You can disagree with your Dr, its called self advocating.

Yes Dr, I will take that as you prescribe despite the horrible side effects stopping me living my life.

How often have you found yourself doing this? Do you know that you can speak up and disagree with your Dr or healthcare provider.

In the UK when it comes to healthcare traditionally we are not very good at speaking up for ourselves. We often go with what the Dr or Nurse says because they have done the training and what they know is best. This is a very antiquated view now I think yet we still want to please our Dr’s so will do what they say and take what the prescribe. We often think if we don’t do this we are seen as a difficult patient and no one wants to be a difficult patient do they!

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Speaking up for yourself can be daunting, I remember thinking I can’t question a Dr, they went to medical school for 6 years and have done countless more years honing their skills in whatever speciality they chose so who am I to question them. I only live with the condition I don’t (or didnt) know the physiology behind my diseases or the best treatments for them. This is what the Dr’s know.

I wish 14 years ago I knew what I know now. I have written about this before but 14 years ago my Drs had me on prednisilone (which frustratingly I am still on) and kept weaning it down as they did not want me on it long term. I didnt understand the long term side effects of prednisilone at the time but was getting fed up of feeling good while on higher doses of pred but then start feeling awful as the dose reduced and came off it. It was like a constant rollercoaster. My answer to this was just not to take the pred. I didnt feel good not taking it but at least I was not feeling great to then have that feeling taken away and I would go back to my life being put on hold. I found that I preferred to know where I was with my lungs and adapt to life where my lungs were not that great. This did not work out well for me on several fronts:

  • My health was awful, I couldn’t do anything, I was missing out on life, friends, sport, uni.
  • My mental health was at an all time low because I couldn’t do anything with my friends and just be a normal student, but I could not cope with being able to do things with my friends while on a high dose of pred for it to then be taken away again.
  • I was lying to my medical team, how could they trust me if I was not doing what they wanted me to do.

It all changed when I managed to get a chest infection and put off going to the Dr. I ended up in intensive care really poorly. I was questioned by my consultant about why I waited a long time to get seen and go to hospital and why did I not put up my prednisilone according to my care plan when my peak flow dropped.

It was then that I opened up to the Dr and said what I had been doing and why. I explained that I didnt like knowing that while on a high dose I would feel well and be able to do stuff and then the dose would be reduced and I would not be able to things because of my chest so would prefer to just not know what it was like as it was a false sense of reality that was just then taken away.

Once I recovered from that hospital admission I had a meeting with my consultant and asthma nurse to have a frank discussion about my asthma, asthma care, medication regime and care plan. This was the first time I felt that it was ok to speak up and say to them what was important to me in life and what I wanted to be able to do etc. It was great as we were able to work out a lot of things and while I had to make compromises as it is not possible to do everything I wanted to be able to do but now my consultant really understood me as a person and our working relationship grew because I was able to be honest. I was also able to bring suggestions to him about new medications I had heard about. It became a 2 way conversation which I have now always made sure I have with all my Drs and nurses involved in my care.

It can be daunting at first to advocate for yourself but I can assure you it is the best thing you can do. Drs know conditions and medications but they don’t know you and your life unless you speak to them about it. We didnt choose to develop chronic health conditions but we do choose the life we want to lead and this includes how we manage our health, what medications we are prepared to tolerate and what we are not. Some side effects may be ok for some to put up with but not others depending on life situations. For me just now I don’t mind my dose of prednisilone changing quite a lot because I am not working (I find that when the dose changes my insomnia is so much worse) but if I was working then I would speak to my Dr about not having the dose fluctuate so often so I could try and manage my insomnia better.

Self advocating is not about arguing to get your own way but it is allowing your medical team to work with you to get the best management plan for your condition and your life. If you as a patient are involved in the decisions about your care and agree with them then it is highly likely you will be a more compliant patient with medication compared to a patient being told what to do and what to take when who is less likely to comply because it is not what they want to do or it does not fit in with their life. No one likes being told what to do but if we are involved we are more likely to follow instruction.

It is important to remember that while self advocating is good, not everyone feels comfortable doing it and would prefer to just do as the medical professionals say. That is fine too.

I am so glad that I was able to learn that my voice as a patient is just as important. I do have knowledge, I am an expert patient in my own health and my conditions. I am allowed to bring my thoughts to the table when Im in appointments as I need to try and get the best management for my health possible.

