7 Suggestions for Post-Diagnosis Waiting
If you've recently been diagnosed with a serious illness, the days and weeks following can be torturous. After the initial shock wears off, most people are anxious for the next step so that they can begin to gear up for the fight that lies ahead. Unfortunately, the medical community doesn't typically work on a schedule that is as hurried as we might like. For many patients, after an initial diagnosis, getting an appointment to see a decent specialist can take several weeks, and that's if you're lucky. It can be an agonizing, frustrating, and helpless time for patients and their families so it's important to find ways to stay productively occupied in the days and weeks of waiting. Here are 7 productive things that you can do to be prepared for what lies ahead.
Research the basics.
There's something to be said for going into your first appointment armed and ready, and doing a little research of your own can help you to feel equipped for the next step in your journey. If you haven't requested copies of all medical tests already, now is the time to do so. Use the report to do your own research before meeting with your medical specialist. The Internet can help you understand on the report. Create a long list of questions for your doctor to cover at your appointment. But don't get too caught up in your research; you may find out more than you need or want to know. If some of the facts you uncover are a little scary, remember that every patient is different.
Review the credentials of the medical facility.
Once you have a better understanding of the medical test results, you can then begin to search online for the best medical facilities for your particular diagnosis. The simple truth is that it may not be the one you've been referred to; that may be only a starting point. Just because one hospital is renowned for treating heart disease, you can't assume that it's rated well for neurosurgery. Read up on the annual caseloads, if you can find them, and search around for recommendations from patients who have actually received treatment at those facilities. Many people stop short of simply asking for an honest evaluation, when it is the very information that could save their lives.
Call on your A-team.
Even though the wheels may seem to turn slowly before the first meeting with your medical team, once you meet with them things can heat up quickly. It pays to be prepared. Are you going to need some help with childcare so you can go to appointments? What about your pets? Can someone pick up your mail? How will you pay your bills if your treatment is done out of town? These things may seem insignificant now, but having them handled can be a major stress relief in the midst of treatment. Friends and family will want to know how to help, and these tasks are the perfect response for you to give them when asked.
Keep up with your homework.
Since you never know what that first appointment will bring, it's important to be as prepared as possible ahead of time. If you believe there is a chance of being admitted, you may want to pack a small bag with necessities ahead of time to have on hand. Spend some time compiling lists of medical information, such as an up-to-date list of current medications, insurance provider information, or a detailed write-up of symptoms and any previous treatment. Doing housekeeping, freezing some meals and mowing the lawn will give you peace of mind and staying busy will keep your mind from focusing on concerns that you can't do anything about yet.
Quit procrastinating on the paperwork.
No one likes thinking about documents like their will, living will, or healthcare power of attorney, especially when the shock of a diagnosis is still fresh. Most people look at these tasks negatively and so they avoid them. But it's important to think of it as something that you need to do for your family. It's one of the things you can control and do proactively during this time. Laws vary by region, so be sure to discuss specific requirements with an attorney or clerk of courts office. And after you've completed your documents, store them in a safe place. Make sure that those closest to you know where they are and have a general idea of what your wishes are. As a last resort, write down a list of your basic wishes and have it notarized.
Give yourself financial reassurance.
It's no secret that medical treatments can be financially devastating. And receiving upsetting financial news at the peak of an illness or mid-treatment can cause unnecessary stress. Take some time to get on the phone to get a detailed listing of benefits, fill out any necessary paperwork, and figure out what your up-front costs may be. Knowing this ahead of time will allow you to make a financial plan, or identify sources of financial aid.
Be prepared for an emergency.
Even though your scheduled appointment may still be a few days (or even weeks) away, it's entirely possible that you may find yourself in a situation where your condition worsens quickly. These are often unavoidable, and you should be prepared to take all of the medical test results, medications, and information that you have already accumulated from the general practitioner with you. If possible, avoid going to the emergency room during peak hours, which typically occur on Friday and Saturday nights. If you're at risk for disease, stop by the pharmacy and pick up a facemask before you go.
Remember to take it one day at a time. Control the things you can control, focus on the day ahead, and keep a positive attitude. Your appointment will be here before you know it, and you'll be ready for it when it's time.
Joni Aldrich is a speaker and author of five books, including Connecting through Compassion: Guidance for Family and Friends of a Brain Cancer Patient (Cancer Lifeline Publications, 2010). For more information, please visit www.jonialdrich.com.
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