Lorraine sighed.  Aged 67 and retired, she expected her routine to-do list to get shorter, not longer. She had dozens of projects at home as well as volunteer work she wanted to do.  Where was the time going?!  She wrote out a list.  Among the entries were her typical health-related activities, including travel time:

  • Physical therapy for a knee problem, 2x/week @2-1/2 hours = 5 hours
  • Physical therapy home exercise program, 5x week @1/2 hour = 2.5 hours
  • Allergy shots, 2x/week @ 1-1/4 hours = 2.5 hours
  • Massage therapy recommended by her doctor, 1x/week @ 1-3/4 hours
  • One specialist or another, 1x/week @ 2 hours
  • Classes or swimming at the YMCA and/or hiking with her “girlfriends,” 3x/week @2 hours = 6 hours

Lorraine saw that health-related activities consumed nearly 20 hours a week. No wonder she felt pressed for time! And she didn’t even have any major health problems such as heart disease or diabetes.  For people with serious medical issues, it may be a full time job – or more – to deal with them.  (In some cases, this focused attention is required only for a few months; in other cases, the problem will continue for years.)  But sometimes, thoughtful changes can reduce time demands without reducing quality of care.

Lorraine got her doctor’s agreement to replace the office-based physical therapy with the home program designed by her physical therapist, saving her four hours a week.  She also realized that the twice-a-week allergy shots would soon taper down to once a month, saving her nearly 10 hours a month.  Knowing that there was a light at the end of the tunnel helped her feel less overwhelmed.

If you still feel swamped after you get agreement for changes that seem obvious to you, make an appointment with your primary care doctor – or even better, with a nurse practitioner in the doctor’s office.  Bring your list, explain your concerns and ask for help prioritizing the medical activities.

When I was in graduate school, one teaching assistant (TA) insisted that students spend 40+ hours a week on work for the class he supported. Totally committed to his field, he felt that work for this course was the most important task the students had. However, each student was taking three or four other courses, and the TA’s expectation was unrealistic.

Sometimes medical specialists feel that all the medical care they prescribe is the top priority; that’s understandable.  That’s why you may need to talk with your primary care provider who can review the total picture and help you prioritize and gain agreement from other doctors for changes.  After all, the purpose of health care should be to enable you to lead the life you want – not to take over your life.