I will leave it here but I would say self advocating does not make you a difficult patient, it makes you a patient that cares about their health. This is why I self advocate and why I am also a wider health advocate and will advocate for various health conditions like severe asthma and allergies.

What do you do when it all gets a little too much?

Ask for help.

Living with a long term health condition comes with many challenges especially when it is a condition that comes with unpredictability and triggers out with your own control. The challenge of trying to live a normal life is tiring and it can feel like a full time job just trying to stay well.

Recently I have hit that breaking point of what else can possibly go wrong with me. Asthma has ravaged my body, I am not just meaning the side effects from medication but the actual asthma and having attacks its self has also left its mark and continues leaving its mark from poor vascular access which has left me with a leg that doesn’t work properly, the mental toll on attacks and being in and out of critical care to most recently finding out that I have either had a hypoxic stroke during an attack or the other option is a lesion on my occipital lobe on my brain. An MRI scan is pending and will confirm but I have had a battery of tests to work out what it is. I am plugging for the stroke option as then at least it has happened and I have had no real adverse effects from it (but fingers crossed it is nothing at all- this would be super).

For the first time I have noticed the impact my poor health is having on just daily living. I recently went to the wrong out patient appointment in the wrong hospital, I totally forgot another appointment and then I cant remember if I have taken my drugs or not. I can guarantee some of the drugs I have taken because they are in my weekly box I get made up from the pharmacy. My brain just feels like it has been put in a blender, put on full and then poured back out. My leg then causes me to have multiple falls and this causes other injuries too!

This is not the life of a 34 year old that just had asthma!!!

I told my GP this today. Well she kind of guessed it as I tried to tell her about the eye hospital I just broke down. I could not help it but the news at eye hospital was the final straw. The year was meant to be focusing on getting my health back on track, getting control of my asthma so I can return to working in the hospital but now my body is in a worse state than it was when I stopped in Feb last year. At least last year I could walk without the need for a splint and a walking stick and could drive out-with the city!

So what to do from here?

My GP is really great and I am really lucky to have her. She gave me details for a new app that is out called Feeling Good. It is a program of tracks you listen to over a 12 week period which I think are similar to mindfulness. I will find out! I think once I complete the course I will write up a blog post for it. Anyone can get the app but some stuff has to be paid for unless you get a code from your GP surgery.

I like to try and keep myself busy as well. I take Ghillie out for a walk every morning come rain wind or shine I head out. This is really good as gets me moving, blows the cobwebs away and exercise releases endorphins so you get that little bit of positivity from it. Also I love seeing Ghillie running around having fun with the other dogs and I have made a few dog walking friends too- everyone is a creature of habit wether we think we are or not.

I need to remember that whatever is going on I am not being affected by it. Apart from some loss of my peripheral vision I have no other issues. I do need to acknowledge that my body is not ok but I have a lot of positives going on and events coming up that I am speaking which I am really looking forward to.

All these situations have given me some more drive to continue with my advocacy work as asthma is still so under recognised and not thought of as a disease that can be that bad. Asthma right now is destroying my body and I don’t want it to do the same to others.

Friendships from HealtheVoices

My social media platforms have been filled over the last few days with posts about HealtheVoices. The application deadline has been and gone. Yesterday people received their emails saying that they were accepted to HeV20 or were waitlisted or did not get in at all.

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It fills me with joy and sadness. Sadness because I made so many friends from HeV19 that I won’t be able to see this at HeV20. With my health the way it is there is no way I can make the long travel without health consequences and be able to enjoy the conference. I am really frustrated by my health and I have always been able to beat it, get on top of it but not this time.

I am so thankful to have been able to meet some wonderful people who have stayed in touch with me. They included me in their group conversations welcomed me into their fold and I just felt like one of the gang.

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I am excited though that thanks to modern technology and the wonders of prednisolone and predsomnia I will be able to log on and watch the HeV conference live from the comfort of my own bed.

