Become empowered in your own healthcare

Photoshoot 2

At some time, we will each play the role of the patient.

In the 1991 film, The Doctor, William Hurt plays an arrogant physician who gets a taste of his own medicine when he is diagnosed with cancer. His experience from the patient’s perspective transforms his life and his practice.

My experience as a patient came early. As a child, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, hospitalized for two weeks and had more blood tests than most of my patients.

But the personal experience of both acute and chronic illness and receiving care from good doctors and nurses has informed both my calling to the profession and my practice.

The Burnaby Division of Family Practice is the non-profit organization of the family physicians that serve the people of our community. In our ongoing public education program, that includes free public lectures and information on the organization’s website, we seek to empower all members of the community.

Through our organization, the family physicians’ care for the patients of their own practices has expanded to the care of our community. We seek to raise the level of health knowledge and healthy living to support the wellbeing of all.

Although we’ve thought of ourselves as the big providers of healthcare, 90% of your healthcare is self-care – what you do for your self. The best predictor of your future health are the habits you practice today.

We’ve been promoting the four foundations of self-care: healthy eating, physical activity, healthy relationships and emotional wellbeing. The next three public lectures focus on empowering patients in their interactions with healthcare providers.

On March 4th, I’ll be talking at the Bonsor Community Centre about preventive care and the early recognition of illness. We’ll review the important screening tests (what tests you need at different ages) that identify medical conditions before symptoms appear. We’ll also talk about symptoms that may indicate conditions for which you should seek medical attention.

Although you may do your best with healthy living and preventive care, you might still find yourself in the hospital as I did. It can be a very unsettling experience and at times you may feel a loss of control. On March 27th at Confederation Centre, I’ll provide useful information on making the most of your hospital stay and ensuring you have the best experience.

On April 7th at the Bonsor Community Centre, we’ll discuss what you should know about medical ethics, including how to ensure your wishes are respected, who has access to your medical records and how to make informed decisions about medical interventions.

In the patient-doctor relationship, the patient comes first. The role of your healthcare providers is to support you in both managing illness and achieving your goals. We envision the Empowering Patients education program will provide some of that support.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician. For more information on the Burnaby Division of Family Practice’s public health education series, check our website at divisionsbc.ca/burnaby.

Posted in Empowering Healthcare, Medical Ethics, patient-doctor relationship, Positive Potential, Preventive Health, Screening Tests, Self-care | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Hundred Days to Happiness #26: The Call of This Day

Central Park, Burnaby

Central Park, Burnaby

In my last post, I wrote of the call to your life’s purpose as the intersection of your talents, your passions and the needs of the world. We often think of our life’s purpose as one overarching drive, and that often is the case.

But in our lives, we have different priorities and goals at each age. The needs of the young are not the same as the needs of our elders. That’s why parents can give advice to their adolescents, but the lessons aren’t fully learned without the experience of years. With the cycles of life, parents must be patient with their children just as their children may one day need to be patient with them.

Your calling as a child is to establish a sense of your self and your self-worth as a human being worthy of respect and love. You discover your talents, learning in school and from life. Your parents play a pivotal role in helping you establish your self-concept and your perspective on the world.

As a teen you have to cope with your emotions, your relationships with your peers and your role in society. You tread the line between independence and dependence on your parents.

In young adulthood, the focus may be on your career, making a living, establishing your own place and finding a significant other. As a parent, you are focussed on your children: the joys and challenges of parenting.

In midlife we look back at our lives, re-evaluate our goals and priorities. For some, it is a reaffirmation of our calling. For others, it can be an about face when we realize that we have not been true to our deepest values and passions.

The golden years is a time of looking back, taking stock of our lives and making sense of it all. It can be a time of generativity, giving to future generations, sharing what we have learned and accomplished over a lifetime.

But in every day of your life, there are many calls, and in an ordinary life, they are often missed. As you go about the busyness of your day, it is natural to miss the many opportunities to make a difference in your world and in particular, the lives of people around you.

I remember as a child shopping with my parents at a downtown department store. Maybe it was Woodward’s or The Bay. I had to go to the washroom . . . badly. I didn’t have a dime to get into a toilet stall. A kindly man noting my distress saved my day by giving me the dime that I needed.

