Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Clothes Define the Person

With all our children, we have tried to encourage each to be active participants in their learning and education -- not just passive participants in their formal and informal education. For Jeannine, our dream has been in helping her to discover her strengths so that she develops the skills to do meaningful work.

As it turns out, Jeannine has been the most active participant of all the children when it comes to learning. This is not so much with her formal education as much as it is with the informal. The one thing that is positively certain about her is that she strives to do everything everyone else is doing. It is no surprise, then, that when her father decided to break from corporate medicine ten years ago and go back to a solo medical practice, she was right there ready to help. At first it was just confined to those hours she was in the office before and after school, and she was not so inclined to do much more than greet patients as they came in or left their appointment. She would even sit with them in the waiting room entertaining them with her observations, asking questions and responding to their queries as they waited (sometimes a while) to be seen.

As the years passed and formal school was no longer an option, she would come to the office and really want to engage in the "real work" everyone was doing. Not content with taking charge of the shredding and other mundane tasks, she volunteered to call patients to confirm their appointments. After much thought and deliberation, her father agreed to allow her to make the calls. Why not? Her speech was clear and she knew how to dial the phone numbers. All she needed was a copy of the schedule and she was on her way.

We scripted the calls for her, but very soon she was "winging it" and delighting those she spoke with with her professional phone manner and light-hearted chit-chat. It was fun listening to her, especially as practiced pronouncing patient names before making the official call. If she needed to leave a message there was no problem: she handled that very well, even if she had to start over again (in the same message) several times before getting it "perfect." When she was able to speak directly with the patient, it was heart-warming to hear her conclude the call with a sweet giggle and a "you're very welcome" to their "thank you for the reminder." It was even comical to hear her disgust if the patient neglected to thank her and just hung up..."He (or she) didn't even SAY anything when I called," could often be heard sailing through the office as she hung up the phone in frustration.

What was even more fun was to have the patients want to see her when they came in, especially to thank her for the reminder. Puffed up by the success of her new responsibility, Jeannine suggested that she could run the patient paperwork, highlighting medical services for which the patient may be due, and check for copays for those coming in the next day. After our watching her perform this additional task for a few days, she became defensive about having to be monitored. Again, after some thoughtful deliberation, we cut her loose from direct supervision and merely checked her work when she wasn't around. She was truly a productive member of our staff and fully appreciated by patients and co-workers alike. She was so dependable in the discharge of her duties that she was made official with her own name badge: Jeannine -- Office Assistant. On top of this, Jeannine took great joy in sharing with anyone she met -- at the grocery store, at church, at parties -- how she works in a medical office and what she does and how important her work is. In fact, she was so dedicated to her job that she routinely declined going on errands with me so that she could be in the thick of things at the office.

Well, the novelty of this job wore off after about a year or so and, in some ways true to the disposition of those with Down Syndrome, stubbornness set in and it could be like pulling teeth to sit her down to do her job. At first she would take the entire morning to go from person to person in the office to find out if she "had to call" everyone on the schedule, and then we could see her crest-fallen face if no one was crossed from the list.

Not to be deterred from dodging the confirmation call bullet, Jeannine would conveniently skip some people on the schedule (especially those who "didn't even say anything to her" the last time she called -- apparently she never forgets a slight).  It was interesting to hear the conversations she would have when the patient would come in and lament to her that they "didn't get my Jeannine call" and how much they depended on hearing from her to remind them about their appointment. In spite the cajoling we would do to get her do her work, there were days when she just wasn't interested.

So for what it is worth: While it is thrilling to be able to see her grow in her skills and be a positive force in the office, doing the meaningful work we had always wanted her to do, there are times when I wonder if we just haven't created a "Bride of Frankenstein," because there appears to be no end to her desire to do more and more for our providers. The other day I caught her going through the medical scrubs catalog with one of our medical assistants discussing which styles would be best for her when she becomes a "medical assistant for real."

Saturday, March 28, 2015

"Highlights" and the Waiting Room Experience

We receive many magazines for the medical office waiting room, and, for whatever reason, many of them are delivered unsolicited. No complaints, really, because if we do not have to spend dollars on subscriptions to Good Housekeeping, Food Network Magazine, Scientific American or Motor Trend, then the subscription budget is significantly reduced and it provides a greater variety of reading material options for those patients (or caregivers) who are waiting to be seen.

One monthly magazine (if one could call it that) which receives much patient handling is Highlights, and for an adult primary care office this is quite interesting. Jeannine's grandparents kindly pay for her subscription to the magazine and she volunteers it to the waiting room when she is finished exploring it. Clearly the reason we have it here is for those patients who need to occupy a child while waiting for their appointment...or so I thought.

