Monday, October 5, 2015

Book Review: The Patient's Playbook

The past several months have brought a whirlwind of change on the health front for my parents. It has been rather unsettling to be so far away while all these changes occur. Some time in May, my mother experienced some pain radiating from her chest up into her chin. My dad rushed her to the emergency room. They found a 90 percent blockage and went in to place a stent. Upon coming out of the anesthesia, she seemed much better but suffered from some short term memory loss. A few weeks later, she was back in the hospital with an intestinal problem. She really needs to have a kidney removed, but cannot have that done now because of the blood thinners she is on as a result of the heart surgery. In the time since then, her memory issues have continued and been rather worrisome to me (she has found she can no longer read because she cannot retain what she has just read - reading has always been a significant connection between us).

In addition, my dad has been told that he needs outpatient spinal surgery to correct a disc problem he has dealt with for years by taking ibuprofen (something he cannot continue to do). Prior to scheduling the surgery, he needed to meet with a cardiologist for clearance, but that clearance has been a long time coming since they were rather concerned that he might be a candidate for stroke, as well (they believe my mother experienced a mini-stroke while in the hospital and that the memory issues are some sort of vascular dementia). I am deeply concerned about both of them and wish I could be closer to assist them and to be there for my mother during whatever surgeries my dad might incur.

As a result of waiting on pins and needles to hear about both their progress and decline, I was immediately drawn in by the title of this book, The Patient's Playbook: How to Save Your Life and the Lives of Those You Love. It is a recent acquisition on my library's shelves and I signed up as soon as I heard of it. This blurb on the back cover, from the forward by Dr. Peter T. Scardino of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, really sums up the book's effectiveness well:

"The decisions you make about your medical care will have a profound impact on you and your family's life ... Successfully steering through the medical system can be a challenge. In The Patient's Playbook, Michelson gives away secrets of the trade - lessons he's learned from more than thirty years of helping people get better outcomes ... He levels the playing field by providing average patients who have ordinary health insurance with the resources, advice, and tools they need to make better medical decisions ... As a patient, you have more power than you think. This book will help you find that power and use it to maximum advantage."

The very first steps he suggests? "Find and partner with a good primary care physician, complete your personal health binder, and round up your wellness team." He encourages every patient to recruit a health care "quarterback." This is someone who steps in as a support, attending doctor appointments so that the information given is fully absorbed, providing encouragement and support throughout the medical journey, and intellectually stimulating the patient to maneuver through the potential problems involved in securing the most excellent care available.

In the chapter entitled, "Emergency 101: The four most common mistakes made in the first twenty-four hours of a medical emergency," the author provides some horrifying stories of medical visits gone wrong. Although difficult to read (because they stir intense empathy), these stories definitely prepare the reader to take charge and secure better care for themselves by thorough preparation and active intervention during any hospital stay. He also provides information for protecting yourself from unnecessary treatments (because sometimes overtreatment is just as dangerous as undertreatment). Moreover, I plan to copy the pages where he outlines ten pertinent questions to ask at the end of a hospital stay.

There is a wealth of information provided in this book and I found it to be a very effective tool as I consider how best to prepare for any possible medical needs I might have as well as ways to assist my parents as they journey through their own medical paths. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in gleaning the best possible outcome from the need for medical intervention. As the fly-leaf proclaims, "This book will enable you to become a smarter health care consumer - and to replace anxiety with confidence."

While I still feel the burden of distance, since my parents are in Florida and I cannot afford to fly down on a regular basis, I feel more qualified to ask the right questions and help them get the best care they can, under the circumstances. Moreover, when I finally do go down to assist them (whenever the spinal surgery is scheduled), I will take some time to prepare my own medical health binder of health history information (my recent trip to the eye doctor reminded me of my need to know exactly what health issues my parents and grandparents have experienced because it might indeed factor into my own health experiences). Leslie Michelson has provided a well-structured, easily-understood treatise on securing the very best care possible. This was probably one of the most helpful non-fiction books I have read this year. Even if you don't check out the book, you can check out the website for the book, where you can access helpful lists and worksheets to help you get started on a path to being a better health care consumer.

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