Categories
Caregiving Empowering Healthcare Uncategorized

Caring for the Caregiver

On Saturday, March 25th, 2017 from 10 am to 3:30 pm, I’ll be joining a number of other speakers at the Burnaby Seniors Outreach’s Caregiver Expo at the Bonsor Recreation Complex, 6550 Bonsor Avenue, Burnaby. For more information, call (604) 291-2258 or check the website at www.bsoss.org.

On Friday, April 7th, 2017 at 7 pm, I’ll be speaking at the Vancouver Convention Centre East, 999 Canada Place, Vancouver as part of the Tapestry Foundation for Health Care’s public presentation series. My topic: Going Beyond Old Stories – Exploring, Engaging and Evolving into Our Positive Potentials. I’ll be talking about the challenges of evolving positively in an ever-changing, unpredictable world to achieve our highest potentials and support others in achieving theirs. See more at http://www.tapestryfoundation.ca

Caregivers take on a role on top of their other roles in life. They may need to manage the financial, medical and household affairs of a family member while still attending to their own. They may be sandwiched between caring for their growing children and their aging parents. There is only so much time. You only have so much energy, yet you remain on call 24/7.

Many adult children look after elderly parents, uncles and aunts and see it as paying back for the love and care they received as children. Sometimes our feelings towards our family members are mixed. None of us is perfect as a child or a parent. We all make mistakes and we easily fall into patterns of behavior and rigid ways of relating to our family members.

Sometimes family members may resist the change in roles. In the face of growing disability, they may struggle for their independence and refuse the help they need. They may persist in the role of being in charge though they may lack the capacity to make appropriate decisions.

Caregivers therefore experience a mix of emotions. While still caring deeply, they may feel frustration and resentment with their roles and how they are treated. Outstanding issues in their past relationships may add further conflict to their lives today.

At times, the demands of caregiving can be overwhelming, and as family members’ disability and dependence increase as it always does, there inevitably will be a point when you can reach your limit. You may break down in tears, lose your temper or feel like giving up, and when this happens, you may feel guilty about it.

Caregivers of course are at risk for Caregiver Stress. They need to be aware of the signs and symptoms and know when and how to get the help they need.

Over time, chronic stress can lead to a sense of helplessness, which is associated with anxiety. If this persists, we may acquire a sense of hopelessness, which in turn is associated to depression.

These feelings in turn will shade our thinking, influence our behavior and impact our capacity to help ourselves as well as our family members.

When we are suffering from anxiety, we will be prone to panic. Our thoughts may be more disorganized and we may be preoccupied with worries. We underestimate our resources and abilities. We overestimate our challenges. We will have difficulty sleeping. We may catastrophize – imagining the worst case scenario – everyday.

When we are depressed, we may feel weepy, dejected and hopeless. Physically, we may have changes in our appetite and sleep. We will feel tired, lethargic and unmotivated. We may stop enjoying the little pleasures in life. Our concentration and memory may suffer. We may be pessimistic about ourselves, our lives and the future.

If you recognize these signs of distress, anxiety or depression, speak to your family doctor soon. Don’t delay and put your health last. Remember: your wellbeing will affect your ability to care for others.

With chronic conditions, we have to recognize that there may be a time when we are no longer able to care for our family member at home. Ideally, we would have these discussion early on, discussing as a family possible scenarios for future care either with homecare support or residential care at a long term care facility or assisted living. Another option is respite care – a short-term stay at a residential facility for a weekend or a week. This may allow the primary caregiver to take a much needed break.

The conversation should start early because we really want to respect the preferences and values of the individual. If we wait too long, our family member may no longer be capable of making important decisions.

 

Categories
Caregiving Compassion Coping with Loss Forgiveness Friendship Letting Go Love Relationships

Live with the end in mind

Nitobe Memorial Garden, UBC (Davidicus Wong)

Mindfulness of death is a Buddhist practice that informs more meaningful living.