I will not infrequently scan the waiting room to get a feel for how long someone has been waiting or to see if a patient needs to update information we need for billing, government, insurance or communication purposes, and what I have found fascinating is that more often than not, patients who came without children are going through not People Magazine or Sports Illustrated, but Highlights. Now I generally tend to think that most of the magazines on the waiting room table are pretty much mindless drivel, and have made the entire waiting room chuckle as I dump the current issue of People on the table encouraging those sitting there not to fight over it just because they can't wait to find out how Brittany Spears is dealing with her latest romance collapse. Face it, these days most of us have stresses in our lives and the short articles in these publications about frivolous current trends and people can help take our minds from our troubles.....but Highlights????

Having given up on even cracking open the cover of this activity magazine because of an almost post traumatic stress associated with having been humiliated by my younger brothers (and I have five) growing up -- who somehow or other were able to find all the hidden pictures (no picture clues in those years, just words), answer all the riddles and unscramble all the word puzzles faster than I could, I wondered just what it was about Highlights that these adults found more fascinating than learning more about Kate Middleton's baby bump.

It is an amazingly simple answer: despite the sometimes rudimentary puzzles and simple stories, this activity magazine provides a mental, intellectual (if you will) challenge that is a refreshing diversion from the mental herpes one acquires from an overload of popular reading material. In this day and age of gadgets that can, with a push of a button, dial family and friends for phone calls, or add, subtract, multiply, divide -- even complete higher level math calculations a the push of some buttons, or give step by step directions to the nearest coffee shop without the use of a map, why use our brains to recall or remember information? Also, with an excessive focus on the "lives and loves of the 'beautiful people'" our brains are further boiled to mush. What is more pathetic is that somehow we, "the poor masses," are led to believe as we slog page after page through the mindlessness of popular publications that without the sort of lifestyle of the "rich and famous" we are utter failures.

But Highlights is our hope. In addition to the the puzzles and games, there are simple stories which focus on the positive outcomes that result from doing good and being kind. Who can read "The Timbertoes" or "Goofus and Gallant" without pulling for those do-gooders, and are then rewarded in the end as Gallant shines head and shoulders above his less mannerly brother?

Besides, completing these mental challenges give us a better "feel good" attitude of mind and sense of accomplishment that just does not come from reading about the new 45-cylander motor that goes from 0-400 in less than 60 seconds, and can be found under the hood of a car no one but Jay Leno or some member of Congress can afford. Honestly, which activity has the potential of leaving us more uplifted?

So for what it is worth, I appreciate the need for people to escape from the realities of their life situations -- especially when sitting in a medical office waiting to be seen or, sometimes waiting for a family member or friend who might be very ill. Really, is there a better way to feel good about our health, wellness and relationships (no matter how deplorable) than to know that the "beautiful people" -- the Kardashians, Prince Harry and Gwyneth Paltrow are "suffering" as well? I don't know, but I think that it is far healthier and immensely more enjoyable to engage our minds in some small, simple mental challenges, and, in spite of some PTSD tendencies on my part, I am glad that Jeannine volunteers this publication to our office -- and I am brave enough to display it.

Monday, March 2, 2015

It's March Madness (not)

As I sit at the kitchen table, laptop at the ready to muse about this or that topic of interest perhaps interesting only to me, I am distracted by the stunning day God has given me. The weather is just barely warm enough for me to open the sliding door, encouraging the slight breeze to find its way into the house. Ahhh, fresh air!

The sights of spring are rampant. I am sorry for all those family and friends at points east of Portland as they recover from the bitter winter weather of the past few weeks, but I cannot help but be inspired as I feel the sun's warmth streaming through the kitchen windows, see the stunningly blue sky, our purple magnolia tree, azalea bushes, camellia trees and daffodils in bloom. Such a contrast to the desolation I saw in my yard just a few weeks ago.

The sounds of an awakening nature are once again heard in the yard: I can hear our neighbor's chickens cackling in the distance and a convention (although I think it is called a murder, but that would destroy the alliteration) of crows flying overhead making the usual harsh noises of their breed. My wind chimes are softly singing as the breeze moves them, and the hummers are back chasing each other away from the feeders; their wings sounding like small reverberating engines as they dive bomb each other in and around the deck.

When "January Hope Moved to February Action," the result for me is that I have actually accomplished some of those things on my goals list (like putting them in writing). When February closed out yesterday, I can say that I am no longer padding around my house clenching a cup of hot something-or-other, mindlessly thinking about all the things I could and should do. I really took action on various aspects of my life and I believe that I am making some progress toward being a better, braver person. The interesting thing for me is that I found some of these actions had overlapped, making it easier to accomplish more goals than I had expected.

