I wrote an earlier blog post, Survival Series I - Ideas for Pain Management but I think it's a topic that's deserves even more thought because pain is something that effects the lives of survivors no matter what our battles may be. This post is focused more on managing pain during doctor's visits, which can be some of the most painful times. Here are three tips that have helped me like crazy, and I hope they help you too!
1. Limit Your Appointments
It's that simple. The more appointments you are going to, the more painful car rides or rides on public transportation, the more painful time sitting in uncomfortable positions in waiting rooms, the less time you're able to rest in your own home, and the more walking, and emotional exhaustion of talking about your illness you'll have to endure.
I found that during the first six months out of the hospital, each and every one of my specialists, doctors, nurse practitioners, and everyone else under the sun wanted to lay eyes on me almost every week in order to make sure that I was surviving, that their prescriptions were working, and that all the hours of surgery, infusions, and learning to walk were paying off. The problem with that is that when my general practitioner, gastroenterologist, hematologist, interventional radiologist, and physical therapist all wanted to see me each week, that meant getting myself up and out, asking family members to help transport me, using a wheelchair for the longer appointments, and exposing my weakened immune system to new germs in each waiting room at least five times a week! That's a full time job. Not a healthy lifestyle for someone trying to recover from a life threatening illness.
You might think that lumping appointments into one day is a good solution but I'm here to tell you, this can be not just painful but dangerous, the longer you're on your feet, not resting, exposed to germs, and exhausting your already strained body in one day, the greater your risks for having a relapse, new infection, or needing to be re-admitted to the hospital.
Unfortunately for me, and probably for you or your loved one, each of these single appointments typically lead to at least two, usually three, other related appointments. For example, a meeting with my gastroenterologist lead to an appointment to have my blood drawn to check iron and magnesium levels which lead to two more appointments for infusions of iron and then magnesium (these are not recommended to be done in the same day for safety reasons). So one hour long appointment resulted in nearly 12 hours of extra time in medical facilities.
For me, the best thing to do was simply level with my doctors, let them know how much their appointments were draining me and how much of a toll each added set of labs or ultrasounds or CT scans or infusions or anything else were adding to my exhaustion and not allowing my body to heal. Most doctors were unaware that everyone else on my team was ordering similar tests or how long it truly took me to park at their facilities, get upstairs, wait in the waiting room, wait in the exam room, and then wait again to get my paperwork and many doctors were willing to cut down on their visits with me by reading the notes of the doctors I had seen that week, coordinating better amongst themselves, or ordering labs to be drawn during my appointments, not at a separate lab in another building.
The second thing I found to be helpful was to ask my doctors whether a test they were ordering was a duplicate or could be combined with another test at the same time in order to cut down on my medical bills and time spent in labs of all kinds. Many of my amazing doctors were more than willing to help me coordinate with imaging labs to make sure that I could have all my results sent to each specialist and to combine any scans that could be combined (for example, one doctor was ordering an ultrasound of my leg while another was ordering one of my abdomen, those could definitely be done at the same time in the same hospital or clinic but they were asking me to do on two different days to two separate imaging labs on completely different ends of the city.
Ultimately, the more you share with your team about what you're going through and the more you encourage them to share with each other about their findings, the better off you'll be and the more time you can spend where you should be, at home getting some rest.
2. Turn Music into Medicine
I've always found that as my stress level goes up, my pain tolerance goes down. Our bodies and our minds are so completely interlinked that when our minds are calm, we can actually experience some relief from pain, but when they are under stress, we experience pain more sharply and we simply aren't able to think clearly enough to do the self-care necessary to prevent more pain from coming.
I realized that one time when my pain and stress levels really rise is at doctor's appointments and one of the best ways I know to get immediate relief is to listen to calming music. This is something I noticed a s a teacher; that when I played calming music, my students relaxed and experienced almost immediate relief from the stressful behaviors they exhibited before a test. So I made myself a mix of calming songs that I can always count on and I keep a wall charger in my purse so that my phone never dies and I always have my music relief tools at hand.
If you're interested in trying out the mix I use, I've linked it here Waiting Room Music it's called Afternoon Acoustic - Hannah Angell Remix if you're a spottily user and want to find it. Also, their main channel called Afternoon Acoustic is a great one if you can connect at your doctor's offices. You may need to create a Spotify account to access it but Spotify is free and I would definitely recommend the app to anyone suffering from chronic pain or anxiety. It has amazing mixes and you can access other people's playlists as well to connect with a community of music lovers. And as we all know, community is the key to finding more ways to relieve your chronic pain and the feelings of aloneness it can create. So tune and turn down anxiety.
3. Hydrate and Relax in One Step
Doctor's Appointments can take several hours from the time you leave your home to the time you're back in your comfort zone and during that time, it's easy to become extremely dehydrated and anxious. I've found that when I bring a large water bottle filled with a relaxing mix of tea, I am able to get more out of my appointment and come home feeling refreshed and calm.
One of my new favorite water bottles is this one from motivationalbottle.com. It has hashmarks on the sides of the bottle to remind you how much water you've had in the past hour and motivate you to stay on schedule with your hydration. In fact, I had used this quote in one of my blog posts which is what clued me in to the existence of this awesome product and I later received the water bottle as a gift. Side note, these make a great gift for someone you know who might be going through a tough time medically or even someone who is trying to live a healthier lifestyle.
You might recognize this tea from my earlier posts but I like to add two tea bags of Nighty Night tea by Traditional Medicinals before I head to a doctor's appointment. I noticed that this tea in particular helps me feel calm without giving me the fuzzy feeling that anxiety medicine sometimes does and it doesn't put me to sleep like some other brands do. Another plus is that you stay hydrated during the waiting room time which can seem to last forever!
Be sure to check with your doctor & try a cup at home to see how you react before taking this plan on the road but for me, Nighty Night in a large water bottle is just the right balance and I wanted to share it with you. You can always use chamomile tea, electrolyte water, or anything else that keeps your body hydrated and your mind relaxed. And remember to ask your doctor's office if they have a sanitary place to refill your water bottle. Most offices I've found do have clean water dispensers for you to use if you ask.
Best of Luck in your joinery toward recovery and peace. I hope that these tips help you have a more enjoyable or at least productive trip to the doctor's office. Remember, their mission is to help you get better, so if you're overwhelmed or overtaxed by what a doctor is requiring, speak up. This is the only body we're given, treat it well and try to find ways to love your body even through the pain.
As an added bonus, I've connected a link to Body Love Yoga with Ashley Sky Litecky. It'd designed for young people who are suffering with body image issues but I find it extremely helpful for those of us struggling to love our bodies for any reason. It helped me learn to love this beautiful, imperfect leg that I stand on each day and it helped me love my perfectly imperfect digestive system that fights to process nutrients for me every hour of every day. Even when our bodies hurt us, we can still love them. Love conquers all.
Lots of Love,