So for the last 2 years, I’ve been volunteering with the UBC Health Mentor’s Program. The way this program works is that 4 future health care professionals are matched with a Health Mentor who has a chronic illness and/or disability or is a caregiver to someone with chronic illness and/or disability. The program offers students the opportunity to learn about patient-centred care and collaborative care through working with their mentor and fellow group members for a period of 16 months. This program has been accredited as part of their formal education and includes students from the medicine, nursing, dentistry, pharmacy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, dietetics and speech and language pathology & audiology. I am just in the process of finishing up with my current cohort, which is my second group of students and waiting to hear about a third.
These students are so excited and invested in the experience and want to learn as much as they possibly can. What sometimes happens is that something I’ve said really stands out to them as a key piece of learning. Often they will say to me “I remember when you said….” and cite an example of something that hit home for them that they remember. I find it fascinating what gems they glean from our shared experience.
One day I was talking about how sometimes, when I am going through a particularly rough time physically, how onerous it can be to have multiple doctors appointments, tests or treatments in different cities and different hospitals taking up multiple days in a week or a month. It can get pretty overwhelming and leads to what I call “patient burnout”. When I mentioned this in passing to my students that day, it immediately got a reaction. “Patient burnout?!? That’s a THING?!? I thought just doctors got burnout?” This launched a very interesting discussion about how it feels to have to continuosly make myself vulnerable to medical professionals when I’m not feeling well and how emotionally exhausting a period of intense medical care can be. It had never occurred to them that this could even happen or how it might affect patients.
Given how sick I was in August and the fact that I spent 12 out of 31 days at a hospital having either a doctor’s appointment, a treatment or a test I’m feeling quite burnt out right now. I still have 2 more major appointments in the next two weeks to get through and at this point, while they are necessary, I am gritting my teeth just to get through them.
So what am I doing about it? Well one thing I’m doing is putting a moratorium on medical appointments in October. Yes, I am taking the month off. Unless I am bleeding out the eyes (seriously, that has happened to me!) I am not going in. Sometimes you have to say NO to these things in order to say YES to yourself. I am also going on a brief holiday that I booked months ago which now couldn’t come at a better time. I’ll be spending time in the mountains hiking and enjoying a change of scenery with my husband and best dog at my side. That always helps me feel grounded and refreshed again.
Self-care is always a work in progress. Sometimes, when I am in the thick of dealing with medical stuff, I have to just stop, take a breath and ask myself “What do I need right now?” Sometimes I need to call my best friend and vent. Sometimes I need to connect with my support group to know I’m not alone. Sometimes I need to escape to the movie theatre for a couple hours for a mental break. Sometimes I need to put my hands to work in my studio and sometimes I just need a good hug.
I believe our mental health affects our physical health, so the more self-care I practice, the better off I will be. If I feel myself bordering on patient burnout, then it’s my responsibility to take immediate action. Prevention is nine tenths the cure!