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The Heart of Healing: A Patient's Perspective

This article was written by Maureen Quinn, a communications consultant and former patient who also serves as a member of the UW Hospital and Clinics Health and Healing Committee.

 

Visiting patients is a lot more fun than being one. I've walked these corridors before bringing flowers and cheer to patients and attending hospital board meetings. And now I sit with hospital gown and bald head pondering the meaning of time.

 

Infusions drip into me for months. My busy life pauses with lots of time to observe. Quietly my weekly tennis group replaces me with a sub. I'm tethered to a machine five hours a day every couple weeks waiting for healing. And so my story gets personal.

 

Cancer was the one illness I prayed not to get and got. So I tackled it. It was very important to me to gather a team of doctors who could support my desire to use integrative medicine as a complement to traditional cancer therapies.

 

"Speak to me in the language of wellness, not illness," I told my oncologist. "I want to do everything in my power to boost my immune system and get well. This is a journey to wellness."

 

Frankly, I was scared and overwhelmed with my diagnosis of breast cancer and with cancer information. It was important to remain positive and to keep my sense of humor. My perspective was to treat this bump (lump) in the road as learning and healing experience.

 

My mind refused to consider the worst. I wanted to consider options and be open to alternative methods of healing. I wanted to feel spunky and look healthy, not sick. My research led me to Dr. Lucille Marchand, whose name came up several times from former cancer patients. I was happy that my oncologist also referred me to her. I immediately set up an appointment.

 

Dr. Marchand walked into the small hospital conference room and smiled, not with pity but with compassion and a spirit of happiness. I loved that. She listened and took notes while I shared my philosophy on healing. She offered to compose a health plan tailored to my beliefs and her medical knowledge.

 

When I returned the next week my health plan included exercise, meditation, nutrition, non-pharmaceutical supplements, daily regimens and natural ways to enhance healing. What was most impressive was that she included some of my comments in the plan and supported these with medical suggestions. This was an indication that she truly listened and wanted to help and support me. She also explained the drugs that I was taking in the chemo regimen and the side effects.

 

We worked together for over a year. Dr. Marchand's counsel was so important to me because as I went through surgery, chemo and radiation, I also was helping care for my dying mother, who lived two hours away. Dr. Marchand's gentle guidance and suggestions for palliative care for my mother were a balm to my spirit and to my own wounded body.

 

Because I had studied holistic healing for decades, I suddenly realized that I would now be my own guinea pig. My belief in the body, mind and spirit connection would be put to the test. I was determined to incorporate this holistic philosophy into my health plan. My regimen included meditation, prayer, a few sessions of acupuncture, massage and healing touch. If these practices are reinforcement for healthy living, why not boost myself while healing?

 

To keep my thoughts calm and encouraging, I listened to soothing music and to CDs with positive imagery and health affirmations. My iPod accompanied me on walks as I listened to a play list of upbeat songs my brother had so thoughtfully recorded. It kept my steps and thoughts positive. I visualized my body healing. I tried to change my diet, eat healthier, but had little appetite. I continued to work full-time, albeit with some brain and body fatigue and an understanding boss.

 

It was during my countless visits to the UW Hospital and Clinics that I became dedicated to creating a healing environment for patients and for staff. My goal was to help empower patients to assist in their own healing. We are all channels of healing: for ourselves and others. During my discussions with Dr. Marchand, I told her that I wanted to produce healing programs on the hospital TV— channels to sooth weary patients and families and to give them non-invasive ways to aid in their own healing.

 

My desire continues to empower patients to use their own unique bodies, minds and spiritual beliefs to heal. At Dr. Marchand's suggestion I met with Dr. David Rakel, the director of Integrative Medicine at UW Hospital and Clinics (and member of the hospital's Health and Healing Committee), to share my idea. Coincidentally, spiritual care services (which is part of the Health and Healing Committee), had just received funding from the Derzon Endowment Fund and UW Hospital and Clinics nursing services for in-house TV programming. Thus, I found myself on the UW Hospital and Clinics' Health and Healing Committee.

 

This committee is made up of volunteers from the medical staff and hospital administrators and a few community volunteers, some former patients. The committee is co-chaired by Penny Andrews, hospital chaplain, and Dr. Joel Wish, director of pediatric psychology at American Family Children's Hospital. Within two years, three in-house healing channels are up and running at the UW Hospital and other programs and offerings are in the works. The healing TV programs run 24/7 for patients and families, and are available free of charge for those interested.

 

The programming includes an introduction to Integrative Medicine by Dr. Rakel, a Chuckle Channel (comedy), music videos, guided meditation and imagery, bedside yoga, quiet tai chi movement for patients, preparing for surgery and more. Additional programming is planned to benefit patients and families during their hospital stay.

 

Specialists in Integrative Medicine are available for alternative therapies to complement traditional medicine. In addition to spiritual guidance and personal counseling, the integration of art, music, nature and pet therapy, environmental design and the greening of health care are viewed in a holistic way.

 

"Our desire is to educate and inform patients about services to help them on their journey to health and wholeness," said Penny Andrews, UW Hospital chaplain and co-chair and founder of the Health and Healing Committee.

 

What is wonderful about this committee is the diversity of its representation, which includes medical and administrative staff across many UW Hospital disciplines and departments. They volunteer their time and services. The committee's mission is to explore ways to integrate health and healing throughout the hospital environment. Through their collaboration, commitment and dedication they have raised the standard of awareness with a view of holistic healing - body, mind and spirit.

 

This holistic vision has expanded to include a refreshed view of how the hospital can better support healing with compassionate care for patients, families, medical staff and care for the wounded planet. Initiatives include recycling, noise reduction, air quality, healing gardens, quiet space, living landscapes, mapping, and sustainable products.

 

Programs are underway to improve nutritional options in the cafeteria for patients, staff and visitors. The overall goal is to review and implement cost-effective best practices that enhance healing. Already the UW-Madison's Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, the School of Veterinary Sciences, the School of Music, and representatives from Wisconsin Public Television have contributed research, interns, programs and services.

 

Funding is crucial to maintain programs and to expand care options for patients and staff. According to Dr. Rakel, the hospital's partnering with local, regional and national vendors has met with enthusiastic support. Recently the National Office Furniture Company of Indiana awarded the Health and Healing Committee a $25,000 grant to sustain some of these initiatives. Committee member Ardis Hutchins, UW Hospital interior architect, won the grant for the hospital based on her entry of how "Designers Give Back to their Healthcare Community."

 

"We are thrilled with this award and appreciate the generosity from the National Office Furniture Company," said Hutchins, who volunteered for the committee.

 

Her collaborative work with the committee and hospital administrators affirmed how architectural planning contributes to healing space. National Office Furniture urged the grant money be used to support these initiatives.

 

For more information, the UW Foundation has set up a tax-deductible and convenient way for donors (corporate, families and individuals) to contribute to Integrative Medicine at UW Hospital and Clinics. Gratitude and giving back are part of the healing journey to wellness.