Modern medicine is incredible. We can give you a pill and lower your cholesterol, give you a pill and lower your blood pressure. We can set a broken bone. We can save lives; we can extend lives. We can fix so many problems. It’s totally amazing.
But then there are all these health problems that biomedicine doesn’t have a quick-fix pill for. There’s no pill for loneliness, and it’s a common problem that definitely affects your wellbeing. There’s no quick answer for losing weight, or getting fit. Balance is a really important issue at our clinic. So many of our patients are afraid of falling and feel unsteady. There’s often not a quick fix for improving balance. I think that most of the time, when it comes to health problems like these, patients are kind of left to go it alone. Part of the health coach role is to support patients with problems that take more time. No doubt they have to put in the legwork, but they don’t have to do it alone.
Sometimes the role of the health coach is just to hear the patient and understand what they’re going through. At the Shoreline clinic we have two patients named Dan and Mary Ann. They have been married for a long time. And it is really obvious when you meet them that there’s a lot of love. They just have a very kind way of interacting with one another.
Dan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at a fairly young age: in his mid-sixties, which was devastating for Mary Ann. And this last year was particularly hard because Dan’s condition worsened quite rapidly. And as it worsened Mary Ann had to take on more and more caregiving responsibilities.
Audra is a health coach who works in Shoreline with me: Mary Ann and Dan are on her patient panel. For any of you that have been caregivers, you know it can be really taxing work. At one point Mary Ann was sending emails to her health coach, Audra, nearly every day. Often Audra would have really solid advice for her, or something tangible to offer. With the support of Dr. Levine and Debbie Yoro, our clinical social worker, the team provided care that was so far above and beyond the status quo. But sometimes Mary Ann would come to Audra with problems that didn’t have a clear answer. When this happened Audra would just hear her out and be there with her. What resulted was really special. Mary Ann developed a very trusting relationship with Audra and the care team as a whole. It was clear that Mary Ann felt like we were on her side: that we were a team. She knew we had her best interests at heart.
There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. But what is so great about the Iora model is that it recognizes that, yes there is value in fixing people’s problems, but there is also so much value in helping them cope when their problems can’t be fixed. Mary Ann sent us a note recently and it included a quote from the poem ‘Kindness’ by Naomi Shihab Nye. It read, “Then it is only kindness that makes any sense anymore; only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day.” What I love about Iora is that it’s not just medicine. It’s medicine coupled with compassion. It’s difficult to measure the value of human compassion in medicine. But when you hear stories of real human experiences, it just intuitively makes sense. The care that is provided at Iora is so exceptional partly because we recognize the value of the healing relationship and actively work to foster meaningful connections.