Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Levity, brevity, clarity, wit...

Levity, brevity, clarity, wit. This phrase, coined by my brother, Steve Crohn, years ago, became our writers' motto since he was a writer and editor, too. In anything I write or say, I make sure I follow this credo because it works in business and in life. Truly!

Today, however, I am trying to get my doctors to adopt this approach. Wouldn't it be great if an appointment went something like this:

DOC (with direct eye contact): Good afternoon, Amy. What exactly is bothering you today?
ME: I can't digest food.
DOC: Is that before or after you've eaten it?
ME: After, of course. (I chuckle)
DOC (puts hand on my shoulder and smiles): Of course it's after. And how long has this problem been going on?
ME: Six months.
DOC: You mean you haven't pooped for six months?
ME: Sort of.
DOC: Do you also burp a lot?
ME: Yes.
DOC: So it's coming out one end but not the other?
ME: Yup.
DOC: Interesting (he sits down)
ME: What are possible diagnoses?
DOC: Hmmm. Perhaps it's the Gobloots like Lucy had in an episode of I Love Lucy. We will get to the bottom of it, pun intended. I don't want to unnecessarily cause you alarm when it's, most likely, a minor issue.
ME: Thank you, Doc. Do you know you look like Bradley Cooper and I want to kiss you?
(C'mon! We've all had at least one doctor like that? )
DOC: Sure. Come here.....(Hee hee)

The point is that the Doc is focused, not shuffling papers, not answering the phone, not distracted by what's going on outside the window, and is directly and clearly taking care of me with the four qualities I describe above.
  • He has levity or "lightness of mind, character, or behavior." (NOTE: This does not mean uninterested or uneducated. It means open-minded and acting with an open heart.)
  • He's brief but to the point. 
  • He's clear and lucid "as to perception or understanding and his words are free from ambiguity."
  • He's witty because his keen perception and cleverly apt expressions "make connections between ideas that can awaken pleasure." (Eye contact. Touching my shoulder. Ricky Ricardo. Not distracted and that kiss!)
According to Lauren Block, a former Johns Hopkins University fellow in an article entitled  5 WAYS NEW DOCTORS FAIL AT BEDSIDE MANNER from a study conducted by the University: "It’s no wonder patients don’t feel connected to what we are telling them, because many times we are not doing as much as we could to make that connection.” The Johns Hopkins study also revealed that only 10 percent of patients can name a doctor who cared for them in the hospital.

Moreover, new doctors performed all five of the recommended behaviors like touch, eye contact and sitting down, during just four percent of all patient encounters. They were only slightly more likely to introduce themselves to patients during their first encounter than during a later one.

And good bedside manner has been proven to have a positive impact on patient health!

From a study at Massachusetts General Hospital, lead author and psychologist John Kelley says: "Our results show that the beneficial effects of a good patient-clinician relationship on health care outcomes are of similar magnitude to many well-established medical treatments." He added that "many of these medical treatments, while very important, need to balance their benefits against accompanying unwanted side effects. In contrast, there are no negative side effects to a good patient-clinician relationship."


The study goes on to say: The review found that relationship-focused training had a small but statistically significant effect on the specific health outcomes in patients with obesity, diabetes, asthma, or osteoarthritis. Among other things, it could affect weight loss, blood pressure, blood sugar and lipid levels, and pain. In fact, the researchers noted that the impact was greater than the reported effects of low-dose aspirin or cholesterol-lowering statins for preventing heart attack.

The researchers all say hospitals and training program officials can take simple steps to improve things, such as providing extra chairs and photos of the care team in patient rooms. They suggest adding lessons on etiquette-based communication to the curriculum. Really? 

Needless to say, I am still Dying to Live and hope to follow 'doctor's orders' when they are delivered with levity, brevity, clarity and wit.

Marcus Welby where are you now? Never mind. I'll *ahem* take that kiss from Dr. Steven Kiley (a young James Brolin) instead.

Friday, February 6, 2015


Many of us have been ill this winter with colds, the flu, or stomach upset. I, however, have been fighting a complete flare up of gastroparesis - the paralysis of my digestive system. This is not a fun disease. It's maddening!

While I've managed it for nearly six years now with diet, medication for digestive motility, and laxatives (yeah, it ain't pretty), this latest bout came out of the blue - smacked me again in the back side of my head. I never expect it or see warning signs.

None of us with auto-immune disease are clairvoyant; that is, we can never predict when something is going to go awry in our bodies. So we get frustrated and isolated in our pain and distress. We triage ourselves to address the worst ailment first. When I had cancer, that came first and the diagnosis at the same time of Lupus came second even though it caused a lot of complications with my cancer treatment.

