Companion in Illness:
A Physician's Thoughts

by Anna E. Sweany, M.D.

It is difficult to accept sickness. Your first reaction to it may be one of anxiety, anger, or confusion. How you manage when ill depends on how severe your illness is, how long it lasts, and the prognosis for it. It depends too on your readiness to seek help.

Informing Your Physician

Inform your physician and/or nurses (caregivers) about your symptoms:

  • What are they?
  • How long do they last?
  • Where is your pain?
  • Is there anything that triggers your symptoms: body position, movement, food, smell, noise?

If you have chronic pain or discomfort, don't be afraid that you'll disturb your physician or nurse by letting them know. Nor should you think the presence of pain means your illness is getting worse.

Fear of Medication

Don't deny your pain because you are concerned about taking analgesics to relieve it. Taking analgesics does not make one an addict. Drug (or narcotic) addiction is primarily a psychological dependence. There is a great difference between using drugs for their psychic effect and using them for medical reasons. If you were not in pain you would not take a narcotic-- that makes you different from the addict.

If this is a moral issue for you, take time to discuss it with your physician. An option may be to take non-narcotic agents to relieve your pain.

Tolerating Medications

In your illness your medications may need to be increased in dosage or changed. Besides providing information to your physician about your pain, don't be afraid to inform him or her if you have sleep disturbances (such as insomnia), decrease in appetite or activity, changes in mood, etc. This information will help your physician choose an adequate analgesic or determine whether non-drug options will help your condition.

Besides medication, behavioral procedures may help you. Relaxation techniques, acupuncture, massage therapy, hypnosis or pain clinics may alleviate your discomfort. The goal of these procedures is to improve your ability to function and relieve pain.

Depression and Discomfort

If your illness is long-standing, you may also be depressed and experience discomfort. Treating depression improves your life and decreases your symptoms. Don't be discouraged if a certain drug doesn't help you because there is more than one approach to treating a disease. These approaches may take a while to be effective.

Accepting Sickness

My brief message to you is to try to accept your sickness. Don't deny it. Learn about your disease and its treatment. Once a medication is recommended:

  • Write down the medication's name
  • What dosage should you take?
  • When should you take it?
  • How long should you take it?
  • How is it related to your meals? to alcohol? to other foods?
  • Ask your doctor or nurse about its side effects.

Drawing on the Strength of Others

Share your feelings with others who may help you. Don't isolate yourself. Trying to play strong at a time when you are not can lead you further into depression and won' relieve your symptoms.

Illness is a time when you should seek help and develop ways that will allow you to be as functional as possible within the limits of your illness.

There are people willing to help you. Make them aware of your needs.





Overview: Living with Illness
Everyday Prayers | Simple Prayers | Prayers in Sickness
The Wisdom of Scripture | Mary and Prayer in Sickness
Why Suffering?
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