Posts Tagged With: endocarditis

Day 1393: In the driver’s seat

I have gotten the go-ahead from my cardiologists to drive again, now that I have recovered sufficiently from my open heart surgery of September 21.

Now that I’m back in the driver’s seat, I have many places to go today, including:

  1. Cardiac rehab at a nearby hospital, where I’ll sit and walk on different types of exercise equipment with my usual drive,
  2. My dentist’s office, for a 3-month teeth cleaning (driven by  my real risk of endocarditis),
  3. A Boston hospital, to surprise people who are used to being in the driver’s seat,
  4. A real estate property in a nearby town within easy driving distance, where perhaps I’ll soon be driving and parking my car.

Here‘s one of my favorite in-the-driver’s-seat tunes, performed by the amazing and driving Bonnie Raitt:

 

I love my life with me and the boys — my boyfriend Michael, my son Aaron, and our kitties Oscar and Harley.

Here are some photos I was able to take yesterday because I was in the driver’s seat:

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When I see a product like Chinese Szechuan Chicken-flavored potato chips, I wonder who’s in the driver’s seat over at Lay’s.

What helps you feel like you’re in the driver’s seat?

When I’m in the driver’s seat, gratitude is often sitting in the passenger’s seat beside me, so here’s a driving feeling I want to express to all those who helped me create today’s post and to you — of course! — no matter what seat you’re in right now:

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Categories: personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , | 30 Comments

Day 1304: Crystal Clear

Yesterday, one of my doctors — Dr. Laura Kogelman of Tufts Medical Center — said to me

Your lungs are crystal clear.

Dr. Kogelman  made it crystal clear during my appointment with her that

  1. my pneumonia is gone,
  2. my heart failure has resolved,
  3. I am ready to go back to work today,
  4. I am no more likely to contract pneumonia in the future than anybody else,
  5. we are doing a good job preventing me from getting endocarditis (a dangerous inflammation of the heart which I’ve had three times before because of my leaky heart valve),
  6. she misses seeing my wonderful dentist, Dr. Luis Del Castillo (who used to be her dentist too),
  7. it’s okay for me to go to Edinburgh, Scotland in August with my son and my ex-in-laws,
  8. she thinks it’s going to be “great” when I get a new mechanical valve for my heart in September, and
  9. she liked the idea of my transforming my future open-heart-surgery scar with a tattoo.

I made it crystal clear to Dr. Kogelman that I did NOT like her idea of turning that scar into the medical symbol of a snake climbing a rod.  I told her, “I have plenty of medical symbols on my body already” and informed her that if I do decorate that  new scar after I get it in September, I’ll probably add some flowers and leaves.

What is crystal clear to you, here and now?

Are all of my photos from yesterday crystal clear?

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Is it crystal clear to you that I made that t-shirt and that I especially like to wear it to medical appointments?

Yesterday, somebody named Jeanyne, who works at Tatte Bakery in Boston  (not pictured), made three things crystal clear to me:

  1. she loved my t-shirt,
  2. she wanted to own a t-shirt like that, and
  3. her mother,  Diane, who recently retired, is just now starting a new business marketing cool new wearable items.

Is today’s featured music crystal clear to you ?

 

Crystal clear thanks to all those who helped me create today’s post and to you — of course! — for all your crystal clear reactions.

Categories: personal growth, photojournalism, staying healthy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

Day 1283: What’s wrong with me?

What’s wrong with me, that I’ve been running fevers since last Thursday?

What’s wrong with me, that they admitted me to a regular room in the hospital from the Emergency Room on Monday and then had Jean move me the next morning to a weird-looking, isolated-feeling, private room all the way down the hall?

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What’s wrong with me, that they gave me one infusion of intravenous antibiotics?

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What’s wrong with me that I couldn’t figure out how to make that machine stop its annoyingly loud beeping for about an hour after the infusion was complete?

What’s wrong with me that I’ve been using the game “Hangman” as a way to distract myself since I was a little kid?

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What’s wrong with me that I thought I could figure out how to use the thermometer in my room by myself?

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What wrong with me that I converted that result to Fahrenheit, decided I was fever free, and reported that to people I know? What’s wrong with me that I’m confessing, now, that I actually was not using that thermometer correctly and that my fever has never gone down to normal since last Thursday without the help of Tylenol?

What’s wrong with me that these friggin’ fevers won’t go away?

What’s wrong with me that I, the patient, wrote stuff on the whiteboard in my hospital room?

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What’s wrong with me that they sent me down for an echocardiogram, where I was lucky enough to run into the amazingly wonderful  Eva, my favorite person who works there?

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What’s wrong with me that I’m now including links (here and here) to my other blog posts that feature Eva?

What’s wrong with me that I took  these pictures of Eva’s Apple Watch?

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What’s wrong with me that I sang for Eva during the echocardiogram?  What wrong with me that when I found out she also loves to sing and sings alto that I suggested we sing together some time in the future?

What’s wrong with me that I keep asking what’s wrong with me?  I should know, from my experience as a clinical social worker, that this is a much more useful question:

What’s right with me?

