Tag Archives: Decision Making

Loved and Lost

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Last week I met with a physical therapist and a wheelchair technician to start the process of upgrading/replacing my power wheelchair. Improving and/or purchasing power wheelchairs is a long, involved process, and this session was only the first of several meetings I will have to have to get everything ready, but it is a start at least. Since I will end up spending roughly 10 hours a day for the next five years in this wheelchair, it is important and worthwhile to take the time to make sure that every little detail is correct. While I am not a big fan of change, especially with something as crucial to my life as my wheelchair, after having this initial meeting and getting the process of purchasing a new chair started, I found myself filled with a sense of joyful anticipation. Even though I know that it will be at least four months before I see my new wheelchair, the thought of regaining my ability to drive my chair on my own and getting my mobility back is something that I am really looking forward to. This feeling of excitement that came over me caused me to think about how much my freedom to move about means to me, as well as how it brings happiness to my life.

Scott Drotar New Wheelchair
The process of getting a new wheelchair is a long one.

When I was about 5 years old, I got my first power wheelchair, and with it my first taste of the freedom of mobility. For the first time I could move about on my own, whenever and wherever I wanted. I was no longer reliant on others to get where I wanted to go. Having this independence allowed me to explore the world around me and experience life much like any able-bodied person would. I was fortunate enough to have this freedom throughout my life growing up, and this mobility helped me find success and brought a lot of happiness to my life. A couple of years ago though, when my shoulder started to breakdown and my chronic pain increased, I started having some difficulty operating my wheelchair. As my body slowly deteriorated over the next several months, my ability to drive my chair on my own got worse and worse. For a while I was able to drive my wheelchair with assistance from my nurses, but it eventually got to the point a year ago where I could not operate it at all. Going through this process of losing my ability to move around on my own, after having this freedom my entire life, has been an extremely difficult thing for me to deal with.

Losing my ability to drive my wheelchair was far more difficult to cope with than not being able to walk. This may surprise you, but I have never really missed not having the ability to walk. Of course I wish that I had a healthy body and could walk, jump, and do cartwheels like most people, but since I never knew what it is like to walk, I do not know what I am missing. I used to think that I was lucky in this respect, as I thought it was much harder to have something and then have it taken away from you, than to never have it at all. This is why losing my ability to drive my wheelchair has been so difficult for me to cope with, but I feel fine about never having the ability to walk. I spent my entire life only knowing what it is like to be able to move about freely and without assistance, and in an instant this mobility was taken away from me. As someone who has worked extremely hard to build an independent life, losing something as critical to my autonomy as my mobility is like amputating one of my limbs. Due to numerous experiences like this, where my disability took away an important part of my world, I decided long ago that never having the ability to walk was actually a good thing (as opposed to walking for a while and then losing that ability). While it may have made the obstacles and adversity resulting from my disability easier to deal with though, I now see that it also took away all of the amazing things that I would have been able to experience from having a fully functioning body, as well as the happiness it would have brought to my life.

Scott Drotar Loved and Lost
I got my first power wheelchair at a fairly young age, and it gave me freedom for the first time.

Thinking about getting my mobility back, and the emotions that I felt, has made me rethink how I feel about never having the ability to walk. Even though I have never really missed not being able to walk, being confined to a wheelchair has been difficult to deal with at times. Throughout my life, there have been times when I was unable to do something due to my disability and felt like I was missing out on a great experience. Since these types of situations only occur occasionally and vary so much though, you never realize that they all stem from the same cause. It is difficult to see how this one thing has taken away all of these experiences from your life. Just because it is difficult however, does not mean it is impossible. This process of getting my mobility back has illustrated that, if you take the time to look at your life and think about how different it would be if you could not do something, like walk, see, or speak for example, you can more fully appreciate it. This self-reflection also allows you to see the common cause that has kept you from experiencing certain things over the years, which can then help you to change this part of your life and gain the ability to enjoy these moments you missed out on. This will eliminate the negative moments and feelings from your past and add positive experiences to your future, which will bring a whole, new level of happiness to your life.

