Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lace Up That Trusty Pair of Chucks

A trip to Ohio last week meant a rare chance to see my BFF and blogging partner Diane “in real life” as we say online. It was great to spend some time with her family! Two of the many fantastic things about the Buckeye State are her husband Dave’s grilling skills (he used to do it professionally – working his way through college) and that pitcher of margaritas that is was in Diane’s fridge.

I also brought back a souvenir for PatientLovingCare readers that I picked up on the front page of Friday’s Cleveland Plain Dealer. I immediately bookmarked this story about and tracked down the organization website to share here.

Walk With a Doc is the brainchild of a physician who found that patients often had trouble getting started on an exercise program but were more than willing to take a walk at a local park if their doctor invited them to come along with him. Soon after he started the program in Columbus, Dr. David Sabgir had 100 people joining him for Saturday morning strolls.

Dozens of doctors have signed on since, agreeing to organize walks and socialize alongside regular folks who like the group support and the idea that healthcare providers are nearby as they tentatively step out for a fitness program. The docs are required to begin with a short health presentation and be available to chat for a 45 minute stroll.

It is said that one hour of walking adds two hours to your life expectancy. Who could refuse that kind of return on investment? I was curious though, what motivated the doctors to sign on for this busman’s holiday of having their patients join them for their workout time. Turns out it’s just good marketing. Sponsoring a local Walk With a Doc builds good will and brings attention to the docs as community leaders.

Click here to find a group near you. Or contact your favorite healthcare provider to suggest starting up a chapter – it’s win/win for both of you.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

If I Told You To, Would You Believe In Yourself?

Today we dust off our soapbox on the topic of education. If you are caregiver to a child, you know the unquestionable importance of learning success despite medical obstacles.

What prompted this post was an opinion piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer with the attention-grabbing headline “Self-esteem exercise boosts minority teen achievement.” Despite my initial suspicions, it was not at all a rehash the ‘90s self-esteem psychology that I’ve seen employers blame for a young workforce ill-prepared to learn from constructive criticism because they’ve been raised on a strict diet of praise.

Rather, the article is about the profound power of expectations. Author David Kirp (a Berkeley professor of public policy) says that as early as kindergarten, a disproportionate percentage of African-American boys believe they lack the innate ability to succeed in school. And so they don’t. The piece goes on to cite middle school and college studies that, in a nutshell, suggest that when minority students are a.) told stories of upper classmen who succeeded in spite of feeling at first intimidated and unworthy or b.) given a primer on how “effortful learning” rewires the brain, the result is that test scores and grades measurably improved compared to control groups.

I’ll leave the education and minority-achievement debates to others. But I’ll take this opportunity to speak out on how chronic illness affected my own child’s expectations at school. His symptoms became progressively worse as he moved through junior high. A straight-A student in elementary school, he started to believe “I used to be smart, and now I’m stupid.” When things hit rock bottom, he was seeing several counselors outside of school. My child, his parents and school staff were at wits’ end. But the best thing any of us did - and what he may be most grateful for today - is when people told him he was wrong: he wasn’t stupid, he was just temporarily having trouble while we struggled to get neurological problems under control.

I am still very proud of the essay my child submitted with his college application. The third paragraph mentions a science teacher who recommended he be moved down from college prep to general ed classes because of his medical condition. “I set the goal to ‘prove him wrong’ and I was able to stay in college prep level classes…. I had to study harder and harder just to squeak by. Finally my hard work started to pay off and I was able to bring up my grades and do well on the SAT. For a while, I thought I wouldn’t be able to go to college and now I think I will have no problem earning a four-year degree.”

Fortunately, his college of choice agreed, and he is well on his way to succeeding at earning a bachelor’s degree.

Figuring out where to set the bar on expectations can be difficult. The wrong decision can be disastrous. But I can’t think of any circumstances where setting a goal for improvement is a mistake. Illness, minority status, nor intelligence tests can ever take into account the miraculous power of a child inspired to believe he can “prove them wrong.”