by Darra McMullen,
Women’s Health Network Writer/Researcher
During the month of May, there is a national observance of the importance of women’s health, and therefore, this seems like the perfect time to contemplate a few issues concerning women’s health that are too often overlooked.
The first issue for discussion has to be the simple fact that women too often don’t take time to care for their own health properly. Most often, women are the caretakers – of children, spouses, the elderly, their own ailing siblings or in-laws, and even the family pets. By the time women finish all of their caretaking duties, especially if also working full or part-time outside the home, then little time or energy remains for self-care, particularly in the form of needed check-ups or care of low-grade but chronic, nagging health problems.
One good way to “catch-up” on overdue check-ups or chronic, nagging problems is to schedule one check-up appointment per month, addressing one body area each time until every category of concern is gone over and any needed action taken. For example, a lady could choose to see her primary care doctor in May for a general physical and blood work, and then get a mammogram in June and visit a dentist in July. Perhaps August could be a good time to get a gynecologist’s appointment, while in September, she could visit an orthopedist about that aggravating knee or back pain that keeps flaring up at especially inopportune times.
If health care needs are broken up into small, manageable “bites”, then appointments and follow-ups are more likely to be adhered to, doctor’s advice actually put into motion, and outcomes improved. Scheduling one appointment (or two if a follow-up is needed) per month also has the advantage of spacing out co-pays and any additional bills that may come in the mail at a later date. In this way, neither finances nor time schedules are too overburdened by health care needs.
A second issue for consideration when thinking about women’s health care is choosing which body areas to schedule for examination in what order. Obviously, if it has been a really long time since a particular area has been examined by a doctor, then that overdue mammogram, dental visit, etc. should be scheduled as soon as possible. Ditto for scheduling a visit for any acute symptoms anywhere in or on the body. However, if all areas are pretty much “equal” in their levels of need for a check-up and no acute problems are present, then consider going “against the grain” of conventional popular scheduling. For example, instead of scheduling a mammogram for October or November when awareness (and patient demand) is at its peak, consider scheduling it in the spring or summer when fewer women want to be “bothered” with scanning appointments. With fewer patients to see, doctors and technicians can give your needs more time and attention.
Likewise, consider scheduling dermatological appointments and podiatry visits during the peak cold and flu season months of December, January, and February. Most skin and foot issues (barring skin cancers, acute infections, or broken skin or bones) tend to be low-grade, chronic nuisances. People with contagious sicknesses like colds and flu probably won’t be in the office of the dermatologist or podiatrist, preferring to wait to treat “nuisance” issues until recovered from an acute infection. In this way, women can still effectively use the winter months to keep tabs on areas of their health without appreciably raising their risks of catching a cold or flu by visiting a doctor’s office.
A third women’s health related topic for thought is the idea of keeping a health journal, or at least an informal notebook, wherein a woman can jot down dates, times, and circumstances surrounding a health complaint and keep a record of the symptoms she’s experiencing, the length of time they persist, and the conditions under which the symptoms appear or worsen.
Yes, actually writing down, with a pen and paper, these pieces of information is best. The act of physically writing about the subject(s) not only helps to reinforce the material into memory, but also helps to clarify and organize the material in a person’s mind better than typing on a digital device. Besides, most people would prefer not to have a detailed accounting of their physical ills in a digital format that could be hacked into and used against them. It is safer to keep some things on paper.
The fourth topic of interest in our women’s health related article is the importance of being prepared to make the most of your time with the doctor. Physicians’ offices are by definition busy, even rushed, places of business. To be sure that your health care needs get met while simultaneously respecting the time of your doctor and the times of his other patients, try the following suggestions:
- Make a list of the subjects you wish to cover with the M.D. Front load the list with the most important issues first – in case time runs out before getting to secondary issues.
- Have your health journal or notebook with you for reference or in case the doctor would like to make copies of part or all of its contents.
- If the doctor seems rushed or impatient before your secondary issues get addressed, offer (if your time permits) to stay in your patient room for a while, giving the doctor a chance to visit with some other patient(s). Sometimes, doctors will have one or more “quick issue” patients scheduled after you, and if you are patient enough to wait for him/her to get “some folks taken care of and out the door”, the doctor may be willing to come back to you and chat more leisurely about secondary health issues of yours. It’s worth a try to offer to be cooperative and understanding.
If the physician flatly tells you that your proposal won’t work that day, then pleasantly offer to come back soon for a second appointment to finish addressing your needs, and then follow up in a timely manner. Don’t let your health care needs get brushed aside due to an over-scheduled doctor’s office routine.
Finally, it is time for our fifth women’s health related topic – mental health. No matter how many well-planned and scheduled check-ups we make for our various body areas, if we take care of everything except our mental and emotional health, our lives can still be de-railed. Always take time for stress reduction, reflection on life, and time with loved ones. If depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, addiction, or other mental health related issues are dragging down you or a loved one, reach out for help. There’s plenty of assistance out there, and there’s no shame in asking for a helping hand out of a difficult and frightening condition. Doctors, friends, mental health care volunteers, and (most of the time) employers want to help. Just reach out and see what’s possible; you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
In summary, you really can take charge of your health; all it takes is some planning, scheduling, note writing, and determination. Let’s get started!