Courtney Henry with (from left) her daughter Aya, husband Clayton, and son Edison at the Hampton University Rho Chi Honor Society Induction Ceremony.
By Courtney Henry
I can describe myself in many ways. I love spending time with my family. I enjoy volunteering. And I am chronically ill. I have carried that heavy label for 5 years since I was diagnosed with lupus nephritis at the age of 21. I am very lucky to be alive and I am grateful that my condition has been manageable. My chronic illness has been both a burden and an inspiration. It has made practicing pharmacy very personal for me and I have used my own experience as a patient to guide my training as a student pharmacist.
It’s hard work to be unhealthy
I vividly remember receiving my diagnosis. The exact day was September 5, 2010, nearly 3 months after I began to experience symptoms. However, I really didn’t understand how different my life would be until I went to the pharmacy and picked up 15 different medications. I felt like my entire day revolved around taking my medicine, which consisted of nearly 60 pills each day and weekly injections. I had frequent physician visits and often spent more time in waiting rooms than in their office.
One thing I learned from this experience is that being sick is extremely time-consuming, and quite frankly, exhausting. That individual who is upset after waiting 15 minutes to fill a prescription may have just waited an hour to see a provider for 5 minutes. Pharmacists have the ability to help patients manage their health and should openly communicate with patients to find out their needs.
In our profession, you never know if today is a patient’s worst day ever. So always show compassion and patience when communicating with your patient.
Help those who don’t ask for it
Education is critical for those with a chronic disease. I remember an appointment with my nephrologist when she changed my blood pressure regimen—I was already prescribed several different medications to control my blood pressure. She gave me another prescription and proceeded to walk out of the room, but I stopped her. She had only explained one medication, so I was curious what I was taking the “titrate” for. Turns out it wasn’t a prescribed medicine; it was the instructions. I wasn’t usually the sort of patient to ask questions, and knowing what I know now, that is the exact patient we should be interviewing as health professionals. I spent a great deal of time learning about my disease and I understood the basics of my treatment. But at the time, I wasn’t trained to understand medicine and that is important to remember as you communicate with your patients.
Always remember that every patient deserves to be educated even if they are not asking questions. Never be afraid to get to know your patients. It can really change their attitude and experience.
Connect with patients
When I was in the hospital and taking high-dose steroids, I remember feeling shocked when I looked at myself in the mirror. I looked completely different. A physician told me, “soon you will look so different your friends and family won’t even recognize you. Your face will get round, you’ll get a buffalo hump, and your hair will probably fall out, too.” Of course this was the most devastating part of my diagnosis. It may seem slightly dramatic, but the reality is being sick is complicated and the diagnosis isn’t always the hard part. I had very severe side effects and frequently questioned why I was taking medications at all.
One very important aspect to my compliance was the support I received from my health care providers. Some were very encouraging and helped me push through therapy even when I had doubts. Pharmacists hear complaints every day. I have learned that practitioners need to listen because sometimes that’s all someone needs. Being sick can often be very lonely and with our training, pharmacists may be the only people who can understand what the patient is going through. Providing the right medication and education is important, but patient care is where the healing can begin.
Not everyone needs to experience a disease first-hand to understand their patients. Building relationships by listening and showing compassion can really impact a patient’s attitude toward their health and care. Living life with lupus can be difficult, but it has also taught me empathy, and I know that I will be a better pharmacist because of it.