There must be some things right with me, because they sent me home from the hospital last night, even though my fevers haven’t gone away.  Here’s what is most likely NOT wrong with me: Endocarditis.  I’m all right with that. My doctors will call if any tests show what’s causing these fevers.

What’s the right music for this “What’s wrong with me?” post?

Thanks to Eva,  Miss Peggy Lee, all the other people who helped me make this post right, and thanks to you — of course! — for reading it.

Categories: personal growth, photojournalism, staying healthy | Tags: , , , , , | 57 Comments

Day 1279: Care

Yesterday, I saw this

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at a hospital where I receive good care.

After I took that photo, I saw a doctor new to me who took care to

  1. order blood cultures to rule out endocarditis as the reason for the fevers I’ve been running,
  2. call the garage where I had parked my car because I had carelessly left my wallet at home,
  3. tell me that she would have hospitalized anybody else with my medical history, but she trusted I would take care to return if my symptoms got worse, and
  4. inform the doctors on call over the weekend about my situation,  so they could contribute to my care.

I took care to email my caring and careful cardiologist, Dr. Salem,  about my running a fever and getting tested for endocarditis.  Even though he’s on vacation and away from the hospital for a couple of weeks, Dr. Salem  cared enough to quickly send me this reply:

Yikes.

It’s amazing how a one-word email can communicate care.

After I got home, I took care to get lots of sleep and keep track of my fevers. A nurse from the hospital cared to call and inform me that one preliminary result looked encouraging.  We particularly care about the results from the blood cultures, which will probably come through today.

Here are the other photos I cared to take yesterday:

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Would you care to say which photo best represents  “Care” to you?

If you care, here‘s a song I cared to perform at work on Thursday about our new caring service called “Quick Response,” available four days each week.

Thanks for caring!

Categories: personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , | 28 Comments

Day 545: Embracing the shadows

This past week, I’ve been dealing with some shadows.

Of course, we all deal with shadows, like these:

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If the sun — or another source of light — is shining, shadows are going to be part of the picture, somehow.

This past week, I’ve been dealing with lots of different shadows, including:

  • the shadows of envy,
  • the shadows of disappointment,
  • the shadows of annoyance/anger, and (most especially)
  • the shadows of fear.

These shadows have been within me and, I think, within others, too. However, I only know my own experience.

So, keeping the focus on what I DO know, I know it helps me to recognize and embrace the shadows that are there.

I could give you several examples of that, from this past week. For instance, as the week went on, I became more aware that I’m afraid to go to the dentist, this Wednesday.

I’m afraid to go to the dentist, this Wednesday, because

  • I am prone to a heart infection called endocarditis (and have gotten it several times before),
  • In order to prevent that, I have been receiving intravenous (also called “drip”) antibiotics, right before a dental appointment, for several years,
  • My team of doctors recommended that I switch, for this next cleaning, to oral antibiotics, because that would probably do as good a job and, in ways, would be better for me,
  • Nobody knows, for sure, why I get (or don’t get) endocarditis, and
  • While I trust my doctors very much, they are not psychics, and if somebody gets endocarditis … it’s going to be me.

Last week, as the dental appointment got closer, I found myself experiencing shadow-y reactions and feelings, in response to different people and situations. And I kept losing track of why that was.

When I was at work last week, I kept the door to my office closed, all the time. Since my usual style is to keep my door open when I’m not seeing patients, that felt weird. Unbalanced. Like I was hiding.

Each time I took a breath and looked more closely at my inner shadows, I was able recognize the biggest one: the fear of going to the dentist and, as a result, perhaps putting my life in danger.

That, my friends, felt very dark.

This all may sound overly dramatic. This may be an example of the very human cognitive distortion of catastrophizing.  But there were reasons I was having these thoughts (as there always are).

When shadows are all around, I know what helps. It helps me to

  1. shine a light on the problem and
  2. share it with other people.

So, on Friday, I wrote an email to my team of doctors, which included this:

Hi, fabulous team,

So, Dr. Kogelman and I, at our last meeting, decided to shift from 3 to 4 months between teeth cleanings and also from IV to oral antibiotics.

Now that the time is approaching for my teeth cleaning, at Dr. Del Castillo’s practice next week, I’m feeling a tad … anxious. Perhaps because of the two changes in the protocol. Perhaps because I still don’t completely understand why I’ve come down with endocarditis all the times I have before.

So this is just an anxiety-reduction email to my team, to get some reassurance.

As soon as I sent it, I immediately got an automated message that my chief cardiologist, Dr. Deeb Salem, was away from the hospital, and not returning for another week. Knowing Dr. Salem, I wasn’t surprised when I soon got this email, from him:

Ann
There is nothing wrong with being anxious–keeps all of us rightly alert
Deeb

I wrote back, to Dr. Salem:

It keeps you alert, even when you’re away from the hospital!

Are YOU anxious, at all, about this plan?

If the answer is no, no need to answer this email. I will see you soon (as a matter of fact, I’ll schedule something today).

Ann

 I didn’t hear back from Dr. Salem (which is a good sign). Also, I got too busy at work to follow through on my promise about scheduling a cardiology appointment with him.  We might call that procrastination, or avoidance, on my part. Or we might just say, “Hey!  Give me a friggin’ break!  I’ll make the appointment next week!”