As the famous quote from Alfred Lord Tennyson goes, “Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.” This idea does not only pertain to love however, as it can also be applied to nearly every aspect of your life. Although I had a much harder time coping with losing my ability to drive my wheelchair than never being able to walk, I would not trade the numerous years I lived being able to operate my chair for anything, even not having to go through the painful process of losing this ability. Having gone through losing this ability once and knowing how painful it is, I am still working to regain my mobility, knowing that in the future it will again be taken away from me. I am willing to put myself through this, because giving it up would mean also trading all of the incredible experiences I will have because of my mobility. The next time you feel a sense of loss and start wishing you had never even begun to enjoy something, think about all of the wonderful experiences you had as a result of it. Ask yourself if you would give up all of that happiness and wisdom to not have to go through the loss you are currently feeling. This will help you put things in perspective and focus on the positive side of things. By doing this and looking at your world through the right lens, you will bring a lot of happiness and fulfilling experiences to your life.

Did this article leave you wondering something? Are you curious about a certain aspect of my life? Do you want to know my favorite color? Submit your question to “Roll Models Mail Call,” and I will do my best to answer it in a post.

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Validation (Part 2)

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In the first part of this article we discussed my parents visit, and how great it felt to get some recognition and approval on my life from my family. Watching my folks and uncle enjoy and comment on the wonderful meal that I had worked hard to prepare for them gave me a wonderful sense of validation that had an enormous impact on me. Even though I already knew that my parents were proud of me and was not looking for their praise, this powerful feeling of accomplishment was a pleasant surprise that nearly overwhelmed me with its warm, comforting glow of euphoria. I would have been more than happy if that was the end of this energizing, emotional experience, but life was being very generous to me, and it turns out that my feelings of bliss were only beginning to fill my life with happiness. Because while my parent’s visiting gave me validation in my personal life, after they left and I got back to work, I was given another great sense of achievement in my professional life.

Scott Drotar Business Logo
We all want to feel like we made good career choices and are good at what we do.

I am fortunate enough to have the greatest job in the world and get to pay my bills doing something that I love, but up until about a year ago, I had spent my entire, adult life learning to be a statistical analyst. Even though I would never stop speaking through Roll Models and have found my calling in life, I do sometimes feel like I am wasting my knowledge and experience with statistics by not putting my numerical skills to use somehow (especially when those student loan bills come in). This is why I still do a minimal amount of advertising myself as a freelance statistical consultant to try to share my array of mathematical knowledge with the world. With the economy being the way it is though, there are not a lot of companies out there looking to spend money on statistical consulting, so I have not gotten many opportunities to use my skills. At least until recently that is, as last week I received inquiries about statistical help from two different organizations. Even though neither of these requests resulted in a consulting contract, by meeting with these companies to discuss their projects I received something much more valuable than any partnership would have paid me.

As I was reading about these companies’ projects, going over their data, and speaking with them about their statistical needs, I felt a great sense of accomplishment wash over me. Even though I had not done hardly any statistical work in over a year, it felt really good knowing that I could still easily and effectively understand their questions and knew how to respond to them. It was so reassuring to know that all of the time and energy I had put into my eight years of college education was not a complete waste, and that I still had at least most of the knowledge that I had worked so hard to attain. Having these initial meetings with both of these companies gave me a sense of validation about my career choices, as I was able to utilize my academic training while still developing Roll Models and pursuing my mission to help others with my story. This gave me a feeling of validation that has given me a renewed sense of drive and focus in my work. One of those feelings that makes you feel confident and knowledgeable and gives you this intensity towards your work, while at the same time relaxing you, slowing your thought process, and helping you concentrate on the most minute details. You are in “the zone,” or a flow state, and this makes you both more efficient and productive, as well as filling you with a wonderful, “on top of the world” feeling.

In addition to getting this sense of approval with respect to my career choices, I got yet another powerful dose of validation in my professional life through Roll Models. Last week, I received an email about a possible speaking engagement from the National Parkinson Foundation. They are working with the Saint Luke’s Marion Bloch Neuroscience Institute and Johnson County Community College to hold a symposium called “Caring for the Long-Term Caregiver” on April 25th. Someone on the board of directors for their organization had heard me speak last Spring, thought that I would be a good fit as a speaker for their event, and gave them my contact information. After exchanging a few emails and speaking with them about the symposium and Roll Models, I am happy to announce that we were able to work everything out, and I will be the closing speaker for their event. This will be a great opportunity for me to help others, a terrific chance for me to network and market Roll Models, and a huge honor to wrap up their symposium that I am really excited to experience. On top of all of these benefits to my career though, getting this speaking engagement also gave me another valuable gift that has improved my life.

Scott Drotar National Parkinson Foundation
I am going to be the closing speaker for a symposium sponsored by the National Parkinson Foundation.