My favourite moments from HeV19 were:

  • At the opening session being pulled up for wearing a matching “plaid” shirt. Thank you Gabriel Nathan. You are excused as we have so many more matchy things!!
  • Being given a mahoosive bag of swedish fish from Kathy who we actually ended up put on the same table too!!
  • Presenting about being a patient partner in the same session as the awesome Tonya Hegamin. Her books are brilliant.
  • Having the mick taken out of me for my breakfast choice but then getting a care package of “breakfast soup” socks from AnnMarie. Also lip syncing Spice Girls with her Brady and Robert too.
  • Meeting Scott White the company chairman of J and J and bonding over living with severe asthma!!
  • Meeting and being brought into their fold the baddest bunch of diabetics particularly those we went to In and Out Burger Tripp, Phyllis, Chelcie, Christel as well as Corinna, Sue, Kristen.
  • Getting some awesome headshots from Rick Guidotti and becoming a PEARLS Ambassador
  • Meeting the fantastic HeV team who go above and beyond to make sure every advocate is happy, healthy and comfortable.
  • Lastly spending some awesome time with Mike and Eileen in Dallas. Its not many people I would happily wander through a graveyard with- Eileen!!! I had such an awesome few days with you both and it topped off a great trip!!

For now I want to leave all these photos of friends I made and friends I will hopefully see again perhaps at HeV21 if I get in!!!

 

 

My HealtheVoices19 experience!

Last night I was catching up on reading some blogs and came across one that was written by one of the other people who attended HealtheVoices (HeV) who opened her blog post with my exact thoughts. She had been drafting and redrafting posts about her experiences of HealtheVoices and not knowing quite how to write it. She came down to the point of just getting it out and putting it down in a post. So this is what I am going to do as well because like her I have been going over how to write my experience and then rewriting it and never being happy or knowing quite how to word it.

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So here goes…

Leaving the UK to go to Dallas was a mix of nerves and excitement. The lead up to the HeV event was so positive and the support from everyone was there right from the start so I was feeling at ease but also felt a little is this really going to be like this once I am there too. A small hiccup at the airport but I was soon at the hotel and getting ready to settle in.

There was no real plans for the Thursday night. There was dinner but it was a buffet and you could just go down and eat when you wanted. I am never very good at these things and went downstairs several times with the intention of going in to the dinner room but I kept bottling it so would head back up to my room. I was too nervous, and tired because I was still on UK time and had been up for about 24 hours at this point, but I needed to get over jet lag so I could enjoy the conference without crashing, so I forced myself to go in and join a table. I am so glad I did go down. The slight awkwardness of plating my food and all the time thinking which table should I ask to sit at, who won’t mind if I join them, there was 101 things flying through my head but actually some of those who I had my first meal with in Dallas are also the ones I had my last lunch with as well. I did have that bit of security with me at dinner though- I had my name badge/lable/neck thing so anyone I met knew my name, knew I was speaking but also knew that it was my first time attending the conference.

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When I have attended conferences in the past I have felt at ease, and with each conference I attend and speak at I feel more confident but this was different. When I have spoken at conferences I have been there and what I am speaking about is my specialist interest and my experience, I tended to be the patient giving my opinion of essentially being an expert patient. This was a different ball game. Everyone there was like me, we are all experts at living with our own conditions and doing our own thing to raise the profile and difficulties we face trying to live a functional life.

I have never really thought of the work I do with asthma as advocacy, I actually didn’t like the word advocacy but attending HeV I came away feeling that maybe it was and I was an asthma advocate. People often ask me what drives me to do what I do, how do I come up with content, ideas etc. I never really know how to answer because I have never thought about why I do these things. I just do it because I hope that by sharing my story maybe people or even just one person might be able to take something from it and their experience will be a bit easier.

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It sounds cliche but after my initial nerves everyone was so welcoming at the meeting. Wether you were a first timer or had been at all the HeV meetings in the past everyone was on the same level- we were all there for one reason. Everyone there is motivated to help make a change. There was a variety of people who have had a condition all their life, then some with conditions that vary, go into remission or are cured from it but through their experience they are sharing knowledge gained, experiences which were good or bad.

I still really am struggling to put into words all my emotions from the meeting but I think the photos speak for themselves.

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So where do I go from here??

I have a few projects that I would like to pursue the most pressing one is to try and get rid of all the stock images media outlets are using which are subconsciously promoting poor inhaler technique. Almost every day I see a photo being used on a media article which shows a child or adult using a MDI (metered dose inhaler) with no spacer and even though there is no spacer the technique is not good either. In the UK there is an inherent problem with asthma management and self management resulting in high death levels from asthma attacks which can be prevented. One of these preventions is correct inhaler technique.