If anything can happen anytime and if your next breath was your last breath, you would pay attention to the quality of each remaining moment of your life – every sensation, thought, word and action.

If this was your last week or today was your last day, what would you do differently?

You may update your facebook . . . or you might not.

Would you spend more time on social media, go shopping one last time, go to your favourite restaurant and eat all you can? Would you reflect on your life in retrospect, recognize what really matters and spend your remaining time there?

If you had one last chance to talk to the people you love, what would you say?

Dr. Ira Byock, a palliative care physician wrote in his book, “The Four Things That Matter Most” that those four things are what we need to say to our loved ones before we part: “Please forgive me,” “I forgive you,” “Thank you,” and “I love you.”

We are all human and imperfect. We hurt the people we love, and they hurt us. We take one another for granted. We don’t always speak or act in loving ways.

If we knew our time together was limited, we might be kinder, more patient and loving. The truth is our lives are indeed limited, and few of us knows how much time we have left. In fact, the only ones who know this have been diagnosed with a terminal condition.

My mother died suddenly in April 13 years ago.

I was fortunate that my profession had taught me how precious life was and that I was able to give back to my mom the love that she gave me. Yet I have often thought of how her kind and generous presence would have enriched my life and those of my children if she was still here.

When grieving, I recalled every word from those who offered comfort. One patient said that to die suddenly is a good way to go. Ten years later, that patient would die from end-stage congestive heart failure. Without warning or in palliative care: neither is easy for loved ones.

Last year, my dear aunt passed away in palliative care at St. Michael’s Hospice. She was surrounded by her loving family, and we all had the opportunity to express our love and gratitude for all that she had done for each of us.

Palliative care focuses on the comfort of the patient suffering from a life-limiting condition. The aim is the best possible quality of life even in the final stages of illness.

It takes a team to attend not only to the physical aspects of care but just as importantly the psychological and spiritual. Patients with their families and friends are supported by a team that includes nurses, doctors and volunteers.

Since 1986, the Burnaby Hospice Society has provided trained volunteers to offer emotional and practical support at home, in hospitals and in long term care facilities to those with life-threatening illnesses and their families. They also offer free grief counseling to family members.

On Sunday, May 1st, the Burnaby Hospice Society will be hosting the 2016 Hike for Hospice at Central Park to raise money for these services. The cost is $25/person (children under 12 are free). For more information, see their website at burnabyhospice.org.

Though we cannot predict how our lives will unfold, we can live with the end in mind. We can invest in our most important relationships with the gift of each day and each moment together. We can stop wasting our time, doing things that don’t matter, holding grudges or putting ourselves before others. In the end, what can we hold on to?

We can say what needs to be said. We can use each moment more mindfully. We can express all the love we have in our hearts because it’s only worth something when we give it away. We can’t take it with us.

Davidicus Wong is a family physician and his Healthwise columns appear regularly in the Burnaby Now, Vancouver Courier, Royal City Record and Richmond News.

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Nitobe Memorial Garden, UBC (Davidicus Wong)
Categories
Caregiving Love Medical Ethics patient-doctor relationship Positive Potential Purpose Relationships Your Calling Your Goals

Find your inspiration!

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To make the most of this life, we must make the most of each day.

What inspires you to rise out of bed each morning, do what needs to be done, pursue your goals and give the extra effort that makes a difference? What gets you through the in between times with a mountain range of challenges between you and your destination?

From an early age, I was hooked on reading. By grade 6, I had finished reading the World Book Encyclopedia and spent hours each week at the McGill Branch Public Library in North Burnaby. Like my mom, each week, I would borrow my limit of books.

I was inspired by Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence people and James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh. I learned much more from countless books, and my eyes opened to an expanding horizon of possibilities.

So enriched and moved by the writing of others, I imagined how wonderful it would be to help and inspire others with my own words some day.

For ten days in grade 6, I had a flare-up of rheumatoid arthritis with rashes, fevers and painful joints. On Burnaby Hospital’s pediatric ward, I was cared for by my doctors and nurses who weren’t treating a disease but rather me as a whole person. I trusted them to do their best for me, and it was then that I decided to be a physician – to give forward the care that I had been given and to care for others when they are most in need.

