This Wednesday: Seventeen tips for coping with a medical catastrophe.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Seventeen tips for coping with a medical catastrophe.

One of the things I’ve done for my Happiness Project is to read a lot of memoirs of catastrophe. Catastrophe takes many forms, but many of these memoirs involved medical crises.

Mercifully, I haven’t myself had an experience with a medical catastrophe. And believe me, I’m very grateful for that. As I was reading, I made notes on the writers’ advice about how to cope with one. It seems reductive to sum up these profound experiences in a tips list, but the writers themselves seemed eager to try to help others learn from what they went through.

Because, unfortunately, although these memoirs are packed with accounts of doctors, nurses, and others who were wonderful, they’re also crammed with stories about devastating problems and hideous frustration with doctors, nurses, and hospitals.

I took the following lessons:

1. Don’t go alone to a stressful doctor’s visit. You can’t listen well when you’re processing difficult information. You need support and another set of ears.

2. Bring a list of questions, take notes, and write everything down. Ask how to spell unfamiliar words – you’ll want to look them up or discuss with other people.

3. Or even use a tape-recorder.

4. Don’t feel like you have to make a decision on the spot. It’s very rare that action has to be immediate. Take the time to absorb the facts, learn about your condition, and consult other doctors.

5. Keep a binder in which you record everything you learn, every decision that’s made, everything that’s performed, every result you know.

6. Always bring all that information with you.

7. Remember, it’s okay to ask for a second opinion. You should.

8. It’s surprisingly important to like and respect your doctor. This matters!

9. Ask your doctor if you may contact him or her between visits, and if so, how?

10. Don’t be afraid to ask how many times the doctor has performed a particular procedure.

11. See if you can call ahead and find out if the doctor is running late before you head into an appointment.

12. Double-check everything you possibly can. When my father was in the hospital, his doctor told him not to drink anything, then a nurse urged him to take a pill with water—which would have been disastrous, if he’d done it. A friend who went through chemo had a special notebook where she wrote down her prescriptions, and checked her notes against the chemo bags before she allowed each treatment to proceed.

13. Always ask: Is this procedure, drug, etc. REALLY necessary? Do you really have to have that enema? Are there other, less invasive options? Over and over in the memoirs, I read about actions that weren’t really necessary that led to major pain or complications. Side effects, pain, difficulty of recovery, time in the hospital, risk of infection, possibility of medical mistake – these are real risks. Arthur Frank refused to sign a consent form when his doctor didn’t explain an operation to his satisfaction—and then ended up not having it at all.

14. Try to have someone with you as much as possible. After reading these memoirs, I would try my darndest never to let a family member stay one hour unaccompanied in a hospital.

15. Don’t postpone things—like seeing friends—until you’re “doing better.” You may never do better.

16. Manage pain!

17. This last one strikes me as quite unfair, but people with experience with medical catastrophes say that it does matter: try to be likeable. Gilda Radner, in particular, emphasized it in her absorbing memoir, It’s Always Something. Being gregarious and upbeat wins you more attention and care. It doesn’t seem fair that your likeability should matter at a time when you’re in pain and afraid. But it does. So try.

As I said, I’m in the very fortunate position of never having had to deal with a true medical catastrophe myself – either as a patient or as a sidekick. But my turn will come. The phone is going to ring. (Ask not for whom the phone rings, it rings for thee.)

If you have further suggestions about dealing with a medical crisis, it would be great to see them here, for everyone’s benefit.

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Karly at First Ourselves had a great post about how, during a particularly stressful time, she and her husband left a notebook in the bathroom and communicated by leaving notes for each other.

I don’t think that would work well for the Big Man and me, but I loved her idea of doing the same thing with children. The Big Girl would be enchanted — she’s in that note-writing stage. And the notebook would be a terrific keepsake.

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If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.

Once again, I remind myself to “Act the way I want to feel” and to “Spend out.”

I just finished Beth Lisick’s hilarious memoir, Helping Me Help Myself: One Skeptic, Ten Self-Help Gurus, and a Year on the Brink of the Comfort Zone. She writes about the year she spent trying to improve her life by following the advice of ten of America’s best self-help gurus: Suze Orman, Richard Simmons, Jack Canfield, John Gray, etc.

Ummm…sound a tiny bit familiar?

When I first heard about the book, I have to confess, it made me feel anxious and defensive. Kinda like the way I felt when I heard about A. J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically. And when I heard about Jennifer Niesslein’s Practically Perfect in Every Way.

But then I reminded myself – Hey, I’m always saying that EVERYONE should have a happiness project! Here is hers! Fabulous, the more the merrier! It will be great! Obviously, something is happening in our culture right now, when people are interested in undertaking these projects — count me in!

And I read her book, and it’s terrific. I actually laughed out loud, which I rarely do.

