Localized Empathy

Boston traffic sucks.

Especially in the summertime.

To save myself some unnecessary frustration, I did something that I do not normally do: booked a few local medical appointments here in Rhode Island.

Don’t get me wrong: In my graduate studies I met many nurses and healthcare folks who work in our small state and do a darn good job making patients well.  But, having begun my care in Boston at a young age, I historically stuck with the endearingly-nicknamed “Mecca of Healthcare” for my treatment.

An hour commute is a small price to pay for the best healthcare on earth.  I grew up in the Joslin waiting room, watching families fly in from all over the world to seek help for their kids.  I accompanied my #MedX bestie, Danielle Edges, and her brave daughter, Alex, when they traveled to Boston Children’s Hospital from Phoenix, AZ, earlier this year.  Trust me: Boston has it going on, and I am always cognizant of how blessed I am to live relatively close to these topnotch facilities.

The problem, though, is that my trips have not been an hour commute for as long as I can remember lately.  Between traffic coming from and going to Boston, as well as time with the provider, I am usually gone for 6 to 8 hours per appointment.  The bags underneath my eyes were growing larger by the day, and my attitude was strained.  I needed a break.

So, I made a pact with myself: For reasons of self-care, I would book some “non-essential” appointments back home in Lil Rhody.  While every medical appointment is certainly important, the urgency is not necessarily there for this local stuff, versus the “essential” diabetes tune-ups that I receive in Boston.

One hot afternoon in July, I gulped down my coffee and headed inside a RI dermatologist’s office.  I have experienced itchy-then-painful blisters on my hands since childhood, and no doctor has ever been able to crack the code.  If the best providers in Boston specializing in autoimmune disorders don’t know, how will anyone else? I naively wondered.  But, with the commute being a mere 15 minutes, it was worth a shot.

I arrived early to fill out new patient paperwork as instructed.  Parking had been easy- no expensive, overfilled parking garages.  The receptionist and intake nurse were both friendly.  And finally, it was time to see the doctor.  She was kind and concise.

“Do you have a blister right now?”

“Yes.  It’s healing,” I replied, extending my hand for further inspection.

“Oh, I know exactly what this is.  It’s dyshidrotic eczema- common in diabetics.  I’m actually shocked that you went through decades of your life with no diagnosis for this; how awful!  I’ll prescribe you some hydrocortisone creams which should help,” RI Doctor advised.

+1 for the local expert!  

I am a little miffed that Boston dropped the ball on this for so long, considering I looked like a burn victim who couldn’t hold a pencil in third grade due to the severity of the blisters.  However, I am SO grateful to finally have an answer and effective treatment options!

Then it was time for the mole check.  Melanoma does not discriminate between right arm or left arm, right butt cheek or left butt cheek.  Almost every inch of the body is observed to ensure safety.  Smart, yet still kind of awkward…

“Just so you know, I’m wearing a…” I began.

“A thong?” RI Doctor replied.

We’ve seen it all, honey, the observing nurse thought.

“Actually, it’s a continuous glucose monitor for my type 1 diabetes.  It’s on my…”

*Ten seconds later*

“Oh!  Good thing you warned me!”  RI Doctor exclaimed, having located the sensor where the sun doesn’t often shine.

As odd as it was to have a conversation while naked in a room among new acquaintances, the professionalism and thoroughness of the doctor made the experience more bearable.  I felt at ease knowing that the eczema- which has for years induced a stress response in my body, and, therefore, my BGs- would finally be tamed, and that the funky mole on my ribs was nothing dangerous.

“When were you diagnosed with type 1?” RI Doctor asked.

“Just before my third birthday.”

“And your parents caught it early?”

“Early enough that I survived.  But I was in DKA.”

And then I thought again about the little boy whose name I still do not know, who passed away from complications of T1D diagnosed too late, just a few days before my arrival in the same ER.

“Wow.  That must have been so hard,” RI Doctor wondered aloud.

“Yeah…”

“That must have been so hard.  It is so hard,” she pushed.

“It is…” I admitted.

 

And there it was: the truth, exposed.  Diabetes is hard.  But we’re still fighting.

Sometimes localized empathy makes all the difference.

#weneedacure

 

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The Real Patient Portals

For privacy purposes of those discussed here, some of the details of this blog post have been altered/omitted. The heart of the story remains the same.

 

To avoid the throbbing headache that is commuting from Providence to Boston during morning traffic, I stayed over in Massachusetts prior to my Joslin appointments this week.

I hoped to catch the end of the Providence-Villanova game at the hotel bar, but the thrashing PC was receiving was so embarrassing that the bartender instead flipped between The Voice and the Bruins. I asked a patron if the seat next to her at the crowded bar was available, and she nodded. The restaurant was busy and it seemed like it would be a while before my dinner was delivered, so I took a big gulp of my classy Bud Light and vowed to make friends while I waited.

“Are you here for business?” I asked the professionally-dressed woman.

“Actually, my child is being treated at Children’s Hospital.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. But your child is in phenomenal hands.”

“Yes, we have been here for a long time, but soon we will travel home with a stronger, healthier child. We have been very blessed.”

And so we talked for almost an hour. We discussed her home many miles away from here, admired the nurses who followed their professional callings to ease the suffering of their patients, educated one another on our respective areas of patient or caregiver knowledge, and, to be quite honest, took solace in finding a bar buddy who understood the stress and anxiety of Boston medical appointments. Sure, I seek out care in Boston because it is the best, and this lady does, too. But that doesn’t make it any less gut-wrenching every time the appointment days arrive.

We eventually wished each other well and parted ways. I want to give SuperMom an anonymous shout out here, though, because of the example of strength that she provided that evening. I have so much respect for the parents of any child who faces illness- whether that be type one diabetes or something else. Being the patient for most of my life, I have mainly been preoccupied with my own suffering- something I know that I can and will handle.

Watching others suffer, though, makes me nauseous, anxious, and somewhat frozen in “What do I do?!!” mode. SuperMoms and SuperDads don’t have the option of “What do I do?!!” mode. They activate “Do” mode because their child is hurting and they want the pain to stop. They remain calm when the world is shaken up around them. Yes, they have days of sadness and tears, but they try their best to provide their children with the greatest lives possible, to comfort them on the rough days, and to keep on going.

So, to SuperMom at the bar, cheers to health and happiness for you and your family.

The next morning, I hastily checked out of the hotel and made my way to Joslin Diabetes Center, where I had one thing on my mind: very light, no sugar coffee, and even better if you can hook me up to an IV drip of it.

I generally enjoy my Joslin experience because it is one of the only places on earth where I feel completely safe from a diabetes standpoint. If I go low or high, there are plenty of people who know how to help. But this time, I was nervous and emotional, as it was my last appointment with Current Endo before her departure; additionally, these days are quite frankly long and exhausting no matter what the outcome is.

I fumbled my way to the coffee stand through a haze of anxiety.

“What’s ah matter, my darling?” the coffee stand employee cooed, her brow furrowed.

“Oh, nothing. I just need some coffee to wake up,” I said, shrugging it off.

“I asked how your morning was and you didn’t reply,” she sounded off, much to my surprise and admiration. (I like a person who tells it like it is!)

“My apologies. I must not have heard you.” My level of distractedness due to nerves was obvious now.

Without skipping a beat, she looked me straight in the eye and stated, “You will be okay. You are so strong.”

This kind woman had never met me before. She had no prior knowledge as to whether I was in the hospital district of Boston as a patient, a caregiver, a sales rep, an employee, or so on. But she knew, without hesitation, that I was hurting simply from the look in my eyes. She seemed to recognize that I was the patient, and that I was trying to keep it all together. Her confidence that I could do this was the gentle nudge I needed to go check in at Joslin, ready to take on the day and whatever it would bring.

Blinking back tears, I thanked her for her reassurance and sauntered off with coffee warming my hands and coffee shop lady’s words warming my soul.

After my appointments, I needed more coffee before racing back to work. I stopped at the same coffee kiosk, and the same employee was still there. I filled my cup and went to pay.

“You were right. Everything was okay. I wanted to thank you for what you said earlier. You made me feel better.”

“God will take care of everything,” she replied.

“Yes. And there should be more people in the world like you. Your joy is contagious.”

And we both fought back tears, nodded our heads in agreement, and vowed to pray for one another.

Bars and coffee shops are the real patient portals. These are the watering holes for the warriors- the patients and the caregivers- to assemble and collect their emotions. Here, the pep talks happen. The fears and aspirations are relayed. The hugs are handed out a little more freely. The tears are dried if necessary. God is there, as these women proved to me this week.

Lucky for me, I’m always thirsty. Something tells me I’ll be back soon.

To SuperMom and SuperCoffeeShopEmployee, this blog post goes out to you. You are both inspirations. Thank you…