Monthly Archives: January 2013

Dressing the Part

Because I have transitioned from taking care of patients to taking care of clients (please click link at the top of this page to check out my company’s website, if this is news to you), I no longer wear a white coat.  I generally wear standard business attire when I give talks and when I meet with clients or business associates.  On days when I have no meetings and I’m focusing on writing, I dress pretty casually – current outfit of choice is jeans and a sweater.

On writing days, I’m frequently the only one home.  And when I am the only one home, I will not, as a matter of principle, turn up the heat.  Today is such a day.  And it’s cold in my house.

The only clean pair of jeans this morning was the black pair.  So I put on the black jeans and a grey and black striped cowl neck sweater.  I worked on my book (happily near completion) for a bit, and got tired of shivering, so I threw on my black cardigan, which was near the front of my closet and easily reachable.  I made a second cup of coffee.  I wrote some more.  And I was still cold.

So I walked to the front hall closet to see what I could find to help the situation.  I wanted to put on a hat, but didn’t want to end up with “hat head,” so I put on a loose, floppy beret that I’ve had since high school, which rests comfortably on top of my head, keeping in the heat and leaving my hair only minimally squished.  And I grabbed a scarf, since my neck was feeling a bit of a draft.

A bit more typing at my computer, and then a quick trip to “return” some of that coffee.  I glanced in the mirror as I walked into the bathroom – there I was, in layers of black and grey, wearing a beret and scarf, looking like I was about to audition for a character role as a writer in a movie.  So apparently there’s reason behind the stereotypical writer’s outfit – a slow laundry system, a chilly climate, and a stubborn unwillingness to turn up the heat.  Who knew?

“Your Hospital Guide” – Statistically Speaking

According to the CDC and the American Hospital Association websites, in registered hospitals in the United States there are 36 million inpatient admissions each year.  And 96 million outpatient hospital visits.  And 136 million emergency room visits (17 million of which become inpatient hospital admissions, included in that first statistic).  That’s a lot of people-hospital interaction.

When you have one of these up-close-and-personal encounters with our medical system, do you ever feel lost?  Out of your element?  Alone?  Confused?  Angry?  Overwhelmed?  Scared?  I have to tell you, even as a doctor, when I’ve been a patient or when I’ve been with a family member in hospital situations I’ve at various points in the experiences felt pretty much all of the above.

The advice in Your Hospital Guide is based on what I have seen and learned from my patients, on what has or has not worked well for them, on what they have done that I have found to be helpful to me as a physician, what I would have found helpful had they done it (and wished they had done), and what I have found to be helpful when I have had a family member who has been hospitalized.  The descriptions, explanations and information in this book cover topics about which I have been frequently questioned.  They are based on my experience working as a doctor in hospitals, on my experience having people close to me be hospitalized, and also on my own brief experiences of hospitalization.

I wrote Your Hospital Guide to be easy to read and understand.  Its purpose is to help you understand what is going on around you when you are hospitalized, who all the people are that are walking past your door and coming into your room, what you can expect, and what you can do to keep a sense of being as safe and in control as possible when you are in a situation where you might otherwise feel vulnerable and out of control.  This is not a book that quotes statistics on medical errors or that delves into detail about a particular disease or procedure; rather, it is a general handbook, an introduction to the world you will find yourself in, and a collection of advice that I would give my mother, my father, my sister, my brother, my uncle, my friend, or my neighbor, if they or their loved one were hospitalized.


Why “Your Hospital Guide” is Different

With the glaring exception of a select few of my child-rearing techniques, I do not like to scare people.  As a general rule, I derive great personal and professional satisfaction from helping people to feel comfortable, at ease, and in control, especially in situations where one’s health (or a loved one’s health) is concerned.  There are a few books out there that give advice for people who are hospitalized, and those books tell miscellaneous stories of people who have had very negative experiences.

I don’t know about you, but when I am embarking upon an unfamiliar course, one where there are risks, I don’t want to read about the horrible things that have happened to other people in my position.  I certainly want to know how to keep myself as safe as possible within given circumstances, and I want to familiarize myself with my surroundings, understand the culture, and understand some of the basic language of my environment, but I don’t want to be submerged in the details and drama of the worst possible outcomes of my situation, especially when I may not be able to control the fact that I am in that particular situation to begin with.  This is in no way to say that I want to put my head in the sand and ignore the fact that there is risk, but I want to face the risk in a positive way, actively participating in the optimization of the outcome of my particular situation.

Fear sells.  Tears sell.  But I intend for my book to guide readers the way I would like to be guided.  “Your Hospital Guide” is written to give you insider’s perspective and guidance in a place where you might otherwise feel lost or out of your element.  Blog entries in the “Your Hospital Guide” category will give you tastes of this book, with bits of information and direction that I hope you will find useful.  Please let me know through your comments what you think.  And here’s hoping that you will eventually read the whole book, and that you will only rarely, if ever, need it.

When a Person Develops a Cold…..

I have not been sick in a few years, but my immune system of steel recently found its kryptonite – my favorite toddlers in the whole world, whom I was lucky enough to see/hug/kiss/chew on over the past couple of weeks.  My brain gave me the requisite warnings about avoiding close personal contact with small people with such runny noses, but my soul would not allow me to avoid such deliciousness, so I threw caution to the wind as I savored the delight of the touch of tiny hands on my face, and snuggled and smooched with abandon.  And I got a cold.

One of those colds where it feels like the linings of your sinuses are on fire, where each sneeze intensifies the soreness of a post-nasal-drippy sore throat, and where you still have a reasonable amount of energy to get things done, and are not nearly sick enough to elicit a great deal of sympathy, but still feel pretty cruddy.  So since I have been so exquisitely reminded of how it is to have one, I thought I’d share a few thoughts about dealing with the inevitable, occasional cold.

First, avoidance is best.  Try as much as possible to keep your hands (and other people’s hands, as was my mistake) away from your face, since cold viruses intrude into your system mainly through your nose (and through your eyes, since they are washed by tears internally down into your nasal passages).  Wash your hands (or use hand sanitizer) frequently, especially after being out in public (where lots of people with colds are milling about), after contact with someone who’s sick, and before eating.  Try to eat healthily, stay active, and keep hydrated.

And then, when you get a cold anyway, you can deal with it symptomatically.  There are mixed results of studies on remedies like Airborn or echinacea or zinc, as to whether or not they actually help.  If you have something that seems to work for you, just run it by your doctor (since not every “natural” or “herbal” remedy is safe for every person) before using it, and be sure not to use more than what is recommended on the package or by your doctor.  This past week I tried an over-the-counter decongestant, and I found it to be helpful.  But just because a medication is available over-the-counter does not mean that it’s safe for everyone – always check with your doctor (and pharmacist) to make sure any medications are safe for you and safe to use with any other medications you may be taking.

I found hot tea (either black tea or mint tea, depending on how close to bedtime it was) to be soothing, and the steam helped to clear my sinuses a bit.  Extra pillows helped me position myself so that my sinuses did not fill up immediately upon getting into bed.  Hot, steamy showers helped me feel considerably better.  When I had to walk outside in the dry, windy, frigid air, it helped immensely to hold a scarf over my mouth and nose, since it kept the air I was breathing warm and moist (note: if you do this, I would highly recommend using a scarf that you can throw in the washing machine).

To avoid sharing your cold with others, it helps to keep a few feet away from people when possible.  Cover sneezes and coughs with a tissue/napkin/paper towel large enough to cover the spatter area (when you have a cold, sneezes and coughs tend to be fairly high-output), but make sure to use a soft tissue to wipe your nose, since paper towels can be very rough.  Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after each time you touch your face, wipe your nose, sneeze, or cough, but do not make the mistake that I recently made of ignoring when your hands begin to get dry.  The only benefit of waiting until your hands are uber-dry and red to care for them is that when you finally put the moisturizer on them, the searing, burning pain on the backs of your hands will take your focus off of your sinuses for a couple of minutes.  Better you should use a little moisturizer on your hands after each time you wash them to prevent this.

Once your cold nears its end, there will likely be dried remnants left in your shnoz.  Keep in mind that manually attempting to remove these is the most common cause of nosebleeds.  Taking a steamy shower helps loosen things up so that a gentle nose blow can clear things out.

Call your doctor if at any time you feel like you have anything more serious than “just a cold” (e.g. fever, extreme symptoms) or if it hangs on for longer than you would expect it to (a week or so).  Wishing you good health!