An inspiration can get us started on a path, but what keeps us going?

We can be most inspired by those we serve. When I became a parent, the awesome responsibility of caring for a helpless baby, loving unconditionally and nurturing each of my children to their greatest potential was the greatest of callings.

I had to rise to this responsibility and strive to be my best to give my best. My children have made me a better person.

As a physician, I developed my golden rule of medicine: treat every patient with the same degree of care and consideration I would want for a best friend or family member. For any of my patients, I refer to the same colleagues and order the same tests in the same time frame that I would want for those in my personal life.

The needs of my patients have inspired me to be a better physician. I am inspired and supported by a few of my colleagues, including my classmate, Dr. John Law, who like me, commit to continuous quality improvement in their clinical skills and looking outside of the box, learn advanced techniques to meet the needs of our patients.

The most inspiring physicians learn from one another and from their patients.

In your personal life, whom do you serve? Look both inside and out of your own home, community and workplace. If there is a need, can you rise to meet it?

Each day presents us with infinite opportunities to make a difference big or small – to lift up the hearts of a few people and to live a meaningful life.

Celebrate Inspiration Day from 10:30 am to 1 pm on Saturday, February 6th at Century House at 620 Eight Street in New Westminster. I’ll be there to enjoy the entertainment of the Century House Singers and Comedians and give the keynote presentation. Admission is $5. Call (604) 519-1066 for more information.

Davidicus Wong is a family physician and his Healthwise columns appear regularly in the Burnaby Now, Royal City Record, Richmond News and Vancouver Courier. For more on achieving your positive potential in health, see his website at www.davidicuswong.wordpress.com.

Categories
Caregiving Compassion Coping with Loss Emotions Empathy Empowering Healthcare Friendship Growth Love Meditation

The Reality of Change

St Stephen's Basilica, Budapest, Hungary
St Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest, Hungary

There is a stereotype that older people can’t keep up with change. Family members will laugh at the blinking display of the unset DVD player (or for the even less adaptable, VCR).

And the older we get, the more quickly time passes and trends change.

But there is wisdom in aging. With time, we see that change is constant and inescapable – in politics, technology, economics and fashion. We learn to be cautious about taking anything for granted because everything changes.

With the insight of change, the wisest give up pinning their happiness to that which doesn’t last: material things, the hottest fashion, the latest Apple product, wealth, popularity and youth.

But for most of us, change is a source of suffering.

As we age, many lament the loss of vigour, the outward signs of aging, illness, and separation from loved ones. We have expectations and when these are thwarted, we grieve their loss. We may feel powerless and in despair.

But if we see life as it is, we will recognize that change is inevitable.

Instead we live with the unexamined expectations that our careers will run smoothly, our relationships won’t change, jobs won’t end, we and those we love will live forever: we won’t age, suffer accidents, become ill or die.

We all know better. Yet we approach each day ignoring reality, taking for granted the beautiful gifts we hold for a moment, acting unkindly to those who may not be here tomorrow, and letting pass by even the smallest opportunities to make a positive difference in our fragile world.

An empowering psychological principle is the locus of control. Some in the midst of change, feel helpless (and thus anxious) then hopeless (and ultimately depressed). They do not feel a sense of control in a sea of change.

But if in a changing world, we recognize the ways we can exert control – where our intentions and actions can make a positive difference, we feel empowered.

If you had a limited amount of cash that had to be spent today, what would you choose to do with it? If you had just one more day to spend with someone you loved, what would you say and what would you do? If you had just this day to make a positive difference in the world, what would you do today?

Would you spend another moment holding onto the past, complaining, watching TV, doing meaningless work or shopping?

I bet you won’t.

Tsongkhapa wrote eloquently of the preciousness of a human life.

“The human body at peace with itself is more precious than the rarest gem.

Cherish your body. It is yours this one time only. The human form is won with great difficulty. It is easy to lose.

All worldly things are brief like lightning in the sky. This life you must know as the tiny splash of a raindrop, a thing of beauty that disappears even as it comes into being.

Therefore set your aspiration and make use of every day and night to achieve it.”

On Thursday, September 10th, 2015 from 7 to 8:30 pm, I’ll present a free public presentation in the Visitor Centre at the VanDusen Botanical Garden (5251 Oak Street, Vancouver). As part of the Tapestry Foundations for Health Care’s Dialogue on Aging public presentation series, I’ll be talking about “Achieving Your Positive Potential at Any Age.” For information and registration, call (604) 806-9486 or check online at http://www.tapestryfoundation.ca/education/public-presentation-series.

Categories
Caregiving Coping with Loss Grace Happiness Healthy Living Love Purpose

#2 The Formula for Happiness

Prague
Prague

Vera is one of my dearest patients. As an immigrant, she has worked hard her whole life, committing herself to both husband and son. In the face of his incredible health challenges, she and her husband stood by their son and raised him to be a wonderful young man.

She enjoys the simple pleasures in life – a movie with friends, a hot cup of tea and beautiful art, and she takes pleasure in thinking of others. I’ve lost track of the many sweet things she has given my daughter.

Some of my most generous, gracious and genuinely happy patients do not have a lot of money but like Vera and her family, they live a life rich in value. They give more than they take. They are thankful for what they have, and they appreciate what others do for them.

If there was a formula for happiness, it would be this. Happiness is 30% reality and 70% perception. We don’t always get what we choose, but we can choose to make the most of what we have.

Some of my most unhappy patients are the wealthy. Their materialism has no upper limit. For them, having so much makes them want even more and raises their expectations. They demand special treatment and a place at the front of the queue.

Every day, I see the full spectrum of health, life and relationships, and it is tragic to see how little we appreciate what we have when we have it. I see some fathers missing out on time with their young children not realizing how quickly they will grow. I see teens resenting their parents and itching to break free, not realizing how much they are loved and how much they can hurt. I see husbands and wives, parents and children complaining and taking one another for granted, not realizing how they will grieve when life ends unexpectedly.

Life is a tragic comedy. We long for what we think will make us happy, don’t appreciate it when we have it, and grieve when we lose it.

Much unhappiness comes from the unrealistic expectations that I call the myth of life – that life will be perfect and we will be happy when we get everything that we want. The reality is that life is neither fair nor perfect. People get sick and encounter misfortune even if they don’t have bad habits or do bad things. Even when you get what you want – good looks, a dream job, a new car, a beautiful home and a great partner, you can’t keep them. All things change, and we all will die some day.

Though life is not perfect, it can give you enough to be happy. Though we are not perfect, there is enough in each of us to love and be loved.

Since February 1st, I’ve been sharing the insights I’ve learned from my patients, friends and family. Each day, I’m posting one new insight on facebook.com/davidicus.wong, twitter.com/DrDavidicusWong and my blog, davidicuswong.wordpress.com.

Categories
Caregiving Emotions

Let’s talk about your emotional health

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Your emotional wellbeing is an essential part of your health, but many patients only see their doctors when something is wrong with their bodies.

In the daily reality of my family practice, I assist patients coping with overwhelming emotions, troublesome thoughts and anxiety. Many initially present a physical problem, such as abdominal pain or insomnia as the reason for the visit.

Physical problems themselves are a cause of distress and can have a significant impact on our lives. Yet emotional distress can result in even greater negative effects.

Our emotional states can narrow our thoughts and influence our behaviour, affecting our enjoyment of life, our performance at work or in school, and how we relate to others. This can create vicious cycles of distressing emotional states, negative or anxious thinking, and worsening of our circumstances that in turn leads to increasingly negative feelings.

Our feelings shape our thoughts. When anxious, we may see a more threatening, overwhelming and unpredictable world. We underestimate our ability to cope. We overestimate what we must deal with.

When we become depressed, we may see our selves, others and our circumstances in a negative light. We have more difficulty seeing our own good qualities and abilities, the good in our relationships and the positive aspects of our circumstances.

Many people suffering from emotional symptoms hesitate to get help because they think they should be able to manage on their own. Although normal emotional reactions are part of life – it’s human to feel sad if we lose a loved one and anxious when we’re threatened, we need help when our emotions are of an intensity and duration such that they negatively impact the important areas of our lives, including our relationships and our performance at school or work.

Family members and friends sometimes don’t know what to do when someone they care about is suffering emotionally. Some mistake depression for a minor case of the blues that we all suffer when things don’t go our way, but people with depression can’t just snap out of it.

They need more information on how to recognize serious emotional problems and how to get help.

The Doctors of BC (British Columbia Medical Association) has just launched a new website, OpenMindBC.ca as part of its Council on Health Promotion Youth Mental Health Project. It contains valuable links to resources for youth and young adult patients and families, teachers and health care providers.

You’ll find information about common emotional problems, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse and psychosis. On the site, you can find online tools for self-assessment, practical self-help information, tips for managing stress and information to access professional help.

Even if you’re neither a youth nor a young adult, check out this invaluable website anyway. You’ll find helpful suggestions that anyone can use to manage stress and maintain emotional health.

And if you need some help with your emotional health, talk to your family doctor. It’s part of what we do to care for you as a whole person.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician. 

Categories
Caregiving Empowering Healthcare Exercise Growth Healthy Living Physical Activity Positive Change Positive Potential

You’re not as old as you think you are . . . 4 myths about aging

My earliest memories as a toddler and preschooler were of my family’s home on West 20th in Vancouver. We lived there before moving to Burnaby. Across the street was expansive Douglas Park with its towering trees, playing fields, playground . . . and my nursery school.
My first traumatic memory was of falling head first from the monkey bars and losing my two front teeth. In those days, monkey bars were stainless steel towers built over cement foundations. I waited years to grow up and grow new front teeth.
Not knowing my painful past association with Douglas Park, the community centre has asked me back to speak at their Young at Heart program’s Wellness Show on Saturday, April 5th. I’ll present “Achieving Your Positive Potential in Life: Finding Meaning & Fulfillment in Every stage of Your Life.”
Now at the midpoint of life, I note our mixed messages about growth and aging and the changing connotations of “growing older.” Growing older is a good thing if you’re a child – getting taller and stronger, learning more and maturing.
Growing older is not quite as desirable to most past 40. They associate it with a loss of youth, vigour, opportunity and growth.
Every week, an older patient will tell me, “Don’t every grow old.” I used to think this “advice” was an unintentioned curse. Isn’t it better than the alternative? At the time, I thought the only alternative was to die young.
But I know that they were referring to the conditions we associate with advancing years: the chronic pain of osteoarthritis, the progression of multiple chronic conditions such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, and the decline in cardiac and kidney function.
Seniors are the frequent flyers in the health care system because of their increasing needs, and for many, much of their days revolve around the scheduling of tests and appointments and the taking of multiple medications.
With the passage of time, we witness the loss of old friends and loved ones, and reminisce about the days of youth and promise.
Yet growing older not a downhill decline. Many of my patients age well and are ever happy with each passing year. They recognize the realities of their physical health, appreciate growth in their relationships, and remain engaged and empowered in every aspect of their daily lives.
They see through some of the Myths of Aging.
1. Myth: You are your age. This is only a partial truth. Your chronological age is based on the date of your birth. Different organs age at different rates depending on use, abuse and genetics. I have to remind some patients that although their knees may be worn down, their other joints are working like new. It’s also nice to point out to many that their kidneys and livers are functioning as if they were 20 years younger.
The cells of your body are constantly being renewed. The cells of your skin are continually being replaced. None of your red blood cells is over 120 days old. It wouldn’t be a lie to say you were younger than your chronological age . . . or that parts of you are newborn.
2. Myth: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Although dementia is more likely as we age, it is not inevitable for most of us. There tends to be a decline in short-term memory with age (The last things learned are the easiest to forget).
Although we may have a gradual decline in the number of neurons in the brain in adulthood, it is the connections between neurons that influence cognitive function. In the process of neuroplasticity, with new experiences and new learning, each of us is capable of developing increasingly complex connections between neurons.
At any age, you could learn a new language, dance or musical instrument.
3. Myth: Becoming physically weak and inactive is inevitable.
Our bodies were meant to move . . . at every age. With disuse and inactivity, we lose strength, flexibility and balance. Daily physical activity, including walking is a mainstay of continued fitness.
Studies have demonstrated that seniors can increase both strength and muscle mass with safe resistance exercises, such as supervised seniors weight training programs.
4. Myth: Old people repeat the same old stories.
If you are lucky enough to have older relatives, you will remember hearing the same stories multiple times. We are creatures of habit and our brains like to be efficient in following the same neural pathways ad infinitum.
But new research in neuroplasticity shows that the human brain can change itself. We can create new connections between neurons, and this translates into new more positive habits and new ways of seeing others, our world and our selves.
If you’re a child, never stop growing up. If you’re an adult, never grow old. Instead, grow stronger, grow wiser, grow new interests and points of view, and grow in your relationships. Remain an active participant in the story of your life.
The Tapestry Foundation for Health Care is a non-profit organization that raises funds for Providence Health Care facilities, including  Mt St Joseph, Holy Family and St Michael’s Hospitals. Tapestry whose vision is to enhance the living and aging experience for patients and seniors is hosting a public forum, Dialogue on Aging.
I will be part of a panel moderated by writer, Peter McKnight at 7 pm on Friday, April 4th at the Vancouver Convention Centre. With our topic Stories of Aging, we will share unique perspectives on aging. For more information check Tapestry’s website at http://www.tapestryfoundation.ca.
Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician and Physician Lead of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice. For more information about the Douglas Park Community Centre programs, call (604) 257-8130. You can read more about achieving your positive potential in health at davidicuswong.wordpress.com.

