Friday, 22 July 2011

Get up, get down, keep moving...

For the last few weeks I’ve been spending my Wednesday afternoons with a group of other women with chronic illnesses.  Lucky old me eh? My life is just like one big disco party...

(photo of disco ball c/o my Auntie Margaret's sheltered housing common room,
 music from the depths of my disco memory, click to play.)

I signed up to do an Expert Patient Programme course because it promised to help me learn how to manage my chronic health condition and get the most out of the medical profession.
On the whole I have to say it has been quite useful though not entirely what I expected.
The course leaders are volunteers who also have long term health problems. They are lovely ladies and extremely well prepared for every session with flipcharts and notes so they know exactly what they’re doing and it’s all very clear for everyone.
EPP trains them and in fact during our course they were assessed and have become accredited, which means that the next course they deliver they will get paid which I think is pretty good.  I’m all for patient power and turning your experience of illness into an earning opportunity seems like a positive step. It also removes that sometimes uncomfortable professional:patient relationship that us sick people can have sometimes with our doctors.
At the end of the day, we’re all people, while I recognise that experts will (hopefully!!) have more knowledge than me about my illness and I need their help, there’s also a lot of value in getting advice and support from other people who have gone through similar stuff to me and are not going to see me as somehow less than them.
(Anyone else ever felt that their doctors don’t always seem to take them entirely seriously? I find that so tedious and BAD for my self esteem!)
Great value too for the NHS – mobilising patients to help each other has got to be a sensible long term strategy for sustainable health service – no??? Come on!! On that note I’d just like to share this excellent Ted Talks video from Dave deBronkart also known as @epatientdave.
So what have I learned so far? Different things to what I expected.
We did some stuff on communications skills and I’m super keen on this stuff because communication is one of my passions and I’ve studied it as well as being employed as a professional communicator for most of my adult life. But surprise, surprise, there wasn’t anything new there for me, basic stuff I know already and I felt that it was skipped over too quickly so that if people didn’t know it already (and not everyone would) they wouldn’t necessarily “get it” in the short session we did. Still there’s more of that to come, I may yet have a communications eureka moment!  I have to try not to be so judgemental and the content we did cover was good stuff, just not new for me.
Then we have done quite a lot on exercise and I didn’t think I was going to learn anything new there. Exercise is exercise, right, we all know it’s good for us and we should do it. When we’re ill of course it’s difficult, sometimes impossible. I learned at the Fatigue Clinic that while I’m not well enough to go running or to a yoga class for an hour, I can do 5 mins of exercise every couple of days and over time will be able to build up to doing a few more minutes, then more and more till I find I am as well as I ever was....
While I can only hope that the end bit of that will turn out as promised! And if it happens I have to expect it will take a long time, I have been doing little 5 min runs and finding that I enjoy them and feel better for them – yay me!  That was one of the useful things I took away from my sessions there (more on the Fatigue Clinic another time)
In the EPP group there are people who are not fit enough to do the little runs I am managing – but they are setting different goals, like walking up a flight of stairs a couple of times a day, or doing a few gentle upper body exercises in a chair. So I have been reminded again how lucky I am not to be much more ill than I am. And I am inspired by these women’s determination and commitment to take on their situations and take the daily steps towards being as mobile and as well as they can.
The group dynamic has encouraged me to set specific exercise goals and to achieve them. We also  had a great group discussion about why exercise is so important. It affects our bone density, our blood pressure, our muscle tone, our levels of pain, our heart health, our state of mind, our stamina and breathing, so many things beyond just the wanting to be trim and strong that I was focussed on. I really “got” how important exercise is, more than I had previously fully appreciated. So that’s been quite surprising and an unexpected lesson!
I’d love to hear from anyone else who’s done an EPP course, or anything like it, or anyone who’s read the great course book which is available on Amazon for not very much money and I’m super impressed with.
What do you think of the idea of patients helping themselves and the weird power dynamic that I feel exists between people who happen to be patients and people who have chosen to be doctors? Do you agree with Dave's video?
How do you get on with exercise? Or communicating with your doctors for that matter?
I will blog more about this course another time. Thanks so much for reading, it means the world. Comments as ever are very warmly welcomed.