Later, I got an email from Dr. Kogelman, who is my medical team’s endocarditis expert, which included this:

Ann If you would feel more comfortable only changing one thing at a time, I have no problem with continuing the pre-procedure IV antibiotics.  I was trying to switch to the PO just to make things a little easier for you.  I do think either the PO or the IV would work fine, but if you want to just switch the schedule for cleanings first, try that for say a year, and if all goes well, then switch to PO, that is totally reasonable. Just let me know so I can work with Kerri to set this up.

Kerri is my IV nurse, who has appeared before in this blog:

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When Dr. Kogelman and I agreed, a couple of months ago, about switching from IV antibiotics to oral ones, I said, “Here’s my one regret. I’m really going to miss Kerri.” Dr. Kogelman replied, “I’m sure you can figure out a way to still see her.”

When I got Dr. Kogelman’s email, I realized that the decision was up to me. I like being an adult, being treated like one, and making my own decisions, but …. there are shadows to all that, too.

What would you do, in this situation, if you were me? How would you assess the risks, balance the familiar with the new, embrace all the shadows,  and make a choice?

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Time’s up!  I’ll tell you what I decided, by showing you what I sent back to Dr. Kogelman this morning:

Hi Dr. Kogelman,

Thanks for this great email.

This is what I’ve decided:

(1) If you can book me for an IV at 12 noon this Wednesday, July 2, let’s do that.  (My dental appointment is at 1:15). That would be my preference, at this point.

(2) If that is not possible, please call in an Rx for Avelox to my pharmacy.

All the best,

Ann

Here’s what I’m noticing about that: I expressed a preference, accepted both possibilities, and left some room for luck, too.

Thanks to shadow-makers everywhere, Dr. Salem, Dr. Kogelman, Kerri (who I may or may not see on Wednesday), everybody on my team, and to you — of course! — for the shadows and light you bring today.

Categories: inspiration, personal growth, photojournalism, quiz | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

Day 467: Fevered plans

Because I’m at risk for endocarditis (and have had it three times since 1998, but with no damage to my heart, because we’ve caught it really early, each time), my doctors and I have devised a very cautious plan:

Whenever I run a fever, I shall go to the Emergency Department  to get tested, to make sure I do not have endocarditis.

That’s the plan.  It works very well, too, because I almost never run a fever.

Yesterday and today, I’ve been running a fever.

At times like this, I can see flaws in this plan.

Have I gone to the Emergency Department? Not yet.

I don’t feel like going!  I have a fever!  And it’s most likely NOT endocarditis. I mean, everybody knows there’s been something going around: a flu, a virus, whatever.  My supervisor at work was really sick with it, a week or so ago.  She ran a high fever for a couple of days.

So those facts would argue for my not going to the Emergency Department to get tested.

However, the first time I decided get tested for endocarditis, when I was 7 months pregnant with my son, I also had some kind of flu or virus. But I had a really funny feeling and I called Dr. Salem, my cardiologist, and said, “I want to get tested for endocarditis.”  And Dr. Salem said, “Better safe than sorry.”

The doctor doing the testing said, “You don’t have endocarditis. You have the flu. But since you’re here, let’s test you.”

And I had endocarditis.

I remember talking to Dr. Salem, afterwards:  “Wasn’t that weird that I asked to get tested?  You know, there really was no reason for that.  I’d never had it before, plus I had the flu and I knew it. How do you explain that?”  And he said, ” I think somebody was looking out for you.”

And I thought of my father, who had died less than a year before that.

Does this make any sense?  I can’t tell. I’m running a fever.

Also, I’ve told this story before, here, when I wasn’t running a fever.

Anyway, back to the present.  My Primary Care Physician knows what I’m doing (or not doing) right now.  She wrote me an email yesterday:

Okay….well there is definitely something going around.  Please promise to go to the ED if you start to feel poorly or continue to have a fever or feel like you have endocarditis.

I promised.  And based on that,  I think I’ll be going to the Emergency Department at some point during this beautiful April weekend, just to be safe.

After all, when you make a plan, it’s usually good to stick to it. Second guessing can be quite painful.

To end this fevered post, here’s something else that looks out for me:

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And let’s include some music here, too.

(Peggy Lee performing “Fever”posted by Gareth Miller here on YouTube)

Thanks to everybody who has ever looked out for me, to Peggy Lee, and to you — of course! — for visiting today.

Categories: personal growth, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 43 Comments

Day 206: Letting Go

When I do my therapy groups, I always start the group with a mindfulness exercise.

When somebody new joins the group, I always acknowledge, honor, and celebrate that by doing a particular mindfulness exercise.

In this mindfulness exercise, I ask people to focus on their breath (a very common focus for a mindfulness exercise).

I invite them to observe, just notice, the breath. They don’t need to change the breath, in any way.

I also invite them to do the following: Breathe in something they would like to take in more of — from the room or from the universe. And breathe out something like they would like to let go of.

Because examples help explain things (especially something new), I always predict how I might do this mindfulness exercise.