Helping Me Help Myself perfectly illustrates the fact that everyone’s Happiness Project is going to look different, because everyone’s life is different.

Beth’s life is very different from mine. For example, she and her husband often stay out late, going to see bands play. I’m trying to remember if ever, in our whole history together, the Big Man and I have ever gone to see a band. I don’t think so.

Beth is the kind of person who can show up in a new city, meet some people, and end up having dinner with them that night. And enjoy the process. This isn’t me.

But that’s the fun of it! — seeing how she lives, what challenges she faces, how she tries to become happier and better. Every happiness project is relevant to every other, because we learn about ourselves by learning about other people.

Ron Hogan of the publishing-news blog GalleyCat, a guy who is a role model for my resolution to “Bring people together,” introduced Beth and me when she was in town promoting her book. He figured we’d have a lot to talk about.

Well, Beth confessed that she’d had a similar reaction to my Happiness Project when she first heard about it. It made her anxious. Then, she said, she reminded herself about “Abundance.”

That’s exactly what I remind myself with my resolution, “Spend out.” I don’t need to hoard; I don’t need to begrudge others anything, I can trust to abundance. We can all write great books about our happiness projects!

I really do believe that repeating these reminders really does make a difference in my thinking. I have the mantra my sister taught me: People succeed in groups. I have the sign-off I use whenever I email anyone with a blog: “May we both have a million readers.”

By “Acting the way I want to feel” (Third Commandment), I transform my feelings so that I feel friendly, generous, enthusiastic. And that’s a much nicer feeling than cursing to myself every time I see a nice notice about Beth’s book.

The thing is my Happiness Project really DOES work. When I take the steps I know I should take, it does result in more happiness.

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New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.

In which I realize that I’m having trouble staying “mindful.”

I’ve been working on my mindfulness. Hmmm…but HOW?

I’m trying to stay more deeply in the present moment, to savor the seasons and this time of life, to stay focused on NOW rather than constantly fret about the future.

Current scientific studies show the benefits of being mindful, and certainly great religious leaders and philosophers have emphasized its importance. It’s hard for me to do, however.

For example, I just can’t bring myself to try meditating. Meditation holds zero interest for me — which, I know, probably means that I’m in all the more dire need of it. Ah well.

But just yesterday, I had a strange mindfulness (or rather, lack thereof) experience.

We’d spent a cozy family weekend together, mostly involving going to children’s birthday parties (four in three days!).

But last night, after the girls were both in bed, and I was heading to my desk to check my emails, I had the sensation that I was zooming back into my body and my life.

It was as if I were returning from a two-week trip. I felt as if I hadn’t seen any member of my family for many, many days. The very hallway in which I stood seemed fresh and unfamiliar.

It was very, very unnerving. If I was just getting back home – where had I been? I felt disoriented.

I have to think that this experience was somehow the consequence of not being mindfully present for the weekend. I hadn’t felt particularly distracted or preoccupied, but maybe I was just off in some other zone – and then got yanked back solidly into my life.

Weird. A good reminder of the importance of mindfulness.

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Lots of useful and thought-provoking material at the Ririan Project.

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New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.

This Saturday: a happiness quotation from Epicurus.

“We must, therefore, pursue the things that make for happiness, seeing that when happiness is present, we have everything; but when it is absent, we do everything to possess it.” –Epicurus

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The Hero Workshop is a very interesting site. Matt Langdon believes that by studying the hero’s journey and the character traits of heroes, people can embrace their role as the hero of their own lives — life takes on new meaning and people become empowered to make choices that are heroic.

He did an interview with me. It was fascinating to reflect on his questions.

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New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.

It’s Friday: time to think about YOUR Happiness Project. This week: Music meditation.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you should have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

This week’s assignment is a bit goofy and overspecific: if you have a sweetheart, go to iTunes, download Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You,” and dance around the room while thinking about all the things you love and appreciate about your sweetheart.

Here’s why.

I’m not a huge music lover, but every once in a while, I fixate on a song I really love – for example, the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s “Under the Bridge.”

The other day, while working in a diner, I overheard a song, “Praise You,” that I love but had forgotten about. I’m proud to say that I now possess the expertise to go to iTunes, buy a song, and load it onto my iPod. A major technological triumph for me.

Listening to this song flooded me with tender feelings for the Big Man. Yes, we have gone through the hard times and the good! Yes, I have to praise him like I should!

So find a song you love that fills you with happy feelings of love, gratitude, energy, or nostalgia. It could be the Gershwin song, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” or the Talking Heads’ “And She Was,” or “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music, or some terrific new song that I, of course, have never heard of.

If you get up and dance around the room while you listen, you’ll get extra happiness points.

Research shows that listening to music is an extremely effective way to boost mood and energy. It is an excellent way to induce a mood – the way “Praise You” induces feelings of gratitude and appreciation in me.

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New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.