Dr. Norah Neylon was caring for a 50-year-old woman who was overwhelmed with caregiving responsibilities of her own.
The woman’s mother was experiencing early signs of dementia. Five of her relatives had died in the past three years.
She frequently had to fly back and forth from California to the Caribbean to take care of members of her extended family. Oh yes, and her blood pressure was dangerously elevated at 210/115.
So Neylon gave her a prescription. I’m not referring to the blood pressure pills she prescribed. I’m referring to another script, which read:
“Permission to put your needs first. Use at least once a day for thirty minutes, do not exceed the stated dose, this is potent medicine.”
Neylon’s patient laughed when she saw the script, and then began to cry. She hadn’t been putting herself first, and her health was suffering as a result.
Neylon relayed this story in a recent JAMA article "The Prescriptions I Write." It’s a beautiful essay.
Many health problems are self-inflicted: Some of us bring illness upon ourselves by smoking or drinking too much, or sleeping and exercising too little. Other people become sick because they don’t take time to care for themselves.
Doctors can throw a heap of blood pressure medicines at their patient; they can prescribe anxiety pills or antidepressants. But sometimes doctors need to tell patients that it’s time for them to be selfish, BID (that’s doctor talk for “twice a day”). People like Neylon’s patient need to take time out from caring for others to care for themselves. How about these prescriptions:
“Take the evening off and relax every other day.”
“Spend time on something you enjoy, at least once a day.”
“Get a massage weekly; trade with a friend if you can.”
Those of you feeling overwhelmed caring for family and friends: Don’t wait for your doctor to write such a prescription.
Write one for yourself. You can’t take care of loved ones if you don’t find the time to take care of yourself.