I say something like this: “I don’t know what I’m going to breathe in and breathe out, but I’m going to make a prediction. I might breathe in gratitude for all of you being here, and I might breathe out any anxiety about doing something new, because every group is new.” (Other things I’ve predicted  I’m going to breathe in during this mindfulness exercise: hope, connection, and the awareness of each moment. Other things I’ve predicted I’m going to breathe out:  distraction, fear, and anything that gets in the way of my being in the moment.)

I really like this mindfulness exercise.  Even if I’m too distracted to focus very well, even if my mind wanders a lot (because that’s what minds tend to do), it helps to just allow for the possibility of — to make some space for — breathing in something helpful and breathing out something that gets in the way.

Yesterday, when I did one of these groups, there was somebody new there. (And, as I wrote about yesterday, somebody was missing, too, for a very good reason.)

So, because somebody new was joining the group,  I did that mindfulness exercise.

And, as often happens when I do that exercise,  I breathed in gratitude and I let go of …. anxiety.

I had a good reason to be anxious yesterday.

Doing something new is always a “good reason” for increased anxiety.

Here were some of the new things I did yesterday:

  1. I facilitated a therapy group, with a new mix of people
  2. I needed to get my 3-month teeth cleaning and I had to go to a new place to get the Intravenous antibiotics I require whenever I get my teeth cleaned.
  3. I went to a new dental hygienist, to get the teeth cleaning.

Probably some explanation would be helpful, right now, especially regarding #2 and especially for people who don’t know me and/or haven’t read every friggin’ blog post I’ve written this year.

I have a Very Unusual Heart. My VUH is prone to endocarditis (which is an infection of the lining of the heart).  (I wrote about this in detail, on Day 65, when I thought I might have endocarditis again.) Since I’ve gotten endocarditis three times so far in my life, my doctors and I came up with this plan: I will have my teeth cleaned every three months and I will receive an intravenous dose of antibiotics before each cleaning.

This is routine for me, now.

However, many things about this process were new, yesterday.

Some of these things were new because of a change I had chosen –  to go to a new dental hygienist, who works with my wonderful dentist, whom I wrote about here.

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That’s my dentist, Dr. Luis Del Castillo (in a photo I took on April 13). (I didn’t take a picture of my new dental hygienist yesterday. Perhaps that’s because I was too ….. anxious?)

Some of the new things I encountered yesterday were due to changes beyond my control.

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That’s my beloved IV nurse, Kerri. She left her position a couple of months ago — eeeek! — but, thank goodness, moved to another place within the same hospital, so  I could still work with her — Yay! (By the way, that picture was taken four months ago, at the old location. I didn’t take a picture of her at the new location yesterday.  Any guesses why that might be?)

Yesterday, I was breathing out and letting go of anxiety, every step of the way, as I encountered new things during this process of getting my teeth cleaned, this process of not getting endocarditis, this process of staying healthy and alive.

And when I’m doing something new (and when the possibilities of illness — and death — are more in my consciousness), I definitely have more anxiety to breathe out.

My new dental hygienist (not pictured), named Michel, said a lot of things to me yesterday as she was cleaning my teeth. I didn’t say much because, well, she was cleaning my teeth.

Here are some of the things she said to me yesterday that are sticking in my mind, right now:

  1. “I don’t expect you to trust me immediately. You are just meeting me.”
  2. “It’s very important to trust your dental hygienist. It’s a relationship. It’s especially important for YOU to be able to trust your dental hygienist.
  3. “Let me tell you all the reasons why you won’t get endocarditis by getting your teeth cleaned here.” *
  4. “With your history, I would expect that sometimes you might obsess about keeping your teeth perfectly cleaned and other time you wouldn’t want to deal with it, at all.”
  5. “Let me know if you are uncomfortable, for any reason, at any moment.
  6. “A lot of people cry here. “

She said that last thing, when — in response to her understanding and empathy — I let go, in a rush of tears.

I never cried with my old dental hygienist. That might be a reason why I left, and found a new one.

That concludes this blog post for today.

Thanks to Michel, Dr. Del Castillo, and Kerri; to everybody who has ever helped me stay healthy; and to you, too, for reading today.

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* A teeth cleaning at the dentist is the leading cause of endocarditis, for people who are prone to it.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Day 115: Boston Kind (and Strong)

Something I’ve been noticing a lot, during this Year of Living Mindfully (that’s actually a better title for this blog, but it’s too late to change it!) ….  is kindness.  I’ve blogged about that quite a bit, including here, here, and here.

That first linked post is about kindness I encountered away from home, in February — in beautiful Charleston, South Carolina.

The second post is about kindness I deliberately decided to notice after I returned home — to beautiful Boston, Massachusetts.

The third one is about my realization that kindness, lately, has been making me cry  even harder than cruelty has — and in a healing way.

And whenever I write about people who are on “My Teams” (the people who support me)  — like here and here — I’m writing about kindness, too. That’s because Kindness and Competency are my two main criteria, when I’m picking team members.

I think kindness is all around us.  I  see it.  I think I always have — when I’m open to it.

