Is Going to the Doctor A Vacation?

Weeping Willow

I made the comment in a recent post that I would be heading out on a road trip to see my doctor for an adjustment/check-up/whatever you choose to call it. Because of that comment, I was asked the question, “Does going to see your doctor really count as a vacation or a road trip?”

I don’t think I ever really answered that question when it was posed to me. I have thought about it several times since and wondered. Here is what I have concluded…

Road Trip: journey, getaway, vacation by car

Vacation: time off, holiday, getaway

Using the above definitions, one could conclude a road trip / vacation to be a journey, a specified (or unspecified) amount of time taken to ‘get away’ to go on a vacation / a holiday – a time to enjoy, have fun, let ‘loose’ and let go.

Doctor: healer, physician, therapist.

Healer: person who cures, heals.

Therapist: healer, physician

Physician: healer, therapist

Using the above definitions, one could conclude a doctor to be a healer – one who cures. A doctor can be a therapist – one who again, heals – either physically, mentally, or emotionally. The great Physician heals in the way of our spirituality. A doctor of medicine is also known as a ‘physician’,one who heals physically.

So, say I go on this ‘vacation’ or road trip, to see my doctor. The jaunt, or journey south from where my starting point is most definitely constitutes a road trip. First, we travel by car / take a trip down a long, mostly straight roadway. Hence, road trip. Second, it constitutes a vacation for several reasons, of which I shall now explain.

When I think of a vacation, I take time off to ‘get away’. You don’t have to have a 9-5 job, sit at a desk all day, or be the CEO of a large company to take time off in order to take a vacation. You can be disabled, a homemaker, a retired railroad worker and still have to take ‘time off’ in order to ‘get away’. You have to get things in order at home, with caregivers, etc., line people up to take care of things while you are gone, the same as if you were getting paid at a ‘normal’ job. The point is – you’re ‘getting away’. Away from the routine, (.             the things that perhaps are getting you down), getting away to get renewed. You’re taking a… ‘vacation’.

It really doesn’t matter where I go, I have found that just a two hour car ride renews me to some degree, especially if I am listening to my favorite recording artists, using the time to pray, or just mulling over ideas I want to develop for a storyline, a new garden design in the backyard, or whatever. However, if I am taking a trip to see my doctor, this is what happens:

I end up going on a vacation. My last visit a week ago was the best vacation I’ve had to my doctor in a long while.

It was the old routine. Sort of.

The regular ‘tests’ were a bit shorter, mainly because he didn’t have all day to do them, not that he takes all day any other time, but he had an intern he was mentoring and explanations for this or that take up a good deal of time. However, not once has he ever made me feel rushed or feel as though he wouldn’t sit and listen to my questions all day if I needed him to and – I know for a fact that his other patients feel the same way.

But, what does he take time for?

Time to heal. Time to cure. Time for therapy.

Time to heal? Well, that’s understandable. Sort of. That’s a doctor’s job, right? To heal and cure? Isn’t that why doctors go to school for so long? So that they can learn to heal people? Aren’t they like – gods?

I don’t think so.

A doctor administers their best expert guess on what is wrong with their patient. A guess on what is needed, based on knowledge from their education and training, and the wisdom they have collected based on experience. They use this knowledge and training, wisdom and experience to aid in, to help and assist with, and also to improve and help with the process of healing. They themselves cannot heal the patient in the sense that whatever their patient’s ailment may be, they can make it disappear.

When a person – whether the doctor himself or the patient he is treating – begins to believe that the doctor can heal/cure said patient, a god has been created and it is an ugly mess for on when that ‘god’ fails.

My doctor does not heal or cure. He knows he is not a god and I think I know him well enough to say that the last thing he would want is for a patient to ever think he has the power to ‘heal’ them. And, as far as a cure goes? I think it is safe to say that almost all of the diseases he treats – movement disorders – are incurable and both he and the patient understand that upfront. He helps to accurately and correctly manage their disease so that while they continue to live with it, they are getting the proper care they need. That may sound sensible, but it is often not what happens to many patients. Spend some time in a support group and you will quickly learn that there are many doctors who just don’t know what they’re treating and still continue to treat ‘it’ (go figure that one out).  Some struggle with a pride issue in terms of their caregiving, and there are some who really don’t care about their patients as people but instead view them as numbers.

What my doctor does, however, is administer therapy. And therapy can heal.

No, I am not contradicting myself. My doctor has said on numerous occasions that the diseases he treats involve treating the whole person. What that means is, the patient needs to be treated not only physically but also mentally and emotionally. Why? Because diseases such as Parkinson’s disease doesn’t affect a person just physically. Or mentally. Or emotionally. Neither does diabetes. Or cancer. Or any other disease. A person with any disease often struggles with depression. They can have negative thoughts. Due to their disease, they can now feel like less of a person. They can now feel they have no purpose. They can feel useless. They can feel like an incumbrance, a burden. They can have a lack of self-esteem based on the inability to do the things they once were able to do. Having a disease… well, let’s just say that some days – it can be a major bummer.

A doctor who is intuitive and knows his/her patient well, has taken the time to get to know them well – to some degree. The doctor is able to pick up on his patient’s mood and ask the right questions in order to treat them properly. That may mean an anti-depressant is prescribed or a recommendation to a counselor is given in order to work through fears or overcome nagging, negative thoughts. I, and the other patients under my doctor’s care, are fortunate in the sense that our doctor has a degree in psychiatry (as well as having all his other expertise) and is able to offer care for us emotionally and mentally as he treats us physically. (And, speaking for myself, heaven knows I need all the emotional and mental help I can get.) If a patient is neglected emotionally and mentally, it is a sure fire guarantee that they will suffer physically.

So – back to this road trip / vacation thing and does going to see my doctor fall under this category of ‘vacation’.

Yes.

Remember I said that a vacation constituted getting away and being renewed? This is what happens when I go to my doctor…

I am renewed. Yes, he adjusts my stimulator (DBS apparatus) and he adjusts my medications, and he shows his intern this and that, and he takes care of the stiffness and pain in my neck and back for another three months, but emotionally and mentally? I am renewed just as much. He asks about this and he asks about that. He suggests this and he advises that. I walk out of his office with more courage, with more life-tools, and with a better mindset of how to deal with what are sometimes the harder parts of having Parkinson’s disease. It is through a greater courage, having the right tools for dealing with life, and the right state of mind, that I find healing. My PD may progress, I may find the following day after my appointment that I am stiffer than the day before, but I am being healed emotionally and mentally and because of that I do better physically.

So – I got away, learned to let go of some more junk, and I had a great visit with my doctor.

Yep. Going to my doctor is not just a road trip, it really is a vacation. A good one.

A version of this article was first published in 2012.

Never Give Up

Beach Bikes
Photo by Sherri Woodbridge

When a large group of people with Parkinson’s was asked to give advice to others who were recently diagnosed with the disease, the overwhelming response of over 200 responses was “Exercise! Keep moving!” But that wasn’t all. There were many other advisements freely given, but what struck me was, it’s easy to give advice, but how does one follow through? How does a comment like “Live your life” help someone? Sometimes you have to explain or show the person with Parkinson’s disease what “Live your life” looks like. And it won’t look the same for someone else.

How do you…

  • Live your life? One day at a time. Sometimes one moment at a time, without focusing on the ‘what-ifs’. Focusing on your fears or the concerns that PD can create, takes your focus off the present. And the present is where the living occurs. So, if you’re still mobile, get that dog to take you for a walk and if you’re not, put some upbeat music on and read something positive.
  • Educate yourself? Everyone ‘googles’ but that can be a scary start to gathering information on Parkinson’s disease. Start with specific websites like the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which (in my opinion) is overall one of the best.
  • Find a support group? Either locally or on the internet. There are several on Facebook which are ‘closed’ meaning they don’t allow people without PD in and it’s closed to ‘viewers’, meaning you have to be an accepted member to see what’s posted. Type in ‘Parkinson’s disease’ in the search bar and you’ll get a list of different PD groups. Local support groups in your area can be found by visiting the Parkinson’s Foundation website. It’s invaluable to be able to connect with someone who’s on the same or similar journey and trying to find their way. It helps to remember that you are not alone.
  • Find a Movement Disorder Specialist (MDS)? Some towns just don’t have one so you have to determine how far you’re willing to travel. Anyone with PD will tell you a good MDS is worth their weight in gold but if you’re unable to find one near enough to you, a good neurologist can help just about as well. Some tips: Don’t settle with the first diagnosis. Always get a second. Don’t settle with the closest neurologist or MDS. Drive the hour or two or three if you have to. It’s worth every mile. Ask your support group who they go to.
  • Exercise? This one suggestion on what advice to give a PD newbie was overwhelmingly at the top of the list of over 200 PD’ers surveyed!!! Start by discussing the topic of exercise with your doctor. We are all in different physical shape and what may be beneficial to one may be a bone breaker to another. I think one of the overall safest things you can do is walk. Keep your eyes focused in front of you so you can see any cracks or bumps that may trigger a fall. Take your well-behaved dog to help steady you or take a walking stick for balance. Whatever you choose to do – walking, cycling, boxing, dancing, Tai Chi – just do it! The earlier you start exercising, the better off you’ll be. As one person put it, “Exercise like your life depends on it because it does.” Move it. Move it. Move it.

