Doing Well at Being Sick teaches the reader how to live with chronic and acute illness. Part memoir, part handbook, Doing Well addresses everything from practical information like how to tell a “real doctor” from a resident to deeper issues such as how to have hope living with a disease that will never go away. I answer many questions, including:
Where can you find strength on days when all you experience is weakness?
What can you do to assist your medical team in giving you the best care?
How can you organize your days so that you do the things you have to do to take care of your body and still have some time for a real life?
What do you do with the guilt that comes from burdening those you love?
How can you handle your inability to do what you used to do?
How can you trust God when things seem to be going wrong?
How can you find good food in a hospital?
How do you get the nurses to answer a call button?
Although I would not have chosen the path our family has walked, I believe that my sickness has brought us the opportunity to learn what is important in life and how we can bring glory to God in difficult circumstances.
Tell us about yourself.
I worked as a clinical social worker for over thirty years, maintaining a private practice, training and consulting, and teaching social work/counseling at several universities. During this period I married my husband, with whom I also coauthored several college textbooks, and raised two amazing children, all while dealing with chronic illness.
At age forty-seven, while on a consulting trip to St. Louis, I had a heart attack. One week later I had my second heart attack. The heart attacks were caused by lupus, an autoimmune disease that I have had since I was eighteen that can attack any of the major organs of the body. In my case, in addition to causing major fatigue, joint and muscle abnormalities, and breathing problems, the lupus causes spasm and blockage in my heart. In the following years, I suffered four more heart attacks.
During this same period, I have had lung cancer, colon cancer, bladder cancer, and basal cell carcinoma skin cancers. Add to this mix several diseases that are too weird for you to have even heard about (for instance, sclerosing mesenteritis, trigeminal neuralgia, and Sjögren’s syndrome). If I didn’t know me, I wouldn’t believe my medical history. Before the advent of electronic medical records, my paper file was so large that they actually rolled it into the examination room on a metal cart because it was too heavy to carry!
The past two decades have been quite a ride for me and my family. We have joked about having funded my own wing in the hospital with all of my treatments and surgeries. We have cried as we planned my funeral before one particularly risky operation. We have prayed together for healing, for strength, for wisdom, and for increased faith.
Relying on God’s grace, the love and support of family and friends, access to excellent health care, and hard earned experience, I have learned to do well at being sick. I hope to help others do the same through this book.
What inspired you to write this book?
As you can imagine, my illness limits my energy. In the past years, however, friends and family would send me people to counsel who were facing some kind of sickness and needed advice, either practical or spiritual, about their situations. Many of them encouraged me to write about what I have learned through my extensive personal experience as well as through my counseling others. I felt strongly directed by God to follow through on this encouragement, and finally stopped resisting this call by writing Doing Well.
How did you publish this book?
My husband showed it to a friend of his who has been a writer and editor for years. He loved the book and offered to show it to a friend of his, the publisher at Discovery House. She offered some excellent suggestions that I was able to incorporate to improve the project. Several months later, Discovery House offered me a contract, and I enthusiastically accepted. Having a publisher with a spiritual base has made the experience especially positive, and their staff has been most professional.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Don’t all of us who love to read have a secret desire to write a book one day? I remember thinking that someone who wrote a book must be different from the “average” person, far above the rest of us in scope and imagination. Now I know writers are just real people with something to say. The first books I wrote were textbooks, which resulted from a desire to create something better for students to use in the classroom. This book comes from a deep commitment to helping others in my situation to find the joy in every day, regardless of physical problems, and to learn to navigate the medical system as efficiently as possible.
What is the hardest part of writing?
Spending the time on writing when so many other things clamor for your attention.
How do you research?
My life has been my research for Doing Well. Also my file cabinet is full of articles that I have cut out over the years on topics that interest me.
Did you learn anything from writing this book?
I learned again to trust in God’s leading and ability to complete anything He wants to accomplish. And I gained renewed respect for individuals who choose positive responses to bad situations.
What are you reading now?
The Blind Contessa’s New Machine (Pamela Dorman Books, Viking Press, July 2010) by my daughter, Carey Wallace! This is her first major book, and we are all very excited about it having been chosen for Barnes and Noble’s Discover Great New Writers program and about the positive reviews she has had in such places as the New York Times and the Boston Globe.
I also just finished Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South and am beginning a “new” Anthony Trollope book, An Old Man’s Love.
I love Trollope, Alexandre Dumas, Jane Austen, Wilkie Collins, Penelope Fitzgerald, and any other writer who makes me love his or her images and thoughts.
Are you working on your next book?
I have many thoughts and scribbles on pieces of paper, but I have not yet started writing my next book. I believe it will be about how to keep your marriage thriving despite major challenges such as illness. My years of marriage and family counseling and our own family’s experience give me much to share on this topic that will expand the chapter “Our Being Sick Affects Our Families.”
A future topic could be how to “grow old” well by passing on family traditions, artifacts, and lore while simplifying your life and learning to enjoy a new phase. Our family is doing this now.
What is the best advice you could give other writers?
Write what you are compelled to write and use your own voice. Know who your audience is. Cut ruthlessly, especially the things that you “really love.” Choose an agent or editor whom you really trust and then listen to him or her.
Where can readers learn more about your book?
My limited energy does not allow me to respond to individual e-mails, but my website, www.doingwellatbeingsick.com, is frequently updated with new information about me and about how to “do well” at being sick.