Sometimes, of course, it is very difficult — if not impossible —  to see that kindness. Especially when cruelty is unmistakably present in the moment.

My experience on April 13, in Boston

As I wrote on April 16,  I was in Boston on April 13, two days before this year’s marathon, walking around the site of the future bomb blasts, with my son. The proximity of that experience — in time and space — to the violence, danger, and cruelty on April 15 — felt traumatizing to me after the bomb blasts occurred.

What I haven’t told you yet was this:  WHY I was in Boston with my son, on April 13.

There was another reason why April 13, 2013, was a happy day for me. Another reason,  in addition to sharing — with my son and hundreds of other people —  the excitement and anticipation that has always preceded every Boston Marathon.

I haven’t told you another reason why my  memories of that day – when I was, with my son, in such close proximity to the violence and cruelty to come — were such good ones, that — when the bomb blasts occurred — I feared those good memories might be tainted for ever.

I was there, a few blocks from the Marathon finish line, with my son, on April 13  for ….

Dental appointments.

Dental appointments!  Geesh!  I’m assuming THAT was a surprise to read.

Dental appointments, which a lot of people might find a little traumatizing (and painful and even cruel, sometimes, too).

But I was happy to be there. (And my son had a good time, too, believe it or not.)

And that is amazing, especially for me.

Some background about why a trip to dentist might be scarier,  for me. (Which I am putting in italics, because it’s the most personal section of this post, and I’m assuming some readers might want to skip or skim it.)

I have some reasons to be more scared of dental appointments, than most people.  As I’ve also written about this year, I have an unusual heart which makes me prone to endocarditis. (I’ve  gotten endocarditis three times within the last 15 years, but have caught it early enough to prevent any damage to my heart.)  And a month ago (as I blogged about, of course), I thought I had endocarditis, again.  I didn’t.

Question: What do 10 out of 10 doctors say would cause endocarditis, in somebody like me?

Answer: Any chance for bacteria in my mouth to enter the bloodstream.

In other words, any time my gums bleed, I am at heightened risk to get endocarditis, which — unless somebody vigilantly catches this almost immediately — will cause heart damage.

So, you can probably understand why anything — like going to the dentist — that might make my gums bleed, for any reasons, might feel extremely dangerous to me.

By the way, my medical team and I work very hard to prevent the danger. These extreme measures include my getting my teeth cleaned every three months, after I get an intravenous hit of anti-biotics. 

Why — despite excellent reasons why a trip to the dentist would be especially awful, for me —  my trip to the dentist on April 13 was wonderful.

Here’s why.  My dentist, Dr. Luis Del Castillo, of 77 Beacon Street, Boston MA.

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He is — besides being an excellent dentist — one of the kindest people I have ever met.

Really. A kind dentist!  Go figure.

And, like kind people I have met everywhere, he likes to work with kind people.  Here is Stephane, one of the other wonderful people at his dental office:

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I met Stephane for the first time, that day.   She was incredibly welcoming and thoughtful, explaining everything to me and asking me, frequently, with the kindest voice, “Are you okay, Ann?”

The Kindness of Strangers kills me.

What I mean by that is this:  I am unbelievably touched when people who don’t know me seem authentically and beautifully kind.

It means a lot to me, because of my experiences as a child (in the hospital, in a time and place where parents couldn’t stay with their kids).

It means a lot, to a lot of people.

And I LOVED the way Dr. Del Castillo and Stephane interacted with each other, too, as they were working with me that day. I wrote a note about it, so I could remember it (and put it in my blog).

This was the interaction I noted:

Dr. Del Castillo (after successfully completing a procedure in my mouth, that was a little tricky):  YES!!!

Stephane (to me):  Have you ever seen anybody get that excited about dentistry?

Me:  No. That is one of the things I love about him.

I’m looking at my  line, above, and I’m noticing that I didn’t name — to Dr. Del Castillo in the moment — the other things I love about him, which are:  (1)  how kind he is and (2) how accessible he’s been to me, when I’ve been scared about something.

Dr. Del Castillo, if you’re reading this, I hope you know — at least, now —  those things I appreciate, so much, in you.

Because of the kind way Dr. Del Castillo and Stephane were acting with me — and with each other — that day, I knew I was going to put them in my blog.  I figured I would write about them within the next couple of days. Perhaps on April 16.

But then, other events ensued, delaying my writing about my wonderful experience at the dentist — until today.

Back to my point (and I did have one) about kindness.

When I am open to it, I see kindness around me.

It’s there. Sometimes it’s hidden, by the cruelty that can be around us, too.

Here’s something else I think:

Experiencing pain can make us kinder, to those around us.  Not always.  But it can happen, for sure.

I’ve seen that — in myself and in others.

I think I’m seeing that now, in Boston.

Evidence backing up my observation that people are being kinder in Boston, now.

I’m more distracted, right now, like most people in Boston. As a result, when I’m driving, it can take me a second to realize a light has changed.

Since April 15, when I’m sitting at a light and it changes, I notice my own distraction and step on the gas pedal  (and here’s the punchline) …. BEFORE I hear a car beep.

This reminds me of a joke I heard on a David Letterman show, many years ago.  It went something like this:

Scientists have identified the smallest measurable time span. It’s the amount of time between a light turning green and the guy behind you hitting his horn.

But people are not hitting their horns, now, IN BOSTON. For those of you who are familiar with that area of the U.S.,  THAT is headline news. (How come you’re not all over that, CNN?  Huh?)

That huge change, which I’m observing,  might just be evidence of something else. It might mean that everybody else — besides me — is more distracted.  So they’re forgetting to hit their horns.

I am observing that people in Boston, in general, are more distracted.  That is true.

But I’m also seeing more patience with each other’s distraction, here in Boston.

My final point, so I can finish this post.

On my walk, yesterday, between the hospital where I work and Fenway Park, near where I park my car each day, I saw this:

IMG_0685

A few moments after I took this picture, some guy stopped me, trying to sell me something.  I told him, kindly (I hope), that I wasn’t buying.

Then, he asked if he could give me a hug, and I said, yes.  After the hug, as I was walking away, he said, “I hope I didn’t offend you.”  I said, “You didn’t.”

Now, maybe he gave me a hug because I was wearing my badge, which identified me as a social worker in one of the Boston hospitals, which have been in the news lately. (I was too distracted to realize I was still wearing it, at that point.)

I don’t think so, though.  I don’t think he noticed that.

I think he gave me a hug because we were both in Boston.

Boston Strong AND …

Boston Kind.

That’s what I wanted to tell you, today.

Thanks for reading, wherever you are.

P.S.  As always, dear reader,  if you think it would help you or anybody else to re-blog or otherwise share any post I write here, please feel free to do so. Thanks!

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Day 67: Fears AND Antidotes!

Today, I still have fears that I might be ill with endocarditis.

I am not quite as paralyzed by fear as I was yesterday, when I wrote this blog post  before leaving home in the morning.

 (I am letting go of judgment, right now, of how confusing that post might have been, and about how I might have included Too Much Information.) (Poof! )

Better.

So even though I’m feeling more centered and calm today, I am still in the challenging and difficult position of waiting for the results of the test for endocarditis.

When I work with people in therapy, I point out to them what a difficult place this is to be: Not Knowing, while waiting for important results. How stressful it is being in a position where you have no control over an outcome which may have a major impact on your life.  (For example, waiting to hear if you’ve gotten into the school you want, waiting for the results of a biopsy, etc.)

I often forget to tell myself what I invite my clients to tell themselves: This is a very difficult place you are in. Therefore, be as kind to yourself as possible.

In groups I do, I hear this very common theme: we can see what works for other people, but it is hard to apply it to ourselves.

That reminds me of the following antidote for unhelpful thinking:

The “Double-Standard” Method. Instead of judging yourself harshly, talk to yourself as compassionately as you might to a friend with a similar problem. Also, ask yourself, “How would I react if somebody else did this?”

That gives me an idea for the rest of this post for today.  I’d like to focus  on antidotes. And when I say “focus on”,  I mean “ramble about in that general direction until I get to the point I want to make.”

 I am now going to reframe some negative mind-reading I am doing,  assuming that you, my reader, might find my writing style annoying.  I am going to reframe that into this: “Maybe some people find my writing style … charming!”  Oooh!  That helped me feel better. I will now reframe again into a more balanced thought:  “Some people might find my writing style annoying. Some people might find my writing style charming. Enough people will find it understandable and worth reading.”

Better.

Yesterday, I did two groups at work, and  I was very focused on inviting people to look at The Positive.

Okay, time for a digression about a way I think about therapy.

Digression about How I Think About Therapy

 I think there is a duality about therapy.  I think it is important to leave room for people’s ambivalence — their experience of the positive AND the negative. I think it’s important to leave room for people’s hopes AND fears.  The light AND the dark.  The good in them AND the not-so-good in them.

I think it’s important for me to show my acceptance of exactly where they are AND have hope with them for what they want to change — in themselves and in their lives. And I work hard to invite people to do the same for themselves.

I think it’s important to invite both sides — the positive and negative. But I want to be careful to invite the negative, especially, because — if I focus too much on the positive —  people might not feel seen, with all their pain, shame, and fears about themselves and their lives.

Lots of clients/patients (I don’t like those labels, but I have yet to find a title I like for people I see)  tell me that others  in their lives don’t want to hear their “negatives” — their  depression, anger, despair, fear, or hopelessness.  The people I see at work often tell me they feel bad about  how other people in their lives react to their pain. This might make them not want to talk to other people. It can cause them to isolate.

And I understand how people who love my clients/patients — or who are otherwise connected to them — might not want to see my clients’ pain.  These people may feel exhausted, helpless, or incompetent about what to say.

I think that’s a big reason why people go into therapy, actually, because they are desperate to have the “negative” parts of themselves — their anger, hopelessness, fear, despair  stuck-ness, etc. — acknowledged, instead of avoided.

So human beings are both  positive and negative,   holding both hope and hopelessness — and they are ambivalent about many things.  By “ambivalent”, I mean that they have two conflicting feelings. For  example, someone might want change AND fear change at the same time.

End of Digression about Therapy in General

In the groups I did yesterday, I wanted to go more towards the positive  (while, at the same time, leaving some room for negative thoughts that were in the room, too).  But I remarked in myself that I really wanted to focus on antidotes yesterday.  I wanted to focus on hope, not on leaving as much room for people’s pain in the moment.

And I named that, in the moment, to the group members.

And I knew (although I didn’t name it) that my wish to go toward the positive was related to my fears about my own health.

And we focused on antidotes, during the group.

As I said in this blog post, I like to use props in therapy.  And two of my props are (1) The Bowl of Distortions and (2) The Bowl of Antidotes.

bowls

There they are — straight from my office to your screen!

What’s in The Bowl of Distortions?  Slips of paper containing the definitions of all 13 cognitive distortions.  The Bowl of Antidotes holds slips of paper containing descriptions of ways to challenge these (which I keep adding to).

Yesterday, because I really wanted to focus on the positive, I suggested that we use the Bowl of Antidotes. And each person in the group chose an antidote from the bowl,  and talked about it with the group  (including details about whether the person used that antidote, how they used it, whether it was useful, what got in the way of using it, how to use it more, and so on).

Here are some antidotes the group members chose from the bowl yesterday:

  • List the positives. To deal with the tendency to focus on the negative, make lists of good things that are happening, good things about yourself, and things that you are accomplishing (even little things). Focus on what you ARE doing, rather than on what you’re NOT doing.
  • The Semantic Method.  Substitute language that is less emotionally loaded and less judgmental.  For example, instead of telling yourself, “I should have known better,” you could say, “I didn’t know that.”
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis.  List the pros and cons of a negative thought (like “I always screw up”) or a behavior pattern (like isolating when you’re depressed). A simple version of this is to ask yourself, “Does this [thought or action] help me?”

Another antidote somebody picked from the bowl was “The Double Standard Method,” described earlier in this post. And this one came up, too, which the group discussed at length:

  • The “In Case of Emergency, Break Glass” Technique. Prepare for the possibility that when you are feeling at your worst, coping strategies and solutions might be difficult to remember. Write down a couple of things that might be helpful to remember when you are feeling bad, and put that in a special place. Also, consider telling somebody else about these “emergency messages,” so they can remind you.

The members of the group really liked that one, and talked in detail about ways to put this one into effect.

Here’s two more antidotes, which we didn’t pick yesterday in the group, but which I’ve been trying to use a lot the last couple of days:

  • Reality testing.  Ask people questions to find out if your thoughts and concerns are realistic or true. This is a particularly effective response to the distortion of mind-reading.
  • The So What? Technique. Consider that an anxiety-producing possibility (even the worst case scenario) might not be as bad as you fear. For example, “So what if this one person doesn’t like me? Not everybody is going to like me.” or “So what if I lose my cell phone? It’ll be an incredible hassle, but I’ll be able to deal with it.”

Antidotes can really help.

Thanks for reading.  As always, I would welcome any comments on any antidotes you find helpful.  And, I love collecting antidotes, so let me know if you have others you like in addition to the ones listed here.

© 2013 Ann Koplow

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Day 66: Random Thoughts, before an 8:30 appointment

I woke up this morning feeling scared, and my natural preference for that was to isolate.

So I was choosing to write in my blog, rather than to talk to my boyfriend.

I noted that, and realized that it might be more helpful to connect with another person.

So I consciously chose to talk to him, briefly, before coming downstairs to write this blog post.

My wish this morning is to write this post before I leave for an 8:30 dentist appointment.

I know that what will help me to write this blog post quickly is to give this post a title like “Random Thoughts,” because that will quiet down my critical self, and allow me to just write, rather than judging and rewriting as I go.

I woke up pretty scared this morning, immediately aware of my hip pain, and my associated fear that I have endocarditis.

I wondered if this hip pain is “psychosomatic” — that there is actually nothing wrong with me.

I also have been worrying — now that I’ve blogged about this fear, sharing it with who knows how many people — that sharing this might have been a mistake.

Of course, it’s done, and I can’t undo that, and worrying about what is in the past does not help.

But that worrying has been very pervasive since I posted yesterday, so it might be helpful to look at that for a moment.

What seems to help me — when I’m scared — is to identify a link with my past, when I was a scared little girl in the hospital, dealing with heart problems and surgeries, alone without my parents for most of the time. (I write more about that experience, here.)

I had a pacemaker, starting at age 10, and because technology was so new, the pacemakers would break, a lot. The batteries would run down, the wires would break in various places, once the casing of the pacemaker — which wasn’t strong enough — “got permeated by my body fluids” (I swear I remember them using that exact phrase, when I was a kid).

It’s occurring to me now that my family and I, if we had been a litigious bunch, I suppose, could have sued about this stuff. Because, looking at it now, with the eyes of an adult, in a law-suit-permeated society, I guess we could have “made the case” that they were putting these pacemakers in a child before the pacemakers had been tested enough.

But this was at the dawn of pacemaker technology, and we didn’t have a choice. It was either use new pacemakers or lose me. At least, that was the story the doctors were telling, and i think that was a reasonable story at the time.

