health care professional is only seeing you for a few minutes, and has to try to obtain the most information in order to make an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. You can work with your doctor or other health care professional in order to maximize your time and help them to help you. It is important if you are dealing with chronic pain to try to keep a “pain journal” of what times of the day, or what activities you are doing, in order to help the doctor find the root of the pain. Try to give the pain a numeric rating as well, on a scale from one to ten. If you tell the doctor ” my back hurts all the time” versus ” I feel like my pain is a 7 out of 10 when I take a shower, a 5 out of 10 when I am driving, and I only feel “normal” when I am in bed” this can lead to a clearer picture of what you are experiencing.
If you are going to a first appointment with a specialist, try to bring a trusted friend or family member along to help “take notes”. You can get told so much information that you may not process it all, or may not realize what you need to follow up on. It is important to write down any questions you may have so you don’t forget to raise your concerns. If you only have a half an hour with a specialist, try to maximize your time. Have the name and phone numbers of any referrals that you wish with you for the doctor’s office staff.
Also, try not to get bogged down in the “information overload” of the internet. While having lots of resources to find out about an illness or injury is important, make sure that you are going to reputable websites. ANYONE can make a web page, so you don’t want to try a miracle cure that you found online without discussing it with your health care provider first. The same is to be said for herbal or natural supplements. While many can be helpful, some can interact seriously with prescribed medications, so it is very important to speak to your doctor prior to taking any of these supplements.
Having a chronic medical condition such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, cancer or diabetes can sometimes make you feel that you are defined by your illness. Remember that you are a person living with the condition, rather than someone who is dying from it. Try not to let others define you by your illness. With new medical breakthroughs every day, it is possible to live a viable, meaningful life. If you are feeling depressed because you are in pain, it is important to have your doctor address your pain at the same time as a therapist is addressing your depression. If you feel like you need someone “in your corner” to lead you to advocate for yourself in health care decisions, please contact me or one of the other skilled counselors on the OUR TEAM page at Life Skills Resource Group Orlando for a FREE Phone Consultation. JES