Having no prior experience as a professional speaker or writer until I started Roll Models, I have a difficult time feeling confident about my articles and talks that I write. I went to school for mathematics and statistics, and throughout my eight year academic career I did my best to avoid any classes that involved a lot of writing, so I have not had any official training to prepare me for this line of work. Now, I have worked extremely hard, read dozens of books on writing and speaking, and spent countless hours studying many great speakers on my own to develop my craft, but while I have definitely come a long way, I still do not feel comfortable calling myself a writer or professional speaker. I sometimes feel like I am just fooling people into thinking I am this gifted writer, and it is only a matter of time until everyone realizes that my talks are boring and my posts are terrible. That is why getting this request to speak for the symposium was so special to me. Knowing that I had made a big enough impression on someone with my words that they still remembered me over a year later gave me a sense of reassurance about my abilities as a storyteller. And not only had they remembered me, but they also thought highly enough of my message and performance that they recommended my services to someone else. This incredible honor has helped me to realize that I do know what I am doing and have at least a moderate amount of skill as a writer, which has filled me with a sense of validation, a renewed confidence about my craft, and a lot of happiness.

Getting the opportunity to put my statistical knowledge to good use and being bestowed the honor of being the final speaker for the symposium, each gave me an immense feeling of validation about my professional life. These separate, unexpected events all improved my life by providing me with reassurance that my career choices were good ones, and that I belong in this field. No matter how long or how well you do something, you always want to feel like others think that you are good at what you do. We all want to get the sense that our clients and others in our field are impressed by our work, to reassure us that we were wise in choosing the career we have. While this does not in any way change your abilities or skill in your work objectively, it does improve your confidence, which in turn positively impacts your job, as well as your life in general. It is important to be open to and aware of these moments of validation that emerge out of the blue every now and then, in order to take advantage of their power. Be open to compliments and graciously receive them, no matter where they come from or what form they are in. The enormous amount of confidence and reassurance that they will bring you will penetrate and improve nearly every part of your world. With your renewed sense of validation and accomplishment, you will not only feel better about your life choices and do better work, but you will also experience a new level of happiness that will greatly improve your life.

Did this article leave you wondering something? Are you curious about a certain aspect of my life? Do you want to know my favorite color? Submit your question to “Roll Models Mail Call,” and I will do my best to answer it in a post.

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Soak It All In

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Yesterday was one of those perfect, Spring days here in Kansas City. It was about 70° F with a nice, cool breeze that was just strong enough to tickle your face and run through your hair. The sun was playing peekaboo amongst wispy, fluffy clouds, helping you fully appreciate its warmth and brilliance every time it emerged from its hiding place. The plants and trees were all just starting to bud and bloom, creating a cornucopia of different shades of vibrant colors. After spending the last three months in hibernation mode to avoid the cold weather of Winter, waking up to a day like today, where everything is just perfect, was really comforting. I was so elated by this beautiful weather that I actually rearranged my entire day, just so that I could fully appreciate this gift from Mother Nature. Although I did not get everything done that I had planned to, by taking the time to enjoy this gorgeous day I was able to do something just as productive, while also being reminded of an important lesson about life.

Scott Drotar Soak It All In
Yesterday was a beautiful Spring day in Kansas City.

On my calendar, if you look at yesterday you would find things, like “get yearly physical,” “contact clients,” and “website maintenance,” listed on my to-do list. As I went through this list shortly after waking up and seeing what a beautiful day it was, I noticed that everything that I was supposed to accomplish was going to force me to be inside. While I typically view my carefully crafted to-do list as sacred and refuse to deviate from it for any reason, today I decided to make an exception. I rescheduled my physical for another day, pushed website maintenance to later in the week, and made a few other alterations to my daily itinerary, so that I could take advantage of this gorgeous weather. After finishing breakfast and taking care of a few small things on my daily agenda so that I would feel productive (I cannot waste the whole day. Or can I…?), I went outside and enjoyed the weather. I let the sun beam down onto my skin, covering me like a warm blanket. I felt the wind tickling my nose as it whipped through my mustache. I squinted my eyes as I looked across the field by my apartment, so that everything would blur into a big sea of greens and yellows that I could get lost in. I accepted this beautiful gift that I had been given and let its brilliance bring happiness to my life in a way that very few things can.