In my capacity as a mother with a beautiful child with Down Syndrome, this past month together Jeannine and I have made strides in bringing better health to her through her continued understanding and embracing the habits of health. The overlap here is that her success inspired me to reach out to one of the local DS groups that we dropped years ago as "life intervened" and we could not manage to stay connected. A braver me attended a "Mom's Night" this last week and for once I did not sit in a corner by myself just watching and listening. I found myself talking with other moms, hearing their stories, and sharing my own, and this brought a connectedness I had not ever experienced. It is going to be wonderful to continue the relationship with this group.

In my latest "brilliant career" (I have had perhaps 10 in the course of my life some of which I still have), as a health coach, I am taking a more active role in helping others not only find and maintain great physical and mental health (less stress and anxiety), but I have made strides in helping them find ways to make their dreams of a full, vibrant life a reality -- all this by helping others help themselves and others to wellness.

February also ushered in (as it usually does) the season of Lent. For Christians, Catholics in particular, it is a time of personally acknowledging that Our Lord and Our God gave all of Himself for us out of a deep and unconditional love, as well as grasping opportunities for us to reflect and make small acts of love in gratitude and reparation for our lack of charity.

Fr. Robert Barron is posting reflections for this season through the Word on Fire website, and his reflection for Day 10 was powerful for me. The reflection was about "the law of the gift." Using the Old Testament incident of God's test of Abraham in the call to sacrifice his son Isaac, Fr. Barron illustrates that the more a person is willing to give himself away, the more he will increase. Abraham was willing to give all of himself and all he loved dearly because God, his Creator, asked. In the end, God rewarded the depth and quality of Abraham's love, and repaid this willingness to give by giving his son back, securing God's promise that Abraham's progeny would number more than the stars in the heavens.

Conversely, the law further states that the more a person "clings" to himself the more he decreases. This makes total sense to me, for how can a person hope to  grow (increase) in love or happiness or faith, without first giving themselves the opportunity? And how can one grasp those opportunities if they hold on (cling) to those things they are given? Like the magnolia tree or other plants in my yard that died in the harshness of winter, nature now rewards them in the blossoming and new growth of spring. As a person, if I do not give of myself and use the blessings and gifts God has given to me, how am I to find the joy and fulfillment of life (be that spiritual or temporal) God wants for me?

So for what it is worth, whatever it is that God has given me I should be ready to give it back if He asks for it. Should He ask for it, I should let it go no matter how painful, knowing in faith that it is for some greater purpose. January hope has moved to February action....February action now encompasses March mindfulness as I continue my quest for bravery and being a better person. I know I will need lots of prayers.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Birthdays, Social Media and Self Worth

If it had not been for my children, I would have never attempted to join any of the social media outlets. My daughter (not Jeannine - although she most likely could have facilitated it) created my Facebook account several years ago, and I have to admit that until recently I have not spent a great deal of time there.

It was important for me, however, to check in once in awhile just to see what my children were doing and show support for their life successes as they "posted" to their page. Every now and then my son would ask if I had seen something or other that he had posted, and then I would have to track down the post and "like" it, or more often, make some comment about how he should not refer to Jeannine as a "moose."

Since embarking on this quest to be brave and challenge myself to be a better person, I have been checking in on Facebook several times a week. I had at first decided that I would use this as a forum to promote devotions and prayers, calling on my FB friends and family to join me in prayer. I have even used it to ask for prayers for family, friends and even for myself when needed. I was always impressed at the number of people who responded to my requests and even followed up to know the outcome.

The one thing I have noticed in the past few years is how FB will let me know of birthdays and the like, and offer an opportunity to send greetings (or even a gift) to the person celebrating their special day. Not that I have taken advantage of all the opportunities to "write on a timeline," for every person "friended," but I have noticed on the newsfeed the numbers of well-wishes for this person or that person celebrating a birthday. Some people had outpourings numbered into the hundreds. "Wow," I thought, "certainly when my natal day arrives I should hear from many of my friends and family!" Alive with anticipation, I made sure that I checked FB on that fatal day in January.

What a disappointment. I believe I had less than 10 and perhaps less than five greetings on my timeline.

Contrast this to two weeks or so later when Jeannine's birthday rolled around. The little mugwump had no less than 100 greetings on her timeline, and a large percentage of them were more than just a short "Happy Birthday." Many took the time to write beautiful messages to her. What was more amazing was that a number of these posts were morphed from someone else's post. When adding the "likes" to the actual messages, the number skyrocketed.

As I reflected on this humiliating experience, I rationalized that so many people acknowledged her birthday because she is a very special person and people were just being kind. I, on the other hand, am just an ordinary person who would not take notice or feel slighted if ignored. That really did not make sense because it really was not about me, but about how so many people connected to her. On deeper reflection, I remembered a long time friend of mine who, when her birthday came, had hundreds of greetings and well-wishes as well. What could be the difference between me and them?

I never felt that I could call her by anything other than her given name, but "She," as many of her close friends know her, is a high school friend I had not seen or spoken with for years. Then we found a connection on FB and I have had the joy of touching part of her life again for a few years now. "She" has a remarkably open and friendly personality. I remember that in our class of 32 students, "She" had a wonderful ability to be part of any group. This could be that so many of our classmates were her friends since grade school, so the bonds were forged before I met her, but on closer inspection, it was more than that.

"She" was also part of other groups in our class, the most memorable being those who followed the rock bands of the time. Now these were not the soft rock groups and solo singers: these were the hard rock bands of the age. As I was not part of this group (or any group) and generally had no interest in the music of the time, I can only guess for a frame of reference that these might be bands like The Who and Led Zeppelin. Anyway, "She" had strong connections with all of us in the class and it was not surprising that when reconnecting via FB, many of her connections were from high school days.

What is even more disturbing for me is that "She" told me she does not publish her birthday on Facebook, so all those who wish her well have no reminders that her birthday has arrived. Perhaps those who have sent greetings to her do not remember her birthday either, but, like Jeannine, some of the posts were generated by others who saw previous comments.

So for what it is worth, I could take this and measure my self worth based on a pitiful showing of social media birthday greetings, but I think that I will accept the fact that I am blessed to be connected to two very beautiful souls, who in different ways have touched many people in deep and profound ways.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

On a Mission to Find Shoes

Those who have had the wonderful experience of creating and keeping great health in their life by achieving their best weight I think will appreciate this experience. I slogged away for decades at a weight that, while not morbidly obese, was clearly outside what is considered "normal" let alone "optimal."

I embraced the Habits of Health about six months ago and lost about 33 pounds. I am amazed at how much better I feel and how much more I can accomplish in a day being less heavy. Be that as it may, one of the by-products associated with what I consider a "significant weight loss" is the very scary idea of buying new clothes.

A coworker, who has become my fashion guru, about three months into my health transformation, shamed me into going to get some better fitting clothes. Needless to say, I was reluctant to embark on such a quest, bearing in mind that the clothes I have purchased in the last decade have been hoodies, sweatshirts, in the very generic XL, or, if I was really optimistic, an L.

The brilliant thing about my decision to shop for new clothes was to leave my spouse at home. He is a wonderful person, mind you, but his vision of clothing for me is nowhere near what I would ever consider wearing and he tends to spend quite a bit of time exhausting all choices before making a decision on anything. I decided to leave him at home.

The experience was great. Keeping in mind my coworker's counsel, I found some slacks I liked and took three pair in different sizes in the fitting room. Once I honed in on the correct size, it was just a matter of deciding on color and shirts that would complement them.

Not only did I find three pairs of slacks, three shirts and a jacket four sizes smaller than I had ever purchased in my life, the best part was that it was all transacted in 45 minutes. I returned home and not only did my purchases pass muster with my spouse, the next day my coworker was very pleased that I finally came to work in pants that didn't sag in the bottom.

My family was quite generous in giving me gift cards to help expand a new wardrobe, and even more generous in their comments that the next purchases should be shoes. It is at this point that I made a grave mistake. My spouse, quite firm that I am totally incapable of finding the proper shoes for work and dress occasions, started out with me on a very wet Saturday morning, gift cards in hand, to the mall to find shoes.

Bringing Tim with me was the first error; my second was trying to shop without knowing what I wanted. With the vague notion that I could not handle really high heels, I immediately scoured the shoe displays looking for sensible, functional shoes. What a learning experience to see 3-4-5 inch heels, open toe, no toe....all at prices that made my head spin. Even with the gift cards, I knew this would be a very expensive outing even if I could find shoes that worked for me.

A very nice clerk approached and asked what he could do for me. I tried to explain what exactly I wanted and after a momentary pause, the blank look passed from his face and he said he was certain he could help me. He did, however, need to go searching the stockroom and said he would be back very quickly.

In the interim, Tim went on his own search and pulled two or three styles he thought I should try. I too, on closer inspection, found a pair of wedge-style dress shoes that I thought would work. Not too high, I thought the wedge might be a nice in-between style that I could negotiate without falling and breaking an ankle, knee or hip.

