24 December 2009

Listening for more

Not long ago, someone asked me where I've been for the past few years. They read something I'd written, and they liked what they heard/saw. They seemed surprised that I haven't been more of a presence in the healthcare discussion.

The first answer that came to mind was, "I've been dealing with health issues in my family," which is all too true. Like so many Americans, I've had some pretty pressing health stuff going on in my immediate and extended family. It's demanded a lot of focus to sort it all out, but sort it out we did. As a lot of people know, taking care of health and navigating the medical system can take a lot out of you. It demands rigorous attention to detail, at times, and we don't often have much left over for other activities... like blogging.

Yeah, I've been busy. With the kinds of stuff nobody wants to have to be busy with, but so many of us are.

Then I thought about it some more, over the past few days, and it occurred to me that the second part of the answer is, "I've been thinking." One of the big pieces of the coping process for me has been pondering what's gone down, examining it, analyzing it, figuring out what it all means to me. I'm not perfect, by any stretch -- as an earlier post about my relationship with my doctor clearly shows. I have a lot to learn, and I have a lot of progress to make, in terms of establishing and cultivating the kind of relationships I want to have with the doctors and specialists in my life.

For me, the lion's share of making progress with health concerns is understanding the nature of the problems at the root of my (and others') discomfort and distress. Until I understand them and can extract some sort of meaning from them, I'm adrift in a sea of details... and non-actionable data.

I can't make much progress towards understanding what I need to, if I don't take time to closely consider what's taken place in my life... and I really like to make progress. So, I stop and think, examine and wonder, and if I'm lucky, I come away with something meaningful and useful and -- most importantly -- actionable.

But when you're in the midst of crisis, it's easy to get stuck inside your head. Being introverted by nature, I tend to first look within for the answers to my questions. Which is fine, until the wheels start to spin so wildly that they drown out everything else around me.

But sometimes, inner awareness is not enough. Sometimes you've gotta listen for more.

Which is what I'm doing now. I'm visiting extended family out of state, and lo and behold, I'm in the midst of a bunch of doctors and healthcare professionals. I'm also smack-dab in the middle of a part of mainstream America that is far from Massachusetts, in many ways. It's not Better, it's not Worse... it's Different. And it's a great opportunity for me to stop and listen to what folks here are saying about their health and healthcare, from a point of view that's shaped by circumstances very different from my own.

I've been going at a pretty brisk clip at work, for the past couple of months. And my head has just been spinning with all the thoughts I've got about how we care for ourselves and keep ourselves alive. Now is truly a wonderful opportunity to take a break, slow down, and listen to what people are saying about their health and how they care for it.

I have the opportunity to spend a few days with a new doctor, who is absolutely livid about the healtcare reform activity in Washington. I have the chance to find out what makes him so angry and so concerned, and what he thinks should happen instead. I have the opportunity to sit down and share a cup of coffee with a medical school registrar who's contemplating the prospect of retiring in the next 10 years or so, and having to shell out $1,000/month for health insurance for the rest of her born days. I have the opportunity to witness how people in this part of the world live, eat, sleep, and generally take care of themselves, and absorb that information into my world view.

It's a great opportunity to get out of my own head, and I don't intend to pass it up. This is a chance to widen my view, round out my considerations a little more, and gain a greater understanding about what it means to be alive, today -- and want to stay that way.

What a great present this is.

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