The way that this incredible weather impacted me and caused me to completely rearrange my entire week reminded me of how important it is to be thankful for the gifts that life gives you. It is crucial to be open to the little things in life, as I have said before, but you must also be humble enough to really appreciate them. You cannot merely acknowledge the fact that it is a beautiful day, go about your business as usual, and still expect to get any amount of happiness or enjoyment from it. You have to take the time to stop for a minute and soak in the full magnificence of this priceless offering that life has presented you. Just like I stopped, closed my eyes, and let my body soak in the warm, energizing beams of sunshine, you have to let yourself soak it all in any time life hands you one of its treasures. You may not get everything done on your daily to-do list and you may have to work a little more later on, but the benefits and happiness you receive by allowing yourself to fully appreciate life’s offerings will definitely be worth it.

When I woke up this morning I had no intentions of writing this post today. I had another article outlined and prepared to be written, but this total turnaround in my plans only better illustrates the benefits of this important life lesson. By taking the time to fully appreciate the gorgeous weather, not only did I get to enjoy a beautiful day and put a lot of happiness into my life, but I also was able to recognize this valuable lesson and share it with you, spreading even more joy and cheer to the world. Whether it is a delightful Spring day or some other gem life gives you, you have to take the time to stop what you are doing and really appreciate it. Soak it all in, and let this priceless treasure fill your body, heart, and soul with all of its magnificence. This will allow you to experience all of the happiness that these gifts can bring to your life. You may not get everything on your to-do list done, but that list will still be there tomorrow, and life’s offerings do not come often or stay very long. Soak it all in like rays of sunshine on a warm day, so you can fill your life with all of the happiness that life can give you.

Did this article leave you wondering something? Are you curious about a certain aspect of my life? Do you want to know my favorite color? Submit your question to “Roll Models Mail Call,” and I will do my best to answer it in a post.

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A Message From Your Medicine Cabinet (Part 2)

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The American Recall Center, in celebration of “Patient Safety Awareness Week,” is holding a “Medicine Cabinet Clean-Out Challenge.” For this event, they have asked a few “influential bloggers” (their words, not mine) to write an article about responsibly using your medications and sharing some personal experiences. They asked yours truly to participate, and I was more than happy to oblige. I know it is coming a couple days late, but today’s article is the piece I wrote for their “challenge.” I hope you enjoy it, and that it makes you think about your own pharmaceutical use. 

In the first part of this article, you started learning about how important it is to be a responsible consumer when it comes to pharmaceuticals. We are quite fortunate to have so many incredible drugs right at our fingertips, but these life-improving medications can quickly become dangerous, life-threatening poisons if not used in the proper way. When we left off, we had covered the first aspect of being a responsible consumer by discussing how to properly store your medications. You also began reading about the second component of proper drug use, taking your medicines correctly. Due to the powerful, and potentially dangerous, effects that your meds can have on you, it is vital that you take all of your medications properly, because mistakes can be extremely harmful, and sometimes, fatal. This is something that I had to experience firsthand several years ago, and in an effort to drive this point home, I am going to share my story with you today. I will then move on to the final aspect of responsible pharmaceutical use, properly disposing of your medications.

Scott Drotar Patient Safety Awareness Week
The National Patient Safety Foundation celebrates “Patient Safety Awareness Week” every year by trying to educate people on the safe use of medications.

My second experience with taking my medications incorrectly was a much more serious situation than my first, which you read about in part one, and it is the main reason I am so careful with my meds today. About four years ago, my chronic pain got much worse, and I began working with my doctor to try to find a combination of painkillers that would better control my discomfort. Over several weeks and after trying multiple “cocktails” of pain meds, we eventually found a three drug combination that worked well. After a couple weeks of being on this mixture of painkillers, my pain was under control, but some strange things started happening to me. I first started seeing and hearing things that were not there. Initially, it was barely noticeable, but over time these imaginary sights and sounds turned into full fledged hallucinations. Over time it got so bad that I could not always tell what was real and what was not, and I thought I was going crazy. I was obviously terrified by this, and after speaking with my doctor, I thankfully found out that I was not losing my mind, but I was damaging it. It turns out that two of the painkillers he had put me on could have dangerous interactions that cause seizures in certain parts of the brain. In some cases, these seizures can cause audiovisual hallucinations. While I feel fortunate that no permanent damage was done and everything went back to normal after I stopped taking one of the drugs, this was a very dangerous drug interaction that could have had much more dire consequences. Even though my doctor and my pharmacist should have caught this potentially life threatening drug interaction before it ever happened, in the end it is my life and well-being that is at risk, so I am responsible for being knowledgeable about the medications I am taking. And once again, if I had merely taken a few minutes to read about my medications before taking them, I could have avoided this entire situation. I hope this story helps you understand how important it is to be a knowledgeable consumer when it comes to taking your medications, and that it is your responsibility to make sure that you are taking your drugs in a proper and safe manner.

