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Caring for Someone with a Serious Illness, Part 2

While doctors and hospitals help manage actual health treatment, you’re on your own with making medication and treatment decisions. Get-It-Done Guy has 13 tips on caring for someone with a serious illness.

By
Stever Robbins,
October 1, 2012
Episode #238

Page 1 of 3

In Part 1 of this series on taking care of someone with a serious illness, I discussed professional sitters and weekly action planning to relieve day-to-day pressure. Today, we’ll discuss managing medications and evaluating treatment options. Most of these tips are things I learned while caring for my mother in the final days of her life.

Unlike my colleague the House Call Doctor, I’m not a doctor. I always wanted to be a surgeon, and then I saw Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, and it scared me into a more traditional career path. Accounting started to look really exciting. This episode does not give medical advice! What we’ll be discussing is how to work with your doctor when you need to make medical decisions.

Tip #1: Take Responsibility

In America, doctors are often trained to behave as if they know everything. This confidence helps inspire trust in patients. But confidence does not mean a doctor is perfect. Your doctor is not a god. Your doctor is not even a minor underling of the demon Cthulu. Doctors are human. They can make mistakes.

Unless you can afford concierge care, a doctor will spend 15 to 30 minutes to diagnose problems with the most complicated biological system we know of—the human body. My car mechanic takes longer than that to diagnose that funny noise in my car (and the car comes with an owner’s manual)!

Like it or not, you have to take responsibility for the course of medical treatment, even though you’re clearly way less qualified than the doctor. You can exercise that responsibility by just blindly doing everything your doctor says, or by taking a more active part in the medical care.

Tip #2: Take Time to Understand

When your doctor describes a diagnosis and recommends a course of treatment, take the time to understand what she is talking about. If she says, “your loved one’s hip bone somehow got connected to the head bone,” ask to see the hip bone and the head bone on a chart of a normal human body, then look at the X-rays, and have her show you where the connection is screwed up. You don’t need to understand what’s going on as if you were a molecular biologist (unless you are a molecular biologist), but learn as much as you can.

Tip #3: Read Medication Information Sheets

When you buy a medication, always ask your pharmacist for the detailed medical information sheet. Sometimes you’ll get it automatically, but other times you have to ask.

Read the sheet carefully. Check out the “contraindications.” That’s fancy talk for “if you have any of these conditions and take this medication, your eyeballs will explode.” My mother was prescribed medicine that would have killed her, given her condition. We found out in time by asking for and reading the medical information sheets.

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