’Tis the season for making lists and resolutions. I do both.
I write a to-do list every day, but I don’t insist on checking off each item. (I’m a lifelong list maker, but not a compulsive task master.) I prioritize my to-dos and try to keep a flexible schedule so that I can respond to the unexpected without feeling time-stressed.
When I was writing “Our Parents in Crisis,” I consciously did not create lists. I also eschewed rankings: Top-10 this or Top-5 that. I did not want the book to be a how-to, filled with bulleted to-dos and don’ts and rankings of important factors. I wanted it to be a narrative that flowed as much as possible without obvious finger-pointing interruptions by me. The book has lists, but they’re lists created by medical experts—such as the list of risk factors for a stroke—not by me.
Although I generally refrained from list-making, I did compile one list as I wrote, storing it in a working computer file. I’ve mentioned some of the items on it in previous postings. In the spirit of the season, I now give you my Top 10 to-dos for an advocate in a hospital crisis:
1) Arrange for 24/7 coverage of your loved one, or close to it. (Sleep in the room, if you must.)
2) Learn when the doctors round (or when the hospitalists will stop by) and be there when they do.
3) Get to know the nurses and house staff and be helpful to them. Obtain their cell-phone numbers, if you can.
4) Humanize your loved one, so he or she will be a person with a unique identity, not just a room number, an age, or a disease.
5) Do your homework: Research medical conditions enough to be able to talk knowledgeably with doctors and nurses and to understand what they are saying.
6) Take notes, take notes, take notes, and review your notes to fill in any blanks while conversations are fresh in your mind.
7) Identify and consult a medical adviser upon whose honesty and knowledge you can rely. Talk to friends and friends of friends, if necessary.
8) Speak up, if you don’t understand something, and ask questions. Be firm and persistent, but polite and respectful.
9) Pay close attention to the paperwork and explanations you receive upon admission, before any major procedure, and at discharge.
And, perhaps, most important of all:
10) Guard against the many hazards of bed rest, especially blood clots!
Some of you may be making New Year’s resolutions for 2016, at least one of which will probably have something to do with your health.
In Appendix Six of “Our Parents in Crisis,” I pass along a University of Virginia geriatrician’s list of the Top 17 things that you can do to age well. I reproduce below the Top 10 of Dr. Diane Snustad’s to-dos, with my comments in parentheses. Actually, No. 10 is a “don’t,” but it’s a big enough “don’t” to constitute a do. To wit:
10) Don’t smoke.
9) Avoid polypharmacy. (Too many drugs.)
8) Work with your doctor. (Provided you have a competent and compassionate one.)
7) Limit your alcohol intake.
6) Have good genes. (Especially maternal genes.)
5) Be female. (More of a “to be.”)
4) Keep up social contacts.
3) Exercise the mind. (Learn new things.)
2) Exercise the body. (The only “magic pill” there is.)
And, the No. 1 thing that Dr. Snustad believes you should do to age well?
AVOID AGEISM. Don’t accept from your doctor: “What do you expect at your age?”
Snustad is the only physician I have met in 13 years of advocacy who pins the tail on that donkey. When you hear that question, I hope you won’t keep your blindfold on.
Happy New Year, everyone. May some of your resolutions come true.