Disposing of Your Medications

In addition to containing the instructions for safe and proper use of your medications, the paperwork that accompanies every medicine you obtain also has pertinent information about how to dispose of your drugs correctly, which is the third aspect of being a responsible pharmaceutical consumer. While we do not often consider how we should dispose of our unused meds as an important part of using our medications, this is a critical aspect of responsible drug use. One of the main reasons we do not think about the process is that you usually take the entire container before drugs expire. Every now and then however, you will find that a drug you rarely take has reached its expiration date, or you will try a prescription medicine that does not work and switch to a different drug before finishing the first, and in these types of situations it is important to make sure that you discard these expired and unneeded medicines in the proper way. Depending on the type of medication being discarded and where you live, the guidelines for how to best dispose of various drugs can differ, so it is crucial to familiarize yourself with the specific process in your area. While the rules do differ by region to some extent though, there are some general steps that you can follow to get rid of your unneeded drugs in a responsible and safe way.

Scott Drotar Medication Disposal
Proper medication disposal is an often overlooked aspect of responsible drug use, but it is a critical part of using your medications correctly.

The first step to proper drug disposal is to be aware of your medications’ expiration dates, which can be found on the container’s label and the accompanying paperwork with the drug. Just like food, medicine does go bad after a certain length of time. The shelf life is different for every drug, but most meds that are taken orally and are not refrigerated last at least six months, if not longer. As I said before, since most meds have such a long lifespan, you will usually finish the entire bottle before they go bad, but occasionally you will have drugs that last beyond their expiration date. Once again, just like food that has reached its “use by” date, if a medicine has expired, it should always be discarded. You should never take expired medications, as they often have lost their effectiveness and could be dangerous for consumption. It is always best to properly dispose of the expired drug and get a new, fresh supply. This will not only ensure that you do not take a potentially harmful expired medication, but it will also guarantee that the drugs you take will have the potency and effect that you expect.

Once you have identified that one of your drugs has expired or should otherwise be discarded, the next step is to properly dispose of the medicine. Since depending on where you live the guidelines can differ, before you discard any meds the first thing you should do is talk to your pharmacist or contact your city’s trash service office to learn about any local guidelines for proper drug disposal. For example, I used to live in a city that had a “drug take-back program” that would allow you to bring in any unwanted medication to a certain, pre-designated location, and they would take the drugs and properly dispose of them for you, no questions asked. Once you are aware of any local regulations, the next step is to consult the paperwork that is with the medicine. If there are any specific instructions for discarding the drug, like flushing it down the toilet (never do this unless specifically stated), it will be clearly identified and explained in this documentation. If there are no specific instructions listed, you can safely throw away the unneeded meds in the following manner. Remove the medications from their original containers and put them in a resealable plastic bag. Next, add a large amount of any unappealing, inedible substance (dish soap, kitty litter, coffee grounds, etc.) to the bag and mix it with the unwanted medications. This will make your discarded drugs undesirable to animals and unusable to people who may be dumpster diving. You can then dispose of this sealed bag in any trash can. Following these general rules will ensure that you are doing your part to properly dispose of your unwanted medications, and it will complete the process of being a responsible pharmaceutical consumer.

Scott Drotar Expired Medications
Medicine, just like food, has a shelf life, and it is important to properly dispose of your expired medications.

I will admit, for me personally, this is the part of being a responsible medication consumer that I struggle with most. I do not like wasting anything, whether it be time, food, or medicine. On top of that, I am a bit of a pack rat, and I can always come up with some outlandish, hypothetical reason to hang on to something. These personality traits often make it difficult for me to get myself to throw away unused prescription drugs that I stop taking before I finish them. I always think to myself, “What if I end up trying this medication again in a few months at a higher dose? Why waste such expensive medicine?” Even though I know I should discard the old meds, these thoughts have caused me on occasion to save my unneeded prescription drugs long after I stopped taking them. The funny thing is that I have never had a situation arise where I actually wound up using any medications I have saved “just in case,” and I always end up throwing these drugs away a year later anyway, when they finally expire. While this may not be the best way to go about things, I do always follow the proper guidelines for disposing of my meds, even if I do it a year late. I am a work in progress, I guess.