Fast-forwarding to 75 minutes and 12 pairs of shoes later, I found two pair that I really liked. Ironically, both pair were three-inch heels, one functional enough to wear with slacks at work or in casual social settings. The other was a very dressy patent leather shoe but the hitch was that it fit one foot better than the other and in order to accommodate a comfortable fit, I would need to purchase shoes a size larger. The clerk, by the way, did not appreciate my suggestion of buying one of one size and the other another.

My ever helpful spouse was certain that we could do better elsewhere, so we bought the less dressy shoes and had him hold the other for me while "I thought about it."

We walked to the other side of this very large shopping mall, to another department store and studied the shoe display. Tim was not impressed; Jeannine was growing tired of the outing and I was growing tired of both. Traversing to yet another department store, where the result was about the same, Tim decided to enlist the help of our eldest daughter by phone, who gave him the name of a shoe store in another shopping center several miles away. Making the trek there was easy enough on a wet, chilly Saturday (haha) and the result was, yep, the same...he didn't like anything he saw.

We are now about 3-4 hours into this adventure and I suggested that we just go home. As there was an all-important college football game about to start, Tim agreed. Once home, I told him I would go back to the mall and retrieve the shoes I had on hold. He was welcome to stay home; and Jeannine was equally pleased not to have to go out again.

Braving the rain, to-the-bone chilling wind and post-Christmas traffic, I arrived at the mall where it took me 15 minutes to find a parking spot. I quickly puddle-jumped my way to the mall entrance, darted my way through the flowing mass of shoppers to the scene of the crime. In less time than it took to park the car, I had the shoes and was on my way home.

So I am very happy that I have embraced a healthy lifestyle that enables me to feel better and accomplish more on a daily basis with the increased energy I have found. I am also very happy to find that my spouse still cares enough about me to want to see me properly outfitted, even if it takes a whole day to find one pair of shoes.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

January Hope Moves to February Action

Here it is, coming on the last week of January, and in the interest of being brave (which is one reason why I chose to start this blog), it is time to take stock. "Of what?" you may ask.

Of many things, really. I have always loved January for a variety of reasons. On a selfish level, it is the month in which I was born. It is also the month in which I was married. The fact that it is in the winter season, with the sometimes bone-chilling temperatures, the desolation of shortened daylight, the compelling bleakness of bare trees and my backyard devoid of all the colors from flowers and shrubs doesn't seem to bother me. I love being able to slow down to hibernation-mode and pad around my home in an oversized sweatshirt, slacks and thick socks, build a fire and read a book or listen to music....and let my mind mindlessly wander to things that I would like to improve in my house, my yard, my relationships and the like.

In its own way January is the most hopeful month of the year. The sorrows, frustrations and pain of the previous year are gone. A new year begins with all the resolve and energy that somehow things are going to be different. Yet how many of those dreams are quickly abandoned by the end of January (or even before) simply because of inaction? So it is time to take stock because I have decided if I don't check in with myself on a regular basis, this year will be as others before: months flying by, and at the close of those 12 months all I have to report is that I made it through another year.

I have read and heard over and over again that "if it is not written down, it won't be done." I sort of believe this is true. In all those years chasing children from school to school, managing what really was simple household, running errands and the like, I did feel so wonderfully successful as I checked things off my "goals for the day" list. The game of getting those tasks checked off was extremely important, too. If on the days that the dozen or so things I "had" to do even one thing did not get done, my day was a waste. I failed. I was somehow not the best person I should be.

Well, I stopped the "goals for the day" list many years ago, mostly because I did not want to continue to feel as if I was a failure, and it zapped my energy to sit down and write one. The other thing, too, was that I was getting far too clever at convincing myself that I had actually completed all those things on the list, when in fact, some things were only partially or minimally done. Laundry, for example, was one of those things that I could say was really "completed" even if all the clothes were merely washed and dried. What did it matter if they were not sorted and put away?

It is now apparent to me that this sort of "let life happen" approach I have been using was not getting me where I wanted to be, even though I didn't really know where that was exactly. Deciding to put into action those "mindless wanderings" of these sometimes bleak January days, I have to now take stock and see what I have accomplished. This would be much easier if I had written these things down...it does make the process of taking stock much easier.

So for what it is worth, I have one week to accomplish a (haha) "laundry list" of things, which will be miraculous since most of these things are still in my head and run the gamut of my various current careers (health coach, office manager, mom....). At least I have been brave enough to recognize what I need to do (like put my mindless wanderings into actionable goals) and look forward to moving the hope that January brings into February.