As a child, I recall standing on the long dock with my cousins at their lakeside cottage in upstate New York. We all had our own ways of getting into water that was often cold with underwater reeds that grasped at our ankles; or worse yet, eels! Some of the cousins just ran fast and leaped off the dock with a splash. I had to test the water; toes first, then splashed in the water with my feet to stir it up, check for reeds, and discourage eels. For me, testing the water seems an apt metaphor when it comes to living well and dying with dignity.
Setting goals for optimal wellness can be fun and rewarding. As well, practicing self-care is important to relieve stress and anxiety, maintain well-being, increase happiness, and bolster physical energy. Yet, if something is causing discomfort, there may be a need to reach beyond self-care and into the realms of other kinds of support via engaging a health care provider. Once chosen, that first appointment with a new provider may fall into the realm of testing the water.
Choosing a primary care doctor, counselor, energy medicine practitioner, massage therapist, or any other health care provider can be a lengthy process. Sometimes it is hit or miss, and there is a need to choose again! The importance of a positive physician-patient relationship is not to be understated. Evidence-based research indicates that trust in health-care providers contributes to successful healing. Researching providers through websites such as Healthgrades, or asking a trusted family member or friend for a referral is one way to begin the exploration. The answers to these and other questions can help to determine whether to continue with the provider.
- Did the provider ask relevant questions, listen carefully to concerns and symptoms?
- Are the recommended diagnostics, lifestyle changes, or medications reasonable and resonant?
- Did the office staff lend to a feeling of comfort, safety, dignity, and respect?
- If the provider offered a service involving examination or physical touch, was the environment and draping appropriate to preserve modesty?
- Was the exchange in keeping with HIPPA guidelines?
- Is a second opinion needed?
- Were fees and payment processes discussed prior to services?
- What feelings remained after a session involving counseling, therapy, or other mental/emotional processes?
Testing the water can apply to other wellness areas such as lifestyle and dietary changes. Being willing to try something new as a beginner can feel a bit daunting. It requires an open mind and a measured approach. Interval running is a way to dip our toes (pun intended) into the possibility of running a 10K or a marathon. Adding or subtracting foods, vitamins, or supplements is best done gradually, mindfully, and with guidance from a professional (nutritionist, registered dietitian, or naturopath). Trying new treatment protocols, support groups, exercise regimens, religious, yoga, or meditation practices are other ways to test the waters. If the practice or activity is one that is fulfilling in desirable ways, dive in deeper! If it is not quite the right fit, there are other paths to explore.
There can be such a thing as “too much testing the water.” Restless jumping from one remedy to another may not result in peace of mind, improved quality of life, or a solution to challenges. A tendency to “therapy hop” may be an obstacle or avoidance technique. Life Coaches provide sessions to help to define strengths, weaknesses, goals, and obstacles, providing strategies for beneficial long-lasting changes.
Deciding whether to test the water or “jump in feet first” in to medical treatment will depend on the nature of the dis-ease and how much time is available to address the problem. Testing the water is not ideal when a medical condition is life-threatening. Waiting too long for treatment may increase uncomfortable symptoms or allow the condition to worsen. Internal injuries, broken bones, heart attacks, and strokes are some examples of circumstances when immediate medical interventions can be life and limb saving. Some diagnoses such as brain injury, cognitive decline, or cancer may offer time to research or explore various treatment options. Those explorations are best done with guidance from medical professionals familiar with symptoms, side effects, and the expected outcomes for potential treatments. Engaging support from a patient advocate or family member may be useful when these decisions are difficult to make.
What about testing the waters at the end of life? The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) reports that the 58.3% of Medicare beneficiaries received hospice care for 30 days or less (in a 2018 study). This short stay does not allow for much time to test the waters about what works well and what does not when it comes to appropriate care. Without prior knowledge or education, hospice caregiving can be a stressful, rapidly changing kaleidoscope of trial and error. One way to avoid that scenario is to learn about hospice care ahead of time. Volunteer trainings within individual communities, offered by local hospices; trainings offered by NHPCO, The Twilight Brigade (with a focus on veterans), and Further Shore’s training, Bridging the Gap all offer education that will prove valuable insights for family and friend caregivers.
In final days, we must remember that death, like birth, can be smooth and easy or rocky and complicated. Most hospice patients receive care in the comfort of their own home, with family, friend, or professional caregivers assisting. Hospice social workers, grief counselors, certified nursing assistants (CNAs), chaplains, registered nurses, medical directors, and hospice volunteers are all at the ready to provide education about how to care for the dying in the most compassionate and comforting ways. Despite those resources, if it is the first time caring for someone in hospice at home, it can feel overwhelming. Having an advocate or death doula alongside will greatly ease the process.
To conclude this section, testing the waters of a new healthcare provider, therapy, or lifestyle can enhance wellness. Remember to practice self-care for optimal well-being and approach new practices in a mindful, measured way. Therapy-hopping may not fulfill wellness goals. First time caregivers for hospice patients may need to ask for extra support. Consider taking a hospice training course before it becomes a necessity.
This is the final reflection on “T” is for Testing. Taken together all three posts are offered to spark an interest in the practice of testing as a tool to nudge us into explorations for wellness (testing our patience); engaging in tests to help us gain clarity about our deepest needs (testing 1,2,3); and finally, using discernment as we embark on processes for wellness (testing the water). In keeping with our mission to provide resources and education for living well and dying with dignity, each post offers a reflection about how testing can be used during life and in final days. I hope you will consider the many uses of this utilitarian tool in your quest for wellness.