Final Thoughts

You are now fully equipped to become a responsible pharmaceutical user. You have learned how to correctly store your medications, and you are more aware of the dangers associated with taking your medicines in an improper way. You also now know how to dispose of your expired and unneeded drugs in a safe and responsible manner. Following the information contained within these three aspects of responsible medication use will allow you to take advantage of the huge health benefits that modern pharmaceuticals can provide, while also ensuring that you are doing so in a safe way. Remember that it is up to you, as the person using these medications, to be knowledgeable about your meds and how to properly use them. Take the time to read the documentation that accompanies every drug you buy, because spending a few minutes reading these pamphlets could be the difference between life and death. My final piece of advice is to use common sense and trust your instincts. If you ever get even a tiny feeling that you may be using a medicine improperly, do not take it and consult your pharmacist or physician. If you do that, and do your best to follow the guidelines described above, you will not only be a responsible consumer of pharmaceuticals, but you will also have a much happier, healthier life.

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A Message From Your Medicine Cabinet (Part 1)

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The American Recall Center, in celebration of “Patient Safety Awareness Week,” is holding a “Medicine Cabinet Clean-Out Challenge.” For this event, they have asked a few “influential bloggers” (their words, not mine) to write an article about responsibly using your medications and sharing some personal experiences. They asked yours truly to participate, and I was more than happy to oblige. I know it is coming a couple days late, but today’s article is the piece I wrote for their “challenge.” I hope you enjoy it, and that it makes you think about your own pharmaceutical use. 

Few areas of research have made as much progress or shown more growth in recent history than the field of medicine. Just in my brief lifetime there have been numerous, major medical advancements that have resulted in longer lifespans, as well as a better quality of life, for people with all sorts of diseases and disorders. One of the areas of medicine that has developed and changed the most over this time is the pharmaceutical industry. We now have instant, unlimited access to hundreds of over the counter medications, and there are thousands more available by prescription, that would have been considered witchcraft just a decade ago. While these powerful drugs now at our disposal can be extremely helpful and alleviate a lot of pain and suffering, they can also be quite dangerous. If not used correctly, these capsules and tablets can quickly go from life saving medications to life threatening poisons. It is now our responsibility, as individuals with infinite access to these drugs, to make sure that we are taking the proper care when dealing with pharmaceuticals. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Great power involves great responsibility.” In celebration of “Patient Safety Awareness Week,” I am going to share with you my own methods for making sure I am a responsible consumer in regards to my medications.

Scott Drotar American Recall Center
The American Recall Center is celebrating “Patient Safety Awareness Week” by holding a “Medicine Cabinet Clean-Out Challenge.”

Since I was born with the genetic, neuromuscular disease, spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), I have been in and out of hospitals, seen more doctors, and dealt with the medical field more, than most people twice my age. I have never walked, require nursing care 24 hours a day, and have the lung volume of a toddler. Although there is no cure or treatment for SMA, there are lots of drugs that can treat the symptoms that my disability causes and improve my life dramatically. Thanks to modern pharmaceuticals, I am able to open up my bronchial tubes when my breathing gets weak and manage pain that on a good day is almost bearable. There is not a doubt in my mind that without the various drugs I take on a daily basis, I would not be able to lead the happy, fulfilling life that I do. Part of using these medications to better my life though, is making sure that I am handling them in the proper way, both to ensure my safety and the safety of others. Even though I have a team of nurses who oversee my medical care, which includes my medications, I still believe it is my responsibility to make sure I am using my meds correctly. When I think about how I go about this process of being a responsible medication consumer, three things come to mind. These three areas that come up are storing my drugs properly, taking them correctly, and disposing of them in a safe way.

Storing Your Medications

The first step to proper pharmaceutical consumption is making sure you are storing your medicine in the proper manner. For most drugs in most homes, this means putting them in your “medicine cabinet,” which should be a cool, dark place out of the reach of children. While this is fine for the vast majority of over the counter medications, and even most prescription drugs, there are plenty of situations where there is a lot more to it. In my case for example, I have to store my assortment of medications in three separate areas, based on their type and strength. First, I have my typical “medicine cabinet” that houses my over the counter medications, breathing treatments, and other drugs that are not narcotics or controlled substances. Second, I have some meds that have to be refrigerated, so obviously these go in my fridge. In order to keep them safely separate from food, I put them behind the butter tray in the door of my refrigerator. Third, I have a combination safe hidden in my home that holds the majority of my narcotics and other controlled substances, and I only take out enough of each medication for a few days. The few pills I take out are kept out where I can see them in clearly marked bottles. I keep a watchful eye on this at all times, and