"I'm a professional patient," I tell the doctors and nurses in the emergency rooms that I frequent. I tell them what I need (pain meds, please!), what tests need to be run (xrays and/or CT scan), and then I'm given the option to be admitted or not. I usually choose not. This time around, perhaps I should have stayed.

Instead I took the treatments home (didn't work), made numerous calls to my gastroenterologist in New York City (because the local docs say my condition is beyond their area of expertise), adjusted meds and diet, and I am coasting along until invasive testing on Friday the 13th. Harrumph. I'm not superstitious, but really?

I know this is just one more hurdle to hurdle; one more setback from which I will recover. Nevertheless, there is always fear. Chronically ill folks live with fear all their lives - the not knowing is the worst of all. But, somehow, we overcome.

Friday, January 9, 2015


If it could only be as easy as a wish for courage like The Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, we - like he - would all recognize our inner strength and latch onto it for dear life.

But it's not that simple, is it? For some of us, due to chronic illness, PTSD, depression, or other physical or mental ailments, finding the courage to go forward is a daily battle. For others, they choose to end their suffering by completing suicide.

This month, I am honored to be working with Scudder Intervention Services Foundation, Inc. (SISFI) on their Suicide Awareness and Prevention Tour in New York City, Long Island and Westchester County, NY. While I relied on SISFI for support myself after my brother's suicide almost a year-and-a-half ago, I was shocked to learn that during their September tour they interrupted 192 attempted suicides! That's something else!!

The difference with SISFI's 'troops' is that they are truly 'boots on the ground;' that is, they go to the person in crisis rather than referring them to an agency that may only be open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. At any hour of the day or night, SISFI volunteers are available to personally talk to and/or visit individuals in crisis.

As Mr. Brett A. Scudder, SISFI president says: "“It is imperative that our communities rally together to be educated and aware of the mindset of someone suffering with emotional distress and the early warning signs to intervene and prevent them from hurting themselves or taking their life because they feel alone."

And that, in my opinion, takes lots of courage. The suicidal person is in tremendous pain and Scudder's team will go to them and simply hold their hand or talk or listen or give them a hug and tell them they are not alone. Certified in suicide prevention, Scudder knows that traditional avenues available to those in crisis are highly clinical and limited. The goal is to train and deploy dozens of volunteer Mental Health First Aid Responders in communities across his service area and, in the future, beyond.

We must change the paradigm of how we respond to those in distress. We must go to them rather than making them come to us. We must not just be another faceless voice instructing the person what to do on Monday morning.

Hear, hear for SISFI and let's make their mission statement our own:


This, my friends, will take lots of courage.


Monday, December 29, 2014

Beginning to end...

We begin so many times in our lives - at birth, first tooth, walking, school, college, career, marriage and so on. We also end equally as many times through changes in personal habits or work, residences, loves, friendships, health, diet and death - either ours or of those we love. Call it a metamorphosis or an analogy of life.

As a young girl I simply wanted to wander in wonder all the days of my life. I wanted to let life unfold and be an observer. I guess that's why I became a journalist as my first career. But stuff happened and plans went awry. And then I got really tired; exhausted by all the daily challenges and changes and hiccups. I (and you) ask ourselves if we can make it through another day.

And we do.

And we delight in the amazing, wonderful things that occur - even the tiniest of treasures, like a bite of a ripe banana.

We also mourn lost opportunities, friendships, or people who've passed away - especially the folks, places or things that held a piece of our soul.

Merriam-Webster's definition of soul is:

The spiritual part of a person that is believed to give life to the body and, in many religions, is believed to live forever; a person's deeply felt moral and emotional nature; the ability of a person to feel kindness and sympathy for others, to appreciate beauty and art, etc.

There are two instances in my life when I knew I truly connected with my soul. The first was when I had Stage IVB cancer and near death experiences and the second has been since my brother died in August 2013.

A sense of soulful, holy spirit is what we are supposed to feel during the holiday season and many of us do. This year, however, I feel I floated through Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas - detached and alone even though I was surrounded by the love of others. I am thankful for the souls on 'the other side' who made themselves known to me either by images and scents or simply the awareness that they are nearby. Meditation is also a great tool that helps me reconnect my soul to those beyond my reach.

My soul remains raw yet intact. The pieces that have been lost to me will eventually return to fill me up more deeply but differently; like new, bold colors that stay within the lines.. At least that's how I envision it.

And because I know myself better than any other soul, I want to end this post with a humorous quote by children's activist, trumpet player, music producer, songwriter, and television producer Quincy Jones.

"I've always thought that a big laugh is a really loud noise from the soul saying, "Ain't that the truth."
Quincy Jones, Victory of the Spirit

T'is true, indeed. Happy, healthy New Year to all.