Happy Birthday, Dad!
Happy Birthday, Dad!
Categories
Caregiving Emotions patient-doctor relationship Physician Wellbeing stress management

How healthy is your doctor?

Last week, I enjoyed a much needed vacation with my family. We cruised from Seattle to Alaska and took an excursion to the Yukon. Along the way, we enjoyed spectacular vistas and the beauty of nature.

But being a physician, I couldn’t completely avoid work. I had the pleasure of meeting with medical colleagues from around the world at the 3rd annual Update in Hospitalist Medicine – over 16 hours of continuing medical education on topics ranging from kidney failure to cardiac arrythmias. It was organized by Hospitalist Consulting Solutions and SeaCourses.

I got to teach my colleagues on the topics of Improving Patient-Physician Communication and Practical Strategies for Maintaining Personal Health, Managing Stress & Nurturing Relationships.

Physician health is an oft neglected topic – particularly by doctors themselves when it comes to their personal well-being.

Green Lake, Yukon

How healthy is your doctor?

When you see a physician, the focus is appropriately on your health. Seldom do we consider the health of physicians.

We encourage our patients to eat healthy, regular meals; get sufficient rest and daily exercise; and to do regular screening tests. But you would be surprised at how many doctors do not follow their own advice. In fact, physicians tend to neglect their own health, especially when it relates to the stress of their work.

Physicians are subject to the same illnesses as their patients. But because of personality traits common in the profession and the traditional culture of medicine, we are at increased risk for stress, work addiction, burnout, depression, suicide, alcohol abuse and drug abuse.

Physicians tend to self-treat and are reluctant to become patients themselves and seek help. They tend not to see their family doctors as regularly as they should. Many do not even have a family doctor.

The people that make it into medical school tend to share compulsive traits and perfectionism. This is great for patients but bad for doctors. You would want an extremely careful surgeon operating on you. You won’t have to worry about anything left undone or sponges left behind. Our compulsivity will ensure that we chart accurately and completely and that we follow-up on important test results.

Perfectionism can make us judgmental and overly critical of ourselves and others. This can have negative effects on our work and personal relationships.

The downside of compulsivity include rigidity, stubbornness, reluctance to delegate our work to others, self-doubt and excessive feelings of guilt. Compulsive doctors tend to have an exaggerated sense of responsibility and can be excessively devoted to work at the expense of their personal lives.

The culture of medicine acts synergistically with our personal vulnerabilities. Early in medical school we learn to dissociate our natural emotional reactions from our rational minds. We learn anatomy by dissecting cadavers. We learn to think and act professionally even when confronted with horrific trauma.

This emotional dissociation if carried to the extreme can put us out of touch with our own feelings. We may bottle up grief and anger. We may ignore the symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety. Doctors who are overly dissociated may come across as cold or clinical to patients.

A workaholic attitude has been a tradition of our profession. When we applied to medical school, we knew that we would be working hard and losing sleep during our studies, in residency and throughout our work lives.

We will give all that we have to our work; and our work will consume all that we can give. There is never a shortage of patients to be seen, shifts to take or paperwork to catch up on. We are invited to be involved in numerous committees and worthwhile organizations.

We are taught to put the wellbeing of each patient before our own. As a consequence, when a physician is overstressed and his life is out of balance, his personal health and relationships will be neglected long before his work. When a physician’s quality of work suffers, everything else in her life has likely fallen apart already.

Fortunately, our professional organizations are supportive of physician health. The Physician Health Program of B.C. provides counseling services for physicians and their families in addition to a variety of workshops to foster resilience.

Our Burnaby Division of Family Practice is a non-profit organization committed to improving the wellbeing of all members in our community, including physicians.

Some useful references:

ePhysicianHealth.com: excellent online modules from the Canadian Association of Interns and Residents (CAIR)

The Physician as Patient: a clinical handbook for mental health professionals by Mike Myers and Glen Gabbard, American Psychiatric Publishing 2008

The Resilient Physician: effective emotional management for doctors and their medical organizations by Wayne and Mary Sotile, American Medical Association 2003

physicianhealth.com: website for the Physician Health Program of British Columbia.

Next: Managing stress and burnout and achieving balance in your life.

Categories
Caregiving Compassion Coping with Loss Easter Emotions Letting Go Love Parenting patient-doctor relationship Relationships

Channel your inner mom: 4 ways to be a better mom . . . to yourself

When I come home to my wife at the end of the day, I know better than to ask, “What did you do today?”

On the days she doesn’t work, she accomplishes a myriad of tasks that magically make the lives of everyone in our family run smoothly. Bills are paid, appointments made and events planned. No one is left waiting for a ride to school, music lessons or practice. No one is hungry.

Motherly magic is largely invisible. We don’t appreciate it until it’s gone. The days when my wife is out of town are long days indeed.

Good parents teach their children the essentials, and they teach best by behaviour rather than words. We internalize – for good or ill – the lessons of our parents.

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Image

This season has been a difficult one for my sister and me over the past 10 years.

I write and practice medicine in my hometown of Burnaby because of my mom. A big reason why I chose work here was to ensure that my parents got the best of care when they eventually grew old.

My personal golden rule of medicine is to treat every patient as I would want a family member treated. I therefore would do the same level of investigation, prescribe the same treatments and refer to the same consultants as I would want for my own parents.

I expected to look after both of them – if they needed me to – in their golden years. When we bought our home, we chose one with a ground level bedroom and bathroom just in case they wanted to move in with us someday.

Garden, ED Pool - Davidicus Wong

Yellow was my mom’s favourite colour and Spring was a favourite season. She appreciated natural beauty and she loved to garden. On a sunny spring day at the end of April 2003, my previously active and healthy mother attended a recreational class at Confederation Centre just steps away from the public library that we both frequented throughout our lives and the pool where I continue to swim.