I remember my mother telling me the story of how the doctors broke the news to them that they had decided to put a pacemaker in me, at age 10. I had a heart stoppage during an observation visit at the hospital, which the doctors had never witnessed before. We think that my heart had stopped twice before, at that point, because I had fainted, once at home and once in the school yard. “Heart stopppages.” That term might not be accurate, right now, because in all three cases, my heart started up on its own again.

But the doctors still reacted very strongly when I fainted at the hospital, and they realized that my heart had stopped (and then started up again). They totally changed the game plan, and decided to put in a pacemaker the next day. My memories are that they had never even mentioned a pacemaker as a possibility before. (Or maybe they had mentioned it to my parents, who then kept that possibility from me. But I don’t think so.)

So after I fainted in the hospital (which I think was either on November 20th or 21st, 1963), the doctors decided to put in a pacemaker ASAP (which was on Friday, November 22).

That is a date which some readers will recognize immediately. November 22, 1963.

Anyway, I will say more about that in a future post.

So to return to my immediate goal this morning — I want to write a post that is helpful (for me) (and, therefore, perhaps for others) and reasonably coherent, by 7:15, which is 13 minutes from now.

So what is it that is most important for me to communicate this morning?

These random things:

When I am more scared than usual, there is usually an association with my past — when I was (apparently) a terrified little girl, alone in the hospital.

It helps me to name that. It helps remind me that I am NOT a scared little girl, alone in the hospital now.

I have skills I didn’t have then.

I have knowledge I didn’t have then.

I have connections I didn’t have then.

While I feel like I’m alone — while I feel like I have to withdraw from others in order to protect myself — I am not alone.

I think that’s what I needed to write this morning. I feel better now and ready to go out into the world, meet my obligations of the day, and bear my fears about my current medical condition.

However, I have seven more minutes!

So I’ll use the time to write down some other, less crucial random thoughts, dear reader.

Here they are:

When I use the term “dear reader” in my blog (even though both my son and my boyfriend don’t like that term), it’s my way of consciously trying to connect.

I’m good at connecting with people. I had to be, to survive as a little girl alone in the hospital.

I love that I’m good at connecting with people. It makes me good at my job, as a psychotherapist. It adds color and value to my life, every day, at work and everywhere else I go.

When I’m more scared, depressed, in worse mood, “more symptomatic” (whatever language I use for feeling worse), I tend to isolate.

And part of isolating is mind reading — projecting onto others my fears and judgments about my self.

One thing I’ve been doing since I blogged yesterday — which was a tough and important post for me to write — has been feeling some shame about sharing things that feel that personal — and medical — with people I know but also many, many people (even though I don’t know how many) that I don’t know.

It has been occurring to me a lot lately that blogging — sharing in the blogosphere — is very much like doing a therapy group. It evokes a lot of the same benefits — connecting and letting go of old habits and fears — as well as the same fears — have I said too much? will people judge me?

Sometimes I feel like a facilitator (group leader) when I’m doing this “Blogging Group”, and sometimes I’m more of a participant.

When I write about illness and fear, I feel like more of a participant.

Being a participant in a group is riskier than being a facilitator/group leader.

I have three more minutes!

It’s helping me to write down these thoughts.

There are lots of other things that I might write here, because I have lots of thoughts and have had a rich and complex past.

But what feels most important for me to say?

I guess I want to let you know that I have been projecting some old fears and hospital experiences on to you — my readers.

I’ve felt scared because I told you, yesterday, about my fears of having endocarditis. And that got me into a whole series of scary thoughts, which remind me of when I was a kid in the hospital, with a failing pacemaker.

Here are some thoughts that came up when I was a kid thinking something was wrong with me medically (that my pacemaker was failing), and which come up now (that I am afraid I have endocarditis):

Should I tell other people about this?

If I do tell other people about this — that I’m afraid that there is something wrong with my health — something that might be life-threatening — there are some risks.

I might be wrong. If I’m wrong and I got other people scared, I might lose them. They might get annoyed that I caused them unnecessary worry. I might lose credibility with them. “She’s the girl who cried ‘Wolf!’ We stopped listening to her!” And I did feel, when I was a kid, that I had to be right, 100% of the time, when I let people know I feared that my pacemaker was failing. If I was wrong one time, I believed THAT is what would stick — and they would never believe me again. But if I didn’t say something, I might die, because of a faulty pacemaker, which I was aware of, because my heart was skipping, but which was intermittently malfunctioning, so that the doctors could not replicate the problem at first. So i DID need to say something, But I might be wrong.

So being wrong was/is very scary.

I might be right. If I was right, I would need to have surgery (or — if I’m right about the endocarditis, I’ll need to leave work for a while and be on IV antibiotics for 6 weeks, and this will have been the fourth time, and last time, they said they might need to take some drastic measures, like extracting all my teeth) (NO!!!).

So being right was/is very scary.

Okay, I ran three minutes over. I think I can still get to my appointment on time.

I am not reading this over, at all, dear reader, before I post. I might, later, read this over and make some very basic corrections, if my fear is that I’ve lost you too badly. I want you to understand me!

Okay, now I’m done.

One more thing, of course: thanks for reading.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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