Sometimes you can do something that may seem small to you but can make a big difference for someone else, but to do that small kindness requires a kind and open heart and the will to do what needs to be done.

You and I are capable of these small, significant acts each and every day. We just have to look for them.

So to answer the call – where your talents and passions meet the needs before you – does not have to wait for your work of a lifetime. You can answer the call every day, even many times throughout a day.

Your happiness exercise for today (and every day): Look for an opportunity to do what you can to help others in need, and answer the call by seizing that opportunity. You will discover that in the process, you will meet your own need to make a positive difference in our world.

Posted in Compassion, Happiness, Positive Potential, Purpose, Your Calling, Your Goals | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Hundred Days to Happiness #25: Moving forward from the wasteland

Wasteland or Beach? Davidicus Wong

Wasteland or Beach? Davidicus Wong

In his poem, The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot said, “April is the cruelest month.” The waste land refers to a state of spiritual desolation, a life without hope and meaning. It is a reference to the Grail legends, wherein the wounded king’s domain lies in ruins. It can also refer to modern times.

In a lifetime, we weather many storms. At times, sorrow rains, but at our core we remain dry. At others, joy shines upon us, yet we still cast shadows. In good times and in bad, there is a constant though sometimes imperceptible wind; what is this that can sustain us through the vagaries of life?

In 2003, April was indeed the cruelest month for me. The sudden death of my mother was a shock. Although I was fortunately old and wise enough to have already valued and nurtured my relationship with her, the loss struck with stark finality.   It seemed as if all was lost.

It is no coincidence that Easter is celebrated in early spring, when the sun shines longer and the cherry blossoms bloom. Life emerges from the dark, dead of winter. We are ready for renewal.

The cyclical changing of the seasons informs our perceptions of time and mortality. Change is inevitable, indeed constant. Death is an unavoidable part of life.

Although we recognize repeating patterns and relationships, we are caught up in a dynamic of change, always moving forward in time until we meet our own end. We and everything in our world are never exactly the same from moment to moment.

Many when confronted by inevitable change, struggle to cope. Some see their cup of life as half full; others, half empty. In the golden years, a few see that cup as chipped and nearly dry.

I choose to see through the illusion of the cup. My world is infinitely grand. It is filled not with a finite amount of water but rather an ocean. It is teeming with life, mystery and adventure. It is ever changing, yet nothing of value is completely lost; it is transformed.

We are buffeted by the waves and storms of life, but no matter how great the storm, we can enjoy calm waters a few metres below the surface. We must each nurture a central core of peace. It is an inner strength that can sustain us throughout the great and small changes of life.

The grail which can rescue each of us from the waste land is an abiding sense of purpose. It requires us to be open to shift perspectives, to calmly revisit our deepest values and goals. It is these that will serve as compasses as we find our way out of desolation.

Life is all about relationships. My relationship with my mother did not end with her passing. Her greatest values, her wisdom and her love are inseparable from my own character. I see her and her influence in my father, sister, brother and each of her grandchildren. I appreciate the continuity of the past, present and future.

The key to living more fully and consciously is to remember what matters most. In your interactions with others, recognize that the present represents yesterday’s dreams and tomorrow’s memories. Treat and cherish your loved ones accordingly.

Posted in Coping with Loss, Easter, Emotions, Happiness, Letting Go, Love, Purpose, Relationships | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

#24 Discovering your purpose in life

Sunset in La Puerta, Mexico by Nicole Kinnear

Sunset in La Puerta, Mexico by Nicole Kinnear

When I talk to my kids about their future careers, I know that what they decide to do with their lives will be shaped by their life experiences. Though they may have passion in a number of areas today, they will discover more of themselves as their lives unfold.

I draw for them three large circles analogous to the model used in the business classic, “From Good to Great”. In that book, Jim Collins asserted that great companies chose as their business the intersection of three great circles representing (1) what they did better than any other company, (2) what they were passionate about, and (3) the needs of the world.

