Monday, August 11, 2008

Why I am Well (Part 3)

Before the end of my first meeting with Dr. Michaels,* my doctor of integrative medicine, she wrote a prescription for me to take a number of blood tests at the hospital. Because I was 53 years old at the time, one of the tests was to see if I was menopausal, but the rest were fairly standard--as I remember.

Personally, I thought it was a great idea. Because of the cost of my psychiatric bills in the preceding decade, I had stopped going to my general practitioner because we could no longer afford it. While this isn't something I would recommend, we had taken a huge financial hit because of my inability to work, most of the psychiatric costs weren't covered, and so the only other doctors I saw with regularity were my gynecologist and dentist. In fact, I had always been a very healthy person--aside from my depressions--and there was no reason to suspect otherwise.

Still, over the preceding ten-year-period I had taken 25 psychiatric medications, all of which were terribly risky in my estimation and many of which could cause long-term damage. One only has to read the information on them in The Pill Book, which had become my bedside bible of sorts.

And I'm still sure the medication wreaked havoc with my brain because it took four years (during which I took Adderrall and Ativan when I needed them, but nothing else) to regain normalcy. (Right now I'm off all medication although I wouldn't hesitate to use either again if I truly needed it.)

Anyway, my point is that I think annual doctor's examinations are critical, particularly if you remain on toxic medication. And I was relieved that Dr. Michaels thought to have my blood tested. As I remember, she was also checking my thyroid because an any irregularity in that area could have caused some of my symptoms. I have no idea what the rest of the tests proved, although she explained the results at the time. When the results came back, it wasn't surprising that I tested "normal" for everything.

Finally, as I was ready to leave, she said, "Can I hug you?" I'm big on hugging so I said yes. Since none of my psychiatrists has ever touched me at all unless I reached out my hand to shake theirs, I was really pleased.

Lest you think this is some kind of California touchy-feely thing, the fact is that "touching" has true medicinal value. In The Lost Art of Healing: Practicing Compassion in Medicine, Nobel prize winner Dr. Bernard Lown writes, "Lewis Thomas, in The Youngest Science, comments wisely that touching is the oldest and most effective tool in doctoring. This statement rings true for me. I am persuaded that touching a patient provides advantages to the internist, as compared to the psychiatrist who sits removed and merely listens.

"Touching is a way of gaining significant insights. Frequently the conversation at first is impersonal. The relationship with the patient often alters dramatically after the physical examination. The remoteness dissipates, supplanted by comfortable easy-going conversation. Material that was neither divulged nor suspected emerges without much probing. Questioning is no longer resented. A stranger a few minutes earlier opens up with intimacies usually earned only through long and trusting friendships."

Has your psychiatrist ever hugged you? Would you like him/her to or not? Do you believe that touching promotes healing?

*This is a pseudonym.

15 comments:

Gianna said...

All my doctors in NC and none in CA (so no it's not touchy feely CA thing) hug me. They are all on board with me getting off meds too! They think I'm a real person worthy of love and touch!

This includes my neuropsych who does my neurofeedback (which I'm on break now) two different therapists, and two psychiatrists---one of whom is here and the other out of state---but near here.

I wouldn't have it any other way anymore!

But you made me realize that not a single therapist or doctor ever hugged me in CA.

I found my dream team...the doctors and therapists (I'm not in therapy anymore either) who really wish me well here---the therapists were great people too! And they all HUG me...if I get back to my blog at some point I think I'll write about this...but I'm still not really writing...

this was a neat post that made me appreciate even more that I have real, loving people on my side that believe I can be well. And I think I drew them into my life. I started refusing anything else once I realized the drugs were poisoning me. I think it's a good measure of a real person who will actually listen if a doc is willing to touch you.

catatonickid said...

My psychiatrist has never hugged me but my psychologist has. She's a lot more relaxed about such things - not that's she's not uber professional but just that I share a lot more of the really crap stuff with her so that brings down the barriers for both of us, I reckon.

I do think touch promotes healing. It's the most human gesture we have, so how could it not?

Yes, there are of course boundaries to be aware of but sometimes a hug or a pat on the back says so much more than words alone. It communicates genuine presence and understanding, and that helps me recover after the hard knocks. It's about resilience - the kind that comes not from forever building and barricading walls but by really seeing and being with one another.

Wellness Writer said...

Gianna,
Wow! I'm really surprised and pleased for you. It does sound like you have truly kind and loving people on your wellness team. That is something to be grateful for!

Susan

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Catatonic Kid,
How nicely put! I agree that "a pat on the back or a hug says so much more than words alone."

Years ago, I remember crying for the first and one of the only times in therapy. And my therapist, whom I genuinely liked, just sat there and watched me. And I was devastated that I had finally broken down a huge barrier and she had chosen to keep her distance.

You're right. For me, it was about finally being willing to remove the barricade, but by her response, she kept it up!

Susan

Wellness Writer said...

Gianna and Catatonic Kid,
Thanks for sharing your own experiences on this topic. I didn't realize how important it is to me until I read your responses. It made me feel terribly sad that I went so long without finding people who were loving and caring. None of us should have to feel so alone in our quest for wellness.

Susan

Mariposa said...

Amazingly...all my doctors do hug me...every time I got for a check-up...even our family doctor! I'm blessed to have them...

And one thing about this post...you said...I was 53 then...oh my! I really thought you are way younger!!! For real! :)

I'm a bit better now...and today I woke up telling myself --Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.

(((HUGS)))

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Mariposa,
How nice that your doctors hug you! And I'm 58 (even older than you thought, huh?)! So glad to hear that you're feeling better. I was quite concerned about you!

Love,
Susan

From an acorn said...

New Zealanders would be mortified by a therapist or doctor who asked for a hug. To us, hugs are for friends, family and special relationships, not a routine doctor's visit. I would consider it a breach of professional boundaries and would think less of the person for even asking. The only time it would seem ok was if it occured within the realm of altenative health, but certainly not mainstream health.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear From an Acorn,
Well, you certainly present a different point of view although I can't imagine you speak for all New Zealanders, as I don't speak for everyone in the United States...just for myself!

Susan

catatonickid said...

=) You're so right, Susan. None of use should be alone with this, not a one.
We need comfort all the more when we're not well, and maybe even more than that when we're trying to stay well.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Catatonic Kid,
I couldn't agree more, and that's the reason I blog. I love the immediacy of the response. I love knowing that others are experiencing what I am. I love getting so much support.

Susan

kara said...

The thought of my pdoc hugging me isn't one I'm comfortable with at all. As for my therapist, I'd be okay with it once I got over the initial first hug, but it has never happened with the one I am currently seeing. This whole topic has made me a bit uncomfortable.

Then I start my job, working with
7th grade emotional disturbed/pyschological problems kids in a math class that's designed just for them. And as I'm interacting with the kids, walking from table to table, I find myself "touching" as much as I can. A pat on the back, etc...b/c I want to establish that relationship with them and I know they desperately need that touch from home lives and internal states being in such disarray.

It led me to back to your blog, pondering why I would be uncomfortable with a hug from professionals and tend to think those professional boundaries should exist when I'm put to work and make it a point to do the exact opposite for these kids. Guess I'm headed toward searching this out.

Wellness Writer said...

Kara,
I would agree that your desire to pat or touch the kids you're working with is no different than what I'm suggesting I would have liked from my therapist or psychiatrist.

Actually, maybe I should have said, "Hug, pat, or touch" rather than just "hug." Sometimes a pat is all we need. But, I'm a firm believer that "touching (appropriately, of course)is healing.

Susan
P.S. I think it's a sign of great emotional health that you're aware of the dichotomy between what you're doing with the kids and what you think you want from the people from whom you're seeking help!

kara said...

Thank you for that encouragement Susan. I am going to hold on to that and will be re-reading it til it's imprinted in me!!!

Enjoy the weekend.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Kara,
From all you've said, I believe you have the attitude to heal! So, if you're going to imprint anything on your brain, it should be this, "I know I can get well. Others have. I've got the right attitude, which is 95% of healing!"

Susan