Talk about it? You can start with a close friend and perhaps you’ll become so well educated you’ll be talking to hundreds at a time! This is where support groups shine, because you can talk about your experience without judgement, get new insight, not feel isolated or alone, and are surrounded by others who really understand.

Some advice that doesn’t need any input:

  • The more you stress the worse the symptoms
  • Take your meds on time
  • Cry when you need to
  • Everyone’s journey is different
  • Exercise.
  • It’s okay to ask for help!
  • Give yourself time to get your head around the diagnose. Allow yourself time to grieve
  • Don’t overthink having PD. Don’t dwell on it.
  • Keep a sense of humor. If you’ve never had one, it’s time to get one.
  • Try to stay away from stress. Stress makes PD symptoms worse. Eliminate what you can out of your life.
  • Discipline yourself. Get what info you can on PD and then make a plan. Get a routine on taking your meds on time. Keep a log/journal to take to your appointments.
  • Pray
  • Exercise.
  • Stay away from Dr. Google.
  • Exercise your brain as well as your body. Word games. Number games. Play games with your grandchildren or your kids or friends!
  • Don’t let it be a death sentence.
  • Never, never, never, never, never give up.

And… exercise.

Don’t Be Duped by Deep Brain Stimulation

Photo by Sherri Woodbridge

An article on Deep Brain Stimulation, by Dan Stark, recently came across my internet screen several days ago. I bookmarked it so I’d get back to it. It kept nagging at me to do just that and last night it kicked me into submission by means of a comment I received over it.

I think the reason I saved it and set it aside is because of the message it sends:

DBS, or Deep Brain Stimulation, is a god-send and although it does buy you time, as Dan Stark states in his article referred to above, eventually it fails.

It’s easy to forget this little machine, implanted into our chest and snuggled up near and dear to our heart, will some day give us up. It’s hard to think about our deep brain stimulator not working one day, leaving us to find our disease has progressed without us being aware of it happening. Or so it seems. What is easy to forget is that while we go walking without any aids, join our dance and boxing classes, eat without assistance, the little monster continues his deviant work of progressing the disease while we choose to think we’re going along on our journey just fine.

And we really can be – just ‘fine’.

But what this article reminded me, is that I need to remember to be realistic. While my unit may not give me up in the same way as it did to Dan Stark, I need to keep in mind that it could. You might ask why I’d want to think that way. Because I don’t want to forget this could be my last (for whatever reason) good day on my journey with Parkinson’s disease. If that is the case – then I want to live my best.

Any of us who have experienced Parkinson’s Disease for any amount of time know how it fluctuates and changes from day to day, moment to moment. We can be sitting in front of the TV one moment, blissfully captivated with our favorite re-run of The Brady Bunch and settled in with our popcorn and drinks and POW!!! The cramping features of dystonia hit you and the popcorn is spilled as you try to work out the pain. Any part of PD can hit at any time. It can be your constant, nagging companion or it can come and go.

Yes, even with Deep Brain Stimulation, there can be bad moments, bad days. Don’t be misled on the good days that flow together in what seems like the yesterdays of feeling good, that those good days are here to stay. But!!!! Do enjoy them. Cherish them. But don’t be duped and set yourself up for major disappointment.

As a commenter said on Facebook, in reference to Stark’s article, “‪Don’t be a “victim”. ‬

‪“DBS was never described, designed, or promoted to be a solution or cure, but rather, another treatment for an otherwise incurable, progressive disease. You had to have known that when you chose to undergo the procedure.‬

‪“You have been gifted with additional years of reduced symptoms that you would have otherwise not gotten without health insurance or the procedure.‬
‪Be thankful for the additional years of reduced symptoms, rather than a victim of some notion of medical mistreatment.”‬

‪Don’t dwell on the what could be but what is – now. Be thankful for each new day because each new day, whatever it brings, will bring something to be thankful for.‬