Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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When Sense Goes to Cents

This has got to be one of my most clever titles ever. It references what I consider to be one of the biggest problems our medical system has, the change from service to business. The almighty buck is the bottom line. Thus, common “sense” in practice has gone to worrying about “cents” instead.

If you follow Grey’s Anatomy, last week’s episode got me in a snit. It centered around a surgeon who knew she was having a heart attack but couldn’t get the doctors to listen to her because they were following their “protocol” and discounting the actual patient. Of course she ended up having the heart attack and almost dying because of it and I just sit there with my whole body tensed up knowing this isn’t just drama, it’s what really happens.

Last week I took Dad to his appointment with the cardiologist. The nurse had to check his pacemaker. She and I started chatting. Poor Dad. He must think to himself, “Oh God, here we go again.” I explained to her that Dad had switched to palliative care and that I found myself having to explain what to means to medical professionals, even those that work primarily with the elderly. Palliative does not necessarily mean a person is in the active stages of dying.

She told me that she was having the opposite problem in her family. I asked her to explain what she meant. She said while I was trying to get unnecessary services for Dad decreased, she finds herself fighting for services for her sister. Her story was appalling. I was so grateful she shared it with me because it gave me an entirely different perspective. It’s the same problem of having to fight a giant, broken system, but she was coming from the other side of the fence. It stretched my mind and further ignited my passion to try to change the ridiculous way things are run these days.

Her sister is relatively young, in her fifties. She has a degenerative, incurable disease and is now in as assisted living place where she gets medical care 24/7. At this point, her symptoms are similar to that of a quadriplegic as she has no use of any of her limbs. Like Dad, she has a swallowing issue. She was evaluated (like Dad has been a million times) and it was determined she requires thickened liquids. What often happens at this point, is that dehydration becomes an issue. It’s hard to keep drinking when you are on thickened liquids. Dad made me taste his thickened water at his last rehab stay. It was gross. Dad has decided he’d rather take the risk of choking than live the rest of his life drinking that stuff. I don’t blame him.

This woman is in a different place though. She is much younger than Dad and her brain is sharp. Her body just isn’t cooperating. Her sister noticed on one of her many visits that a little bit of regular water was helping immensely. She could communicate with others and would feel much better for a brief time. Dad’s nurse said that she even showed the medical team what a difference the water made and they agreed it made quite an impact.

Now is when the madness starts. Because she has been medically tagged “thickened liquids,” the staff is unable to give her even a sip of water. They can’t stop a family member from giving her some, but they can’t officially do so. Once she is labeled, there is no room for any exception, even when it is clearly medically indicated.

Upon inquiring further into this insanity, she was told they could indeed give her water if her status was changed to “comfort” care – i.e. palliative care. However, if they did that, she would no longer receive physical therapy or any other services she was currently given. Is it just me or is that ridiculous? It seems particularly cruel to do to a woman who can’t move her own arms to get herself a damn sip of water.

It’s about billing and regulations. I certainly understand the need for regulations, but why should you have to stop using common sense? Is there absolutely no room for even the tiniest piece of individual need? Not if you want insurance to pay for it.

My blood boils when I hear this stuff.  To Dad’s nurse- I don’t know if you are reading this, but if you are, thank you for sharing your story. I have no idea how it will take shape, but I am working to try to effect change for people like you and your sister. It’s an uphill battle with little success, but I’m not going to stop trying. Let’s try and bring compassion back to patient care.

Isn’t that just common sense?


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Grey’s Anatomy

I’m usually several years behind whatever popular thing is happening out there. I didn’t watch Star Wars til after 2000. I was a little better with Harry Potter and started watching before the last one came out. Having Frankie forced me to get with it a little sooner. Grey’s Anatomy is in its 13th season I think. I just discovered it a few months ago. Yes, I am addicted.

I can’t imagine watching it sooner than this though. At the end of every cliff hanger, I only have to hit “watch next episode” and I get to know what happens. I usually stop about five minutes into a show rather than the end. No waiting a week, and definitely no waiting for the next season to start. I get too immersed. I couldn’t take it.

I’ve watched almost 11 seasons so far. There are 24 episodes per season. Each episode is about 42 minutes. You do the math (I’m too lazy). That’s a lot of time to spend watching Derek and Meredith’s relationship evolve. Netflix has gotten me through too many lonely nights to count. Wait, let me say that just a little bit differently. Netflix has saved me from having lonely nights.

Last night though, well, it kept me tossing and turning all night. Imagine my shock and surprise when Derek Shepherd actually died. They even did that horrible scene where Meredith walks in the hospital room and crawls in bed next to him and you think he survived the surgery. Then you realize she is only fantasizing. Brutal reality is he really died. They actually let one of the main stars of the show die. I cried like a big baby after I recovered from the shock.

What an amazing portrayal of grief over the next couple of episodes. Every one of the main characters struggles over the next year in their own way to make sense of their loss. Bailey, Callie, April, Owen… Meredith continues to be a fascinating and complex character. She just takes her kids and disappears for a year. She couldn’t breathe so she just left until she could come back. I am just a people-dependent person, I can’t even fathom being alone to work on my grief for a few days, much less a year. Of course being incredibly rich and having the means to do such a thing is also convenient. I understood her, but I didn’t resonate.

That is until she returns home. There are several scenes of showing her lying awake in bed. The nights are always the worst. She would stare at Derek’s empty pillow and I could feel my gut ache with hers.

The person that made me sob though, was Amelia’s character. She is Derek’s brother and a tough nut to crack. She is a recovering addict and has lost every single male in her life. She witnessed her father’s murder as a child. She woke up to her addicted fiance’s corpse, and then delivered his dead baby nine months later. And now her only brother who she is incredibly close to has died. She spends an entire year cracking jokes about her dead brother.

Cut to the scene where she is pacing with drugs in her hand. Her moment has come. Owen appears on the scene and talks about how pain is part of life. We get through excruciating sorrow so that we can be ready for when it hits the next time. But it is truly life and is meant to be experienced and not avoided through drugs, running away, or whatever else we do to avoid loss. Thankfully, she tosses the drugs and then the loss hits her. It was so difficult to watch. I don’t know if she ever won any acting awards, but she should have. I sobbed out loud as I watched her grapple with the reality of a lifetime of grief. I believed she was a real person with real grief. I resonated with her and she broke my heart.

If I was teaching grief and loss, I think I would make my students watch those several episodes and I would be pausing it every few minutes to point out the lessons that were being put out there so poignantly. Grief is hard work, and everyone has their own way to wade through it. But one thing is clear, it cannot be escaped.