I see potential in each of us, and when I look at my kids and talk to patients, both adolescents and adults at a crossroads in their lives, I draw them those three large circles.

The first circle represents your passions. What do you love to do? What would you be willing to do for free? What could you do for hours at a time and instead of feeling exhausted, you feel energized?

The second circle represents your talents. What do you do better than anyone else? What comes easiest to you? In what area of your life can you become great if you had the right training and put in enough practice?

The third circle represents the needs of the world. How can you use your talent and passion to meet the needs of others?

The intersection of these three circles – your passions, your talents and the needs of the world – is your calling – what you need to do. Your calling is not icing on the cake when the rest of your life is looked after. It is the purpose of your life. It is your gift to the world.

Your happiness exercise for the day: Try this exercise today. Take a blank piece of paper and draw three intersecting circles. In the first, write what you are passionate about. In the second, what you do better than anyone else (your friends and family may help you here). In the third, look for the needs of your world.

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A Hundred Days to Happiness #23: Finding Your Calling

 

My mom, Ina

Sometimes if you’re lucky, life takes you in the direction of your calling – the place you call home, when you are engaged and empowered by a sense of purpose greater than yourself. More often, however, you can lose your way with endless detours. Some of those detours can be meaningful; some may be distractions.

If you’re fortunate, the circumstances of your life may seem perfect and sufficient to make you happy. But sometimes having a good marriage, well-behaved kids, a comfortable home and enough food is not enough. Without a deep sense of purpose, you may still feel incomplete.

For most of us, life isn’t perfect. Sometimes, events don’t go our way. Relationships are rarely maintenance-free. Kids will go through difficult phases. Yet if we have an abiding sense of purpose, it can give us the strength to endure the challenges of our lives and still be happy.

Your calling may not necessarily be your original career choice. It becomes obvious sooner or later when your work is aligned with your deepest passions. In spite of success and promotions, if what you do every day does not engage your true self, you will feel unfulfilled and incomplete. Despite outward success, happiness may still elude you.

As a child growing up in Vancouver, my mother was very bright, and she hoped one day to go to university. I remember my mom’s gift with words and her love of books. I would go to the Burnaby Public Library with her as a child, and we would both reach our limit on the number of books we could borrow at one time. In an alternate universe, I believe my mom would have been a writer.

But tragedy intervened. By age nine, my mom lost both her parents, and in order for her brothers and sisters to stay together, they all had to work to support the family. The older siblings worked to support the younger ones still in school. My mom studied to do secretarial work.

My mom found her calling in her devotion to family – originally in her family of origin and later the family she nurtured with my dad. She always impressed upon me the enduring value of family, especially when I was a teen and thought friends and girlfriends were more important.

When her three children were grown up, my mom’s sense of family and friendship expanded. Her circle of concern and care expanded into the community, and her time and energy were devoted to making the world a little kinder and happier for others.

I wonder if I would have discovered my calling without the devotion of my mother. She gave me a love of books and of writing. She nurtured my creativity. She modelled care and concern beyond my own self-interests and beyond family. She inspired me to do my part to make the world a better place for others.

Your calling isn’t always what you first choose. Life can intervene but when it does and you listen, you may hear a deeper meaning – perhaps a still small voice that will empower you to live your life’s potential and allow you to discover ever greater happiness.

Today’s happiness exercise:  Ask yourself today, “Have I discovered my calling, and am I answering it in what I do today?”  If not, reflect on your life so far. What were your passions and talents as a child? What has life taught you? What is it telling you now?

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A Hundred Days to Happiness #22: Your Power to Choose

Gibsons - Davidicus Wong

Gibsons – Davidicus Wong

Stress is an essential part of our daily lives, and at times, we can feel overwhelmed.

How can you regain control, and how can you be happy in the face of stress?

It’s essential to recognize two things. First, enduring happiness isn’t found when life is perfect because life doesn’t work that way. We, and every aspect of our lives, are ever changing. Different aspects of our lives may be working well while others are not. If your happiness depends on an idyllic stress-free life, you’ll rarely find it, and when you do, it won’t last.

Second, even at the most stressful times in your life, there are some things within your control. When you’re overwhelmed and feeling helpless, you may only see the immovable obstacles and your inability to cope with them.

Yet in almost every situation, you have some choice. The key is to recognize your options and your power to choose. This may be a change in strategy, perhaps a different approach or a shift in attitude. It may be a decision to take a detour or a modification of your short or long-term goals.

I remind patients – and myself – in the face of a difficult situation, that there are three choices. Leave it, change it or reframe it.

If you hate your job, you could consider quitting, but if you don’t have something better lined up, you could try to improve your work conditions.

The greatest stressors for employees can be the workload – too much to do without sufficient time and support to get it all done – or relationships with coworkers. A good and sympathetic manager may be approachable and helpful in addressing these issues.

The third choice is to think about your work in a different way. Is it your attitude that is the problem? Will this job be more tolerable if you see it as a steppingstone to where you plan to be in the future? If you choose to keep this job, would a change in your approach make it more enjoyable?

If you’re coping with a difficult relationship, you again have three choices. I’ve had patients who were struggling in their marriage but when they recognized that they had a choice to stay or leave, that power of choice helped them recognize why they chose to stay.

In the context of our whole lives, our relationships are much more meaningful, and unlike a job, we shouldn’t end a marriage because a better offer came up. We can transform our relationships if we look at one another in new ways and if we make the relationship a priority rather than a competition. Too often, spouses keep an internal list of rights and wrongs, what they’re giving up and how they’re giving in. A relationship is not so much about compromise as it is about growing emotionally and growing together. We can grow personally as we grow in love.

However, if you are stuck in an abusive relationship, you shouldn’t compromise your own dignity, self-respect and self-worth as an individual. You shouldn’t compromise your most important values.

If you’re stressed and unhappy at school, quitting may not be an option. Yet you should ask if your course of study is aligned with what you really want to do with your life. Years of study have to be fueled by your personal passion. What can you do to improve your course load or improve your performance? Do you need more rest? Do you need to be more efficient?

During life’s most challenging times, remember your power to choose.

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A Hundred Days to Happiness #21: Happiness in the Face of Stress

Prague Castle

Prague Castle

 

Stress is an essential part of everyday life. In fact, we need positive stress, or what Hans Selye called eustress, to move forward, grow and achieve our potentials. My son needs that little extra help to get out of bed on a school day; otherwise, he’d be in bed all morning.

Distress, however, is from negative stress or stress that overwhelms us. This can affect us mentally and physically. It can take the form of competing demands from your work, school, home or social lives, an abusive or adversarial relationship, or situations that seem beyond your control.

We function at our best when the challenge of our activities matches our resources and abilities. An example would be the perfect job that absorbs all of your attention, engages your talents and provides you with the time and support you need.

When your abilities far exceed the task at hand, you’d be underachieving and you’d feel bored. You need enough challenge to bring out your best.

If the demands of the situation are beyond what you can manage, you experience increasing stress. A common example is a job in which you’re doing the work of two people, there’s not enough time to get everything done and you don’t even have time to take your lunch break.

Chronic mounting stress can lead to burnout. If we feel that the mounting stress is exceeding our abilities, we begin to feel helpless, and that helplessness commonly results in anxiety. We will have difficulties relaxing, sleeping and enjoying each day.

Over time, continued overwhelming stress can lead to feelings of hopelessness, and this can eventually lead to depression. At this point, we lose our motivation, enthusiasm and capacity for positive experiences. Even if we’re not teenagers, we might have difficulty just getting out of bed.

The key is the locus of control. We are most distressed and unhappy when we feel powerless in our lives – if our actions feel futile, if our dreams are repeatedly shattered, if our feelings are not acknowledged or if our voices are not heard.

This is important for teachers and parents to recognize – that we must listen carefully to hear a child’s voice.

Your happiness exercise for today:

Ask where you are on the spectrum of stress. What are the major stressors in your life and how are you coping? Are you experiencing enough challenge in school or work? Are you feeling fully engaged? Are you growing and moving forward?

Or are you feeling distressed by your situation or your workload? If you are, what aspects of the situation are under your control? What are your choices?

Posted in Emotions, Happiness, stress management, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment