Family Blessings? Tips for a Healthy Reunion

By Lila Lazarus

If you’re reading this, it means I survived. For the last two weeks, 17 family members have been staying at my house. Yes, sisters, brothers, spouses, nieces, nephews and a few dogs. It was a family reunion.

Like so many families in the modern world, my siblings are spread out all over the world. I’m the only one who stayed in Michigan. So if we want to see each other, we have to plan an extended visit. No one wants to travel this far for just a weekend. And in theory, we all really wanted to spend time together. But making the plans, dealing with the air travel, the cost of the flights, packing, figuring out sleeping arrangements and two weeks of meals… it’s stressful.

And when they finally arrived, they were exhausted. Two arrived sick with what we called “The Plague”— a bad virus with fever and cough that quickly spread through the family ranks.  Tempers shortened and our eagerly anticipated joyous family visit morphed into family drama, hurt feelings, lack of communication and a messy house.

In families, it is not unusual to be irked by the same frustrations with your siblings that were there 50 years ago. These unresolved hot buttons get pushed without any warning. And just like when we were young, we were all staying in the same house and I had nowhere to run. So I made a list of   survival tips for getting through an extended family visit:

Remember they’re never going to change. Every time something got under my skin, I reminded myself that there’s no fixing these people. They are who they are— for better or for worse.  Find the better.  They will never change and they don’t have to.

Focus on their talents. If you look at my family tree, there’s a dancer, a gourmet chef, a lawyer, an artist, singers and acrobats. They all have wide ranging talents. They’re smart and funny and always game for adventures.   Rather than think about what they don’t bring to the table, try thinking about the incredible gifts and laughter that they do bring.

Limit the trip. This was my biggest mistake. If you know you have strong personalities and age-old sibling rivalry,  don’t stretch it out for two weeks.  (Just because you love your family doesn’t mean you like them in your home for 14 days.) If a few days is your tipping point,  set your limits. Why didn’t I think of that earlier?

Lay down the ground rules and stick to them. Someone will always try to push your boundaries. Don’t let them. When my brother tried to change the dinner location or my brother-in-law tried to invite more people to the party, I had to stand firm. “I’m so happy the family is here, let’s keep it to the family and the plans we’ve made.” Do whatever you can to minimize the chaos.

Plan your escape. When every sofa, stool and chair in your home is taken and you just can’t seem to get away from family or their barking dogs, it’s time for operation time-out.  Go for a walk. Go do some yoga or meditate. It’s important to regroup. Alone time isn’t selfish. When family’s around, it’s self-preservation. I would disappear sometimes for two hours just to breath.

In short, happiness is a close, tight-knit family in another city. But if they do come to visit for an extended period of time, try to keep in mind that it’s just temporary. I kept asking myself, “What if this is the last time we’re all together? Can’t you just hold it together for a few more days?”

Now that they’re gone, I do realize what a blessing it was to have them all under the same roof. But families are definitely like fudge. Mostly sweet with a lot of nuts.

Dementia: Finding Ways to Connect When the Connecting Gets Tough.

Every time I visit my Mom, it’s a crapshoot. I never know who I will find when I punch in the code and open the door to her memory unit. Will she be wandering the living area talking to herself? Will I find her marching down the hall as though she has something important to accomplish? Or will I find her sitting on the sofa, her chin hanging to her chest, fast asleep? It is hard to know what her mood will be like after days upon days in the same room. And when she finally sees me, I never know how long it will take for her to recognize my face. I try not to have any expectations. It seems each time I come in, it takes a little longer for her to light up.

I know I’m blessed that she still knows me, but it’s so scary when someone you love has an incurable disease that erases bits of them one day at a time. So rather than lament what’s lost, I’m trying to enjoy what’s left. That means shifting the way I connect with her and finding new ways to communicate. She no longer can have a conversation because she can’t reach the words. But she can still laugh and sing and dance.

Lila’s Health Report:
In order to stay healthy, you need to stay active and engaged. In addition to exercise, good nutrition and sleep, you also need a good dose of adventure. So each month I’ll share ways to boost the excitement and passion in your life with adventurous ways to create more wellness in your body, mind and your spirit.

My Mom has always loved the arts. She was the founder of the JET Theatre and she loved opera, symphony and ballet. And although her dementia continues to progress, turn on a tune and you’ll find she hasn’t lost her love for music. Plenty of research shows dance and music can clear the dust that accumulates with dementia and Alzheimer’s and actually create better connection and communication. It seems to open a backdoor to her brain so she can still access good feelings and memories. Just hearing the music seems to wake her up, lift her spirits and bring a big smile to her face.

While she was never a singer before, she is now. And even though we never used to regularly jump up and dance when we were together, we do now. Without words, she seems to do better with experiences that connect us rather than conversations. Music always seems to get a positive response. Recently, I walked in to find her sitting by herself, mumbling words and looking so forlorn. Then the music started and everything changed. (Check out this cellphone video!)

She loves to move, go for a walk, play catch with a balloon. Exercise is both invigorating and calming for her. And it’s a relief for me to have something I can do with my Mom that brightens her day. We can bond without even a word.

If you’re a caregiver to a person with dementia, do what you can to incorporate their senses. Put on music, give them colorful flowers to arrange or something delicious to eat or a fluffy pet to hold. My Mom was never a dog lover but she is now. I think she relishes their unconditional love. So I usually will bring my dogs, Yogi and Lulu, when I visit.

And when the visit is over, make sure to hold their hand or give them a strong hug. I love when my Mom throws her arms open for a hug. It reminds me she’s still in there. A good hug is sometimes all that’s needed— just as much for me as for her.

Looking for a doctor specialized in memory care?
Visit stjoeshealth.org to find a doctor near you, or call 1-800-231-2211, and we can guide you through the process.

I Found the One!

When it’s the right one — you just know it. We just clicked. I felt so comfortable. It’s like we had known each other for years. I’d been searching for so long. I’ve even written about my struggle to find the one. Truthfully, I had almost given up looking… And then it happened.

I found my new primary care doctor.

It was hard for me as a health reporter to admit I didn’t have a doctor for so long. My last doctor had chosen to go concierge, meaning he was now charging close to $3,000 a year in return for more personalized care. But at this point in life, I’m healthy (knock on wood) and just need a doctor for my yearly physical. But how do you choose the right one? Admittedly, I’m picky.

Dr. Leslie Caren with a pediatric patient and his mother at the new St. Joseph Mercy Waterford Medical Complex. Dr. Caren treats adult and pediatric patients at Waterford Adult and Pediatric Medicine.

And then she just walked in. The moment we started talking I knew. I just knew.

I had gone to see the new St. Joe’s Waterford Medical Complex located at 59 and Pontiac Lake Road. The new medical facility features a lab, imaging services and an Urgent Care (opening July 1, 2019) along with the Waterford Adult and Pediatric Medicine practice. That’s where I met Dr. Leslie Caren, an internal medicine and pediatric specialist. She was so easy to talk to. Her calm demeanor, obvious concern and compassion made her an easy choice. Plus, she’s a St. Joe’s doc which was a high priority for me. She was so approachable and clearly interested in my wellbeing and, lucky for me, she had an appointment available for a physical. I grabbed it and never looked back.

On the day of my appointment, I wasn’t left waiting in a waiting room. She came in and took a thorough and complete history. It’s uncomfortable talking to a stranger about your most personal issues. But in this case, I instantly felt like I was talking to a friend. She just got me. She listened without interrupting and gave me thorough answers to any questions I had. It’s one of the main reasons I wanted a primary care physician — the better a doctor knows you, the more likely you are to get an accurate diagnosis.

But there are three other reasons I really wanted to have a primary care physician (and so should you):

Lila’s Health Report:
In order to stay healthy, you need to stay active and engaged. In addition to exercise, good nutrition and sleep, you also need a good dose of adventure. So each month I’ll share ways to boost the excitement and passion in your life with adventurous ways to create more wellness in your body, mind and your spirit.

A primary care doctor keeps you healthier as you age. Studies show, people who have a good relationship with a doctor don’t just get better care, they’re healthier! It’s like any relationship: The better you communicate and connect, the better the outcome. I have no doubt my new primary care doc will make sure I get all the tests and treatments I need to keep me healthy.

Someone has your back. Gone are any worries of who I would call if suddenly I need a prescription, or a specialist or quick medical advice. We talked so openly about so many topics from weight, to alcohol, to sex, stress and aging. I felt listened to, which is important. And I felt like someone truly had a plan to ensure I stay healthy for as long as possible. My new doctor arranged for all my lab work, followed through on the results and explained any concerns. I have 24-hour access to my health information and any lab results on the St. Joe’s portal. When I sent her an email through the portal, she responded!

Health is a team sport. It’s not just the primary care doctor that impressed me, it’s the whole office. After all, I’ll be dealing with all of them to book appointments, get my labs done or deal with insurance issues. The right primary care doctor needs the right support team.

Looking for a doctor or ready to make a switch?
Visit stjoeshealth.org to find a doctor near you, or call 1-800-231-2211, and we can guide you through the process.

Wanted: A Primary Care Doctor

by Lila Lazarus

Adventurous, fun-loving, healthy, 50-something woman seeks intelligent, compassionate, patient, trustworthy and attentive primary care physician for a long-term relationship.

Hard to admit, but I don’t have a doctor. Last year, my general practitioner went “concierge,” meaning his services now cost an extra $3,000 a year— a retainer fee paid by some patients to avoid crowded waiting rooms and get more personalized service.

While that may appeal to me someday, for now, the extra price tag seems exorbitant for someone I see maybe twice a year. So now I’m in search of. And I’m not alone. One out of eight people are looking for a new doctor, either because their doctor retired or changed plans or because of the quality of care from the doctor or staff.

Continue reading “Wanted: A Primary Care Doctor”

Yes, I did that.

St. Joe’s Health Reporter Lila Lazarus broadcast her routine colonoscopy on Facebook Live to raise awareness about the importance of screening and prevention.

“You did what!?”

That’s the usual reaction when people hear I had my colonoscopy on Facebook Live.

Why on Earth would you do that?” is usually the follow-up question.

In case you don’t know what a colonoscopy is – it’s when a trained specialist, in this case, St. Joe’s colorectal surgeon Dr. Amanda McClure, takes a probe with a tiny HD camera and goes six feet in through the patient’s rectum and colon. She examines the lining of the colon – which is where colon cancer starts – and searches for pre-cancerous polyps.

Only this colonoscopy was a little more…public. My colonoscopy was broadcast live on social media. Thousands have now seen the inside of my colon and rectum on Facebook. They watched as Dr. McClure narrated a journey through my large intestine looking for growths on the lining— precancerous polyps. 

Continue reading “Yes, I did that.”

Isn’t it time you have a colonoscopy?

Colon cancer kills 51,000 Americans every year. That’s more people than a full stadium at Comerica Park. But here’s the good news: Colon cancer is more than 90 percent preventable if detected early. Read that sentence again. Colon cancer is more than 90 percent preventable if detected early. Think of the lives we could save if we just got more people to talk about colons, rectums and bowels and go get checked out. Continue reading “Isn’t it time you have a colonoscopy?”

You Gotta Have Friends

Remember American Top 40 on the radio?  Casey Kasem would do a long-distance dedication with a sappy story of a soldier sending back love and a song to his sweetheart back home. As corny as it was, every one listened. Well, I’ve decided to make a special dedication for this new year 2019, and I hope you’ll listen. This dedication is going out to all my friends whom I didn’t spend enough time with in the last year. That’s right. In 2019,  my priority is going to be my friends— not work, not home, but maintaining my relationships and creating new ones. I’m not talking about making new acquaintances.  What we need to foster are real bonds of friendship. And it’s in all our interest to do the same. Why?  Because it’s good for our health.

Continue reading “You Gotta Have Friends”

Time is Moving Too Fast

by Lila Lazarus

Stop it. It can’t possibly be the end of the year. How did the months fly by? Where did the time go? 2019?! That sounds like some futuristic date in an Orwell novel. Yes, we’ve all heard the older you get, the faster time flies. But this was warp speed.

I remember people saying that if you do the same thing day in and day out, your days will just blend together and move faster. But that’s not my situation. No two days are alike and yet they’ve vanished. Twelve months passed in an instant! I think it slipped by because I wasn’t being a very good witness. I didn’t observe as closely as I could have.

In yoga, we’re told to stay in the moment. Be present.  You’ll be more aware, more focused and less apt to let time drift by unnoticed. I don’t do this on a regular basis,  but I’m determined to savor every last moment of 2018.  Here’s how: Continue reading “Time is Moving Too Fast”

Alone for the Holidays?

by Lila Lazarus

This feeling comes on every year just before Thanksgiving. It’s a big, empty feeling. There’s a pit in my stomach and a lump in my throat. As discussions turn to holiday plans and family dinners, I can feel my eyes start to water.

If you’re blessed with a big family living close by, you may not understand the pain. But for those of us with small families or families living across the country— or, in my case, around the world — it’s sometimes unbearable. Being without family or a tight, core group of friends can leave you feeling disconnected and depressed. This is the time of year when we count on our tribe. It’s priceless. And if you don’t have a tribe readily available, well…it’s tough. It’s hard to accept that Thanksgiving isn’t going to look like that Norman Rockwell image of the perfect family dinner we grew up with or hoped to have some day. Continue reading “Alone for the Holidays?”

Questions and Apertures

by Lila Lazarus

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Photo credit: Costello Candids

It wasn’t a question I wanted to ask. We were sitting with my Mom in her new assisted living facility having coffee and I was going to ask her if she wanted another cookie but instead blurted, “Mom, do you want to be buried or cremated?”

Perhaps I could have been more delicate. Perhaps I could have waited for another time. Perhaps I was insensitive. But the right time never comes for the tough questions. All my siblings were in town to help move my Mom into the new facility. This seemed as good a moment as any. Some say the ideal time for this conversation is before you turn 40 and your parents turn 70, whichever comes first. But that ship sailed for us a while ago.  Mom is 86.  It was now or never. Continue reading “Questions and Apertures”