Building a Relationship with Your Healthcare Provider

Not long ago, patients expected their doctor to tell them what to do about their health and doctors expected patients to follow orders. With the growth and expansion of technology, individuals are given an opportunity to read medical journals, watch health-related television, and visit information sites regarding their specific condition.

With the expansion of medical knowledge, there has been a shift in the doctor-patient relationship. Patients are now expected and encouraged to ask questions and have medical discussions about their care. Some doctors are more open to this relationship than others, so how do you build a relationship with a doctor who may not be as open to this type of relationship?

Communication in any relationship is a key factor; having a discussion with your doctor about what you are and are not comfortable with is very important. By having this conversation, assumptions about what you may or may not know about your disease, or the treatment options is avoided. You have a right as a patient to receive appropriate medical care and the right to have your voice heard.

Just like any relationship, if you do not feel comfortable or feel as though your voice is not being heard you have two choices, leave the relationship or work to change it. Have you had to have a conversation with your doctor about your relationship? What was that like for you? Do you have any advice for others?


Communication is a Two-way Street

Sometimes you may feel like you are talking at someone. As if the things you are saying hit an invisible force field and bounce back toward you with no impact on the person you are speaking to. When this happens it can cause feelings of frustration.

You may think: Are they even listening? Do they care? How do I make them hear what I am really saying (and not just what they want to hear)?

Communication can be difficult when the person you need support from is on a different page. You may feel they are unresponsive, unrealistic, or uncaring. The other person may be thinking about something totally different, they may be unmoved by your appeals, think you are incorrect in your logic, or something else entirely.

You can only do your best to communicate your needs and sometimes you may not get those needs met. Why, because communication is a two-way street. Talking at someone rarely effects change. To make a difference it often requires both sides to give a little and meet somewhere in the middle or for one person to make concessions to another.

When no one gives a little, situations can explode. For example: “I need help with the laundry, it’s getting too difficult to carry it up and down the stairs” over time can turn into “You didn’t change the laundry again. Do you even care about my fatigue and how that makes me feel?”

Or “Doctor xyz about that medicine makes me really uncomfortable.” Response: “You will take the medication prescribed, I’m the expert here.”

If both sides can collaborate and agree to a plan of action it may result in a better outcome. “Let’s make a plan for you to help me with the laundry every Monday so we can all have clean clothes for the week.”  “Okay, but if I forget please just remind me when you want it done before getting upset.”

Or “If that doesn’t work then let’s talk about what other options for treatment we have available and try to select something we can both agree on.” Creating a clear plan of action can remove frustration and set realistic expectations for each party.

If ultimately, the other person refuses to listen or budge on an issue you may have to try and get your needs met in other ways. “My mom agreed to come over to help wash the clothes” or “I’m finding a new doctor.”  As you can see in some circumstances seeking other support can help to resolve the issue but sometimes at a steep cost.
If you run into a situation where someone will not meet you in the middle you will need to review the pros and cons of your alternative options and remember that communication is a two-way street.


Family Ties

The relationships that we hold with family members are some of the most significant and influential ties that we will carry throughout our lifetime. These bonds, whether good or a little rocky at times, help to build the foundation of our relations with other people. Because these relationships hold so much meaning and importance, individuals put forth much effort into maintaining them to ensure they remain intact. What helps to make this possible?

A key element in all types of relationships is communication. Being able to disclose feelings, concerns, and needs to others is important and can build strong ties in the connections. Reading other people’s minds can be a challenge, so talking openly about things is a good step to knowing what the other person is feeling. This isn’t easy for everyone; it can be difficult to bring matters to other people’s attention and talk about different issues, especially if they are personal or sensitive in nature. Because of this it’s important to think about whom you feel comfortable disclosing things to if challenges arise.

Having that go-to person/support in place is essential to communicating effectively and being able to share your personal experiences. Sometimes you may seek this type of support outside of your family structure which may inadvertently upset family members. So then with family, you may need to have a discussion about communications barriers or discomforts to be able to disclose why communication is difficult. This can help to reduce confusion and misconceptions in these relationships, and still leave the communication lines open. As family remains one of the strongest ties in connecting to others, communication will remain an integral part of this system.


Keeping Track of Your MS

We all trust and hope that medical providers keep accurate records and maintain documentation in an orderly fashion. But things happen – papers get misplaced, lost, or destroyed and when this happens, the patient suffers.

So what can be done in advance to reduce the chances of this negative effect?

Keeping track of your medical records is the best way to assure that the information about your MS treatment stays organized. However, this can mean different things to different people. Finding a way to organize and keep your medical records in a way that makes sense to you is important.

Some individuals may find sorting records by year helps to track progression or change over time. While others prefer to sort based on testing or specialty, tracking things such as MRI results, bloodwork, or therapy. No one way is better than another. It is about finding a way that makes sense to you and one that will help you along the way.

Take into account the type of materials needed to organize your medical records. Three-ring binders are helpful in securing documents, making sure they stay in place and are not easily lost. Dividers and tabs can be used to distinguish a change in the record, whether it’s a year, type of test, or doctor. Labels written on with dark marker can be placed on the outside of a binder to help identify what is inside.