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And a last disclaimer:

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To my new family and my tribe #HealtheVoices19

Wow where do I start. It takes a lot for me to be left speechless but I am unable to put into words the emotion and feelings from this past weekend. It sounds a bit cringe to say but it has been truly life changing.

I have made so many new friends who I know will be friends for life.

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To all my new friends from HealtheVoices you all have no idea how much I have appreciated this weekend. The main reason for why it was such a big deal was in November I had a near fatal asthma attack. What was different about this asthma attack was that the asthma consultants were basically there right from the start of the attack. Then the ICU consultant told me if we didn’t turn the cornerstone we would be running out of options and I really needed to turn the corner ASAP. Thankfully I did turn the corner but the attack left me traumatised and I still am living in fear from it. I fear I may not be able to fight the next attack, I fear who will be with me if I have another attack and will they be able to cope. I was also terrified that I would not manage the flight. I know my family were really worried about me coming over on my own but I had to do it for me. I needed to be able to prove to myself I can do it.

Before I came out to Dallas I didnt know what I was going to do moving forward.

Asthma has cost me so much in life and it still does but being able to be among people who know what that fear is like and you don’t just pity each other or say “yeah I know what it is like” you answer it with comments about how you over came adversity and give ideas on how I might do the same. I also had to give up my job which I loved but despite this doors have opened and I will be moving on to great things and with the inspiration and motivation I have taken in from this weekend I will not be looking back.

The other great thing is that I know there is life beyond being ill and you can use your condition to better yourself and to better others as well. I may not be able to control my asthma and control my health but I can control what I do with it and use it to help make changes for others.

I feel so included in a very special group of people.

You guys are all my family and my tribe

x

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#HealtheVoices 2019

I am super excited and cannot remember if I posted about this before but now that everything is getting to the final stages and it is really going to happen I thought I would write a post all about this next exciting opportunity.

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HealtheVoices is not something I had heard. Fairly recently while looking on Twitter I came across them and the conferences they have done as well as the amazing patient advocacy. HealtheVoices provides a ground breaking leadership conference for those involved in advocacy for their own health conditions, the communities around them and others as well. The conference is to empower those in advocacy to continue the work they do and get as much impact as possible from it. They have been organising these conferences and this year it will be their 5th event.

I can’t remember applying for the conference or filling in the form so when I got an email in January asking me to be a speaker and lead a session I was shocked but also had a huge sense of pride that despite asthma dictating my life I have had so opportunities as a result of it which are truly once in a lifetime events.

The event this time is over in America. I fly to Dallas Texas in a weeks time and am so excited. I have never been to Texas and will have the chance to have a few days being a tourist out there to.

We have just got off possibly the biggest conference call I have been part of. I think there were 69 participants in total. Most of these people were members who are coming to the conference and not all speakers. They said there was well over 350 applicants so to be short listed to give a talk is probably one of my greatest achievements.

The one down side (if you can call it that) to this is I have had to 1) prepare what I am going to say and 2) put together a power point presentation. Many who read this will know my aversion to slides and my slight aversion to preparing. As Allison would say I just like to wing it or busk it!!! For this though I cant. So I have put together some slides myself which I think look ok just waiting on the legal team to give them the ok! I have also written most of my talk. 45 minutes is a long time!!! I will be giving my talk a test run with my Mum so fingers crossed that goes well, may even run it by my little brother too depending how brave I am!!!

Public speaking is something I have grown into. A good friend of mine and PPI colleague Elisabeth likes to recall the story of when we first met when I was so shy and quiet that she struggled to hear me speak. Now she struggles to get me to shut up!!! With every talk I give I can feel my comfort with speaking grow. I still get very nervous at certain events and was so thankful on some occasions that I have had a lectern  to stand behind because my legs were shaking so much but on the whole I feel ok when I am speaking.

I am so proud to be able to go and share my story and tell others about how great being involved in research is, all the different things you can do and how to get involved. I am also teaming up with webMD too which will be awesome as they have a huge online platform.

Will be tweeting and blogging from the conference if there is time although it seems like a jam packed program. The conference will be streamed live so will post the link for this when I know it. Remember though there is a time difference!!!