Making Health Care More Caring

When you realize we're all going to go through something one day, how can we recreate what goes on in health care as a more caring, human experience?
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Along with my friend and partner in crime, Sonja Nuttal, I launched the two week Well-Being Forum at Urban Zen in what for me is a heart space -- my late husband Stephan Weiss' sculpture studio -- to bring in the best minds and healers from all traditions to figure out how to make our health care more patient-centered and caring. That journey is one we'll all travel one day.

I'm really touched hearing from so many of you. I've never written for a blog before and it's amazing to connect with so many people in this way. When I started the Well-Being Forum because of what happened to my husband and me, I knew that this is what this is a journey many people have been on in one way or another. But even knowing that, it's still wonderful to hear your stories. Each one is precious to me. I know that every one of us will have to go through something like this -- no one is immortal, none of our loved ones are immortal. That's an important part of this. So I really want to thank you for joining the discussion and contributing what you've learned from your experience. It means a lot to me to hear from you.

First of all, I want to say that I totally agree with what Hippocrates said in that beautiful quote one of you wrote in to the blog, "If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health." That's exactly what I want us to focus on. What can we do, what simple things can we take on, like yoga, nutrition, mindfulness, self-empowerment, self-care -- how do we learn them and use them and make them part of our lives especially when we become patients?

But my second question is what big things can we all join together and make happen so that the medical system we have includes prevention of disease, rather than only crisis management. There is a place for the latter, and I wouldn't want to do without it. It saves people's lives and I know that from personal experience. But it's not an either/or... it's both. How do we have the best of both worlds because I am convinced that each offers something of value.

Someone also wrote in to say that the benefits of integrative approaches are "rather subjective." That's an interesting comment because I'm trying to understand how we've all come to a place where the power of what we feel is somehow considered "not important." My feelings of love for my husband, family, and friends are the most important things in my life, and I'm not ashamed of that. My feelings about what is beautiful have guided me to create every single thing from a piece of clothing to a flower arrangement in my home. This is my life. So why would my feelings or your or anyone's feelings suddenly become unimportant the moment that we become ill? Feeling sick doesn't feel good; feeling healthy does. We can't leave that out -- we can't ignore that. We must become our own guides. I can point to many, many examples when personal intuition has led the healing process.

The doctors and journalists at the conference also tell me that many scientific studies document the connection between feeling states, immunity, and health. Feeling good makes a real difference to improve health. To me, that's just a no-brainer. But why do we believe that when we read it in a study and not believe it when it's in us? I think we need to learn to trust ourselves more. There is medical evidence to support this.

This is where I have to say that I don't believe we are just a body -- or just our mind and feelings. Somehow all of these things are wrapped up together. I don't feel you can separate them. That's the human experience. It's mysterious, yes. But I encourage you all to be open to that. I feel we have to be.

So my new question for you today is: When you realize we're all going to go through something one day, how can we recreate what goes on in health care as a more caring, human experience? When Stephan got his diagnosis, we were just naïve -- we had to find our way.

I believe we need prevention, I know we need self-care, and I also feel that we have to help create a medical system that serves us. Doctors and nurses need self-care as much as we do. As someone said, "The last thing you want is a stressed out doctor working on you."

But medical staff are human too, and when illness comes, there needs to be that one person that each patient has with them to help navigate their journey.

My husband always said, "Don't forget the nurses, they're the ones who really take care of patients." So I made sure that the nurses helping us were not just technicians, but people who were gifted as healers.

From that experience, I know that nurses are the unsung heroines (and heroes) of medicine. They are there 24/7. They know how to be there unconditionally, how to be present.

At the conference, we had a whole conversation about that which you can read about on health journalist Alison Rose Levy's blog here.

I really love your comments and suggestions about what needs to be done. Check out our website for more info and you can also give us your contact information so we can get you involved.

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