Depending on the size of your medical record, bring the record with you to an appointment. It can be used as a reference with the doctor, or can be a place to take notes during a visit. After the appointment, ask the office staff to make a copy of any records discussed at the time of the appointment and place them into the organized medical record.

By keeping track of your medical records, you are taking an active role in your health care. In which way do you keep track of your MS? Which system works best for you?


From Junk Food Junkie to Health Food Nut: My New Year’s Resolution

By: Jeri Burtchell

Happy New Year! I don’t know about you, but I’m starting fresh, determined to make this year better than the one before.

I try not to make unrealistic promises to myself in January since I’m not so “resolute” when it comes to my resolutions. Instead, I set the bar low so I can cross it–even if I have to trip and fall to make it over.

This year I chose only one goal: to eat better. I figured if I can do that, maybe there will be side benefits like losing weight or feeling better.

I confess I’ve been a junk foodie in the past. I use air quotes when I say the word “food” as some people would beg to differ. Yes, I’ve eaten leftover french fries from the bottom of a McDonalds bag a day later. Am I ashamed of that? You bet.

It’s hard to be a freelance writer covering MS and ignore my own bad habits. The latest news regarding the gut microbiome and how it can influence a whole host of diseases has been in the news and on the internet so much I can’t help but feel guilty hoisting a Coke to my lips as I look on and take it all in. Maybe there’s no definitive proof that diet influences MS, but if I can control what goes in my mouth on the off chance I might feel better, don’t I have an obligation to do that?

So enough was enough. I slurped up the rest of my Wendys frosty and pledged to tighten up my definition of food. I mentally stationed a miniature bouncer at the corner of my mouth who only lets the good foods pass.

I wish this bouncer had a wallet full of cash, though. My first stop after I (loosely) defined my resolution was the grocery store. Who knew eating only organic whole foods and raw honey or cold-pressed virgin coconut oil was only a pastime the rich and famous could afford?

The upside to taking out another mortgage in order to eat right is that you are hyper-aware of expiration dates and the gradual decomposition of your quality fruits and veggies. If I wanted everything to turn to compost in the vegetable drawer I would have cut out the middleman and simply buried my hard earned dollars in the back yard.

Not everyone in the house is on this health food bandwagon, however.

My teenager hates vegetables and my 91 year old mother is set in her routine, and she’s in great shape. “She’s earned the right to eat what she likes,” said her doctor, and I swear I saw Mom stick her tongue out at me.

Even though this is my resolution, I’ve found myself asking “every day??” when I think about how often a person is supposed to eat like this. For a terrible cook (another confession), eating things that aren’t ready to “microwave and enjoy” has been a huge challenge.

So I started out with something easy. We all like shakes, and smoothies are like shakes, right?

I got out the old Hamilton-Beach blender and blew the dust off. I looked at all the fancy stuff I’d bought at the grocery store and began flinging in a handful of this, a spoonful of that. I topped it all off with a generous heap of kale (because you can’t toss an Oreo cookie without hitting a story about how good kale is for you), and I set the blender spinning.

It looked…disgusting! The green of the kale, combined with the red of the strawberries gave the concoction an overall brown color. Even though it looked kind of like a chocolate shake, my teenager wrinkled his nose, well aware there had been no chocolate involved in the making of his mom’s new drink.

Ignoring my own urge to pinch my nose closed before gulping it down, I sipped mine and smiled, nodding to him to give his a try.

It turns out we both loved it so much it has become our daily ritual–and the uglier the better. We throw every healthy thing we can find in there.

Besides the smoothies, I cut out processed foods, refined sugar, and carbs. I have no clue how–or if–it affects my MS, but I can tell you this: in the 22 days since I began, I’ve lost 5 lbs., I don’t need afternoon naps, and my brain fog seems to be lifting.

I can’t wait to see how I feel a month from now. Unlike past resolutions, I think I just might be able to keep this one!

*Jeri Burtchell was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999. She has spoken from a patient perspective at conferences around the country, addressing social media and the role it plays in designing clinical trials. Jeri is a MS blogger, patient activist, and freelance writer for the MS News Beat of She lives in northeast Florida with her youngest son and elderly mother. When not writing or speaking, she enjoys crafting and photography.


Do What Makes You Happy

Happy. It’s such a simple word that carries with it so many huge notions and feelings. It is strived for and achieved every day and thought of as an important goal by many. People wish to be happy. I think there is an innate characteristic that many people hold that strives to make other people happy also – to obtain their approval, to have others’ needs be granted and satisfied too. It is human nature to put other’s needs ahead of your own at times, especially in close and supportive relationships. But I think too often people tend to ignore or forget their own needs and their own paths to achieving happiness. It’s not through any fault of their own; when we care for others it sustains us and creates rewarding and happy feelings that tend to satisfy us. But what about the things you can do for yourself that make you happy?

Ok, so realistically life can be crazy and hectic at times, so who has the extra time to spend to do all of the things that ultimately make you happy? Challenges arise, life gets complicated, and things get in the way so it’s hard to focus at times. But sometimes it’s about the little moments, the small fragments of time where you can step away from the obstacles and do something that makes you happy, no matter the task. Life is too precious and too valuable to not do the things that you enjoy and that will bring you happiness and moments to treasure in the days ahead.

It doesn’t have to be every moment of every day, but when you can, take some time to think about what it is that makes you happy, what you would enjoy doing or something new you’ve wanted to try. We’ve again stepped into a new year where people can start things fresh and reflect on their wants and needs. So why not start these new beginnings by doing something that makes you happy?



Winding Down from the Holidays

As the holiday season comes to a halt, signs of the New Year are all around us. While families are taking down and storing away decorations, stores are preparing for the next holiday. Windows and aisles are filled with red and pink candies, hearts, and flower holding bears. With all of the displays and reminders about Valentine’s Day, it’s hard not to be swept back up into another holiday.

January is typically the month of New Year’s Resolutions, with everyone vowing to make changes or set goals for the new year. January can also be a time for a re-set. Before jumping back into another holiday, take some time to focus on you and do something that you enjoy, or perhaps have put off over the last few months.

Changing the mentality of getting a jump start on the new year to one of sanctity and calm, may be beneficial for people who find themselves getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of life and forgetting to care for themselves.

Take some time during the day, even as little as 10 minutes, to do something that makes you happy. Sometimes even just sitting in a quiet space and taking a few deep breaths can calm you and prepare you for your next task. It is OK to take time for yourself. By doing so, you are allowing your best self to come forward.

How do you plan to care for yourself this year?


Here’s to a New Year!

Proof-V1-2014-MSAA Holiday Cards14It’s time to celebrate a new year again, and with it, new hopes and goals for the upcoming months. A new year symbolizes many things but one of the most aspiring qualities it holds is promise. Things can be changed, new strategies can be created and thus new journeys can begin during this fresh start. No matter the venture, people can make choices and set goals that work to accommodate their needs and wants to make the year a memorable one.

Though each New Year represents the passing of time, it also ignites new beginnings and reminders that time is precious and to make each moment count. Resolutions are a common theme this time of year and one of the most popular items to add to one’s agenda. If you create resolutions for yourself make them attainable so they’re something you can commit to and strive for within the year. Form resolutions and goals that you’re passionate about so your interest in them remains strong. The New Year is just that, new, so take time to learn what the year has to offer and what you can obtain from it.

What will you be doing in the New Year?


Creating New Memories this Holiday Season

“What if Christmas, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Growing up, one of my favorite activities in school was around learning and exploring new cultures and how they celebrate holidays. Being so young and not yet having a chance to explore the world around me, I found it fascinating that people were different from what I assumed was the norm.

For example, in Germany, December 6th is St. Nicholas’ Day and “der Nikolaus” comes to the home of small children and brings gifts, such as sweets and chocolate, and puts them into the shoes of the children, who place them by their doors the night before. Then on the night of December 24th, Father Christmas brings presents to the children.

In Argentina, families celebrate starting Christmas Eve with a large family meal following with a fireworks display at midnight, toasting to Christmas. Many families stay up late into the night meeting with friends and family, then they will sleep all of Christmas Day.

To celebrate the New Year, people in Greece hang an onion on their door to symbolize rebirth and in the Philippines, women wear polka dot dresses and men carry coins in their pockets to symbolize prosperity and happiness for the new year.

The purpose of sharing these variations of holiday celebrations is to show that no matter how you choose to celebrate a holiday this year whether it is Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, remember that it is OK to be different. Value time spent with family, not the gifts that are given, or the decorations that are hung. Create new memories this season and don’t be afraid to veer from the holiday norm. As the Dr. Seuss quote illustrates, the holiday spirit cannot be bought from a store, the holiday is what you make of it.

If you are looking for some inspiration from other countries on how to add some new culture to your holiday, check out the Why Christmas webpage to learn more about Christmas Around the World or 123 New Year to learn about New Year’s Traditions and Customs.

How do you plan to make new memories this holiday season?



End of Year Reflections

There’s a song lyric that says “It’s hard to remember we’re alive for the first time. It’s hard to remember, it’s hard to remember, we’re alive for the last time” (Modest Mouse). This poignant sentiment sums up a lot about our daily lives.

When you’re in the thick of your day-to-day routine it is easy to become bored or stagnant. When you are struggling with something it can be reflexive to focus only on the challenges and obstacles in your way as opposed to the strength and persistence required to make it through.

It’s easy to get caught up in just another day and forget about the wonder and marvel of life, and all the precious moments that you get to experience. True, not all moments are wonderful, but when you lose the spark of hope and wonder you lose something bigger and not just your inner philosopher.

First, cut yourself some slack, nobody gets everything right. Reflect and recognize that each day is a new one. If you are so inspired you can chose to think that with each day comes opportunity and choice. We may not be able to control everything but we can control some things.

Second, remember that no one’s life is endless. When reflecting on your own precious life you may find that there are opportunities and adventures you want to undertake. As 2014 winds down think about the journeys (metaphorical and physical) that you want to take and write them down. Some people might call it a bucket list, you may never get to all of them but you can keep trying and remembering.