Without any warning, she collapsed, apparently from a cardiac arrest, and despite prompt and professional attention from centre staff, lifeguards and paramedics, she could not be resuscitated.

I was out of town with my wife and young children, and I remember the shock and disbelief when my sister called to tell me that our mother was dead.

Flower Bed at Bonsor - Davidicus Wong

My mother modeled unconditional love. She appreciated and expected the best in us but forgave us for being imperfect and making mistakes. She lived a life of selflessness, generosity and compassion. Her circle of concern seemed to expand without boundaries.

She inspired us to give the best of ourselves. This was not to please her because her love was unconditional. When someone appreciates the best in you, you come to see it yourself.

I imagine how different life would have been had my mother been alive for the past 10 years. She would have loved spending time with my children. She would have been there for all their sports, recitals, school concerts and graduations.

She adored them as little children, and she would have adored them as they grew. We would have enjoyed her great meals and all the holidays that she would make special, and every one of my birthdays would have continued to be a celebration.

But I realize that my mother has been with me all along. Though she has not been here to teach my children, I have tried to pass her lessons on to them. I can only give forward what she has given to me.

I often remind my patients to be good moms to themselves.

I ask them to channel their inner mom. We all have one deep down inside – just like the inner six pack. Some have to take a big breath in and dig deeper.

Most of us tend to be hard on ourselves – critical, judgmental and unforgiving. We could all use a little more compassion for others and ourselves. Many of us don’t give ourselves the care we need.

Here are four ways to be a better mom to yourself – direct orders from your inner mom.

Go to bed. Make sure you get enough rest. You’ll perform better at school and work in the morning, and you won’t get run down and sick.

Go out and play. Get some physical activity every day. It’s essential for your emotional and physical wellbeing.

Eat your vegetables. Don’t skip meals and don’t ruin your appetite with junk food. Though not everyone can eat an early breakfast, we all need regular snacks and meals to get through the day.

You can do better. Your inner mom may not be talking about your partner or spouse. See the best in yourself and be inspired to do your best. Move towards your positive potential.

Central Park Duck Pond - Davidicus Wong

Categories
Caregiving Christmas Coping with Loss Friendship Parenting Relationships Uncategorized

Celebrating Families

On every Boxing Day as far back as I can remember, my maternal aunts, uncles and cousins have gathered not just to celebrate Christmas but also family. This year was the first time my dear Auntie Marj wasn’t there.

She passed away on January 5th after living a full life as a wife, mother, sister, aunt and grandmother. Like my mother, she leaves behind a legacy of love that began in childhood and continues in future generations.

When my mom was 9, her widowed mother died, leaving all nine children orphaned. The older siblings, including Aunt Marj, Mamie and Hazel decided not to abandon the younger ones who would likely have been moved to orphanages.

In everyday acts of courage and love, all the brothers and sisters were clothed, fed and educated. They had committed their lives to looking after one another. I believe my aunts were my mom’s best friends.

That’s why my mom always told us of the importance of family. She would remind me as a teen more interested in going out with friends. “Your friends may come and go,” she said, “but this family will always be here for you.”

She was right of course.

As we celebrate our province’s first Family Day on February 11th, we have to recognize that families come in many forms. We have single parents, same sex parents, adoptive parents and blended families. We have couples married or not married some with pets but without children.

I consider them all families when two or more people come together in love and create a home. It is in our family relationships that we learn to love, accept one another, give and receive graciously.

Families are as imperfect as we all are, and I know of many who have grown up with conflict, neglect or abuse. Difficult childhood experiences shape our sense of self-worth and influence our future relationships. With courage and assistance, some have overcome their difficult beginnings and created more meaningful relationships and homes in adulthood.

Instead of treating this first Family Day as just a new statutory holiday, reflect on your own family of origin and your family today. Think about those you know who do not have families, and if you think you are without a family, remember the friends who love you.

Wherever you are loved and feel at home, there is your family.