By Marianne Delorey, Ph.D., Executive Director, Colony Retirement Homes
In the famous song from 1979, the pop disco group Sister Sledge sing:
“All of the people around us they say
Can their symptoms be that close?
Just let me write down a record
So my doctor will know the dose!
We are family
I’ve got my history with me!”
Ok, so no, they did not actually sing this, but maybe they should have, and I have recently learned why.
One evening after dinner, I developed a severe stomachache. A quick check with Dr. Google and it seemed I may have been suffering from a gallbladder attack. I texted my brothers to see if either had experienced this before, neither had, but one remembered that gallbladder issues ran in the extended family.
I posted to our family’s Facebook page, and sure enough, five aunts and three cousins had had their gallbladders removed. When I finally spoke to my doctor, I was able to give a comprehensive family history. While this may not have swayed my doctor’s diagnosis, it could not have hurt. And in fact, if I had to go to the emergency room to be treated where every second counts, it may have helped.
You are probably used to doctors asking you about your family history. Most of us realize that some illnesses can have a genetic component and it is important to write down your own health issues (for an emergency) but also those of your family members as it may help doctors figure out what is going on with you.
Such documentation does not just help you. Since my audience tends to be elderly, I am writing this article to convince you to write down your history for the benefit of your family. This gallbladder attack was the first time I had had a medical issue and did not have my mother to rely on. My mother was the note taker and the family historian. Granted, I had Google and Facebook, but she may have had even more information for me that might have been helpful. I urge my readers to write down their own diagnoses and treatments for the next generation.
The exact format does not matter, but if it is easier for you to fill something in rather than write it out yourself, the Centers for Disease Control offers an easy to follow format at www.phgkb.cdc.gov and then scroll down on the left hand side to My Family Health Portrait.
And here is another reason to document your history – because you can. My cousin was adopted. She knows nothing about her genetic makeup. She now has a son and a grandchild who have their own medical conditions. The only information she can offer them is what she knows about her own body. And, so, she is documenting everything now. Since we are all still limited in going out, I urge you to use your quarantine time to give your family a gift that they can get nowhere else.
I will leave you with Edward Everett Hale’s famous quote about the impact you can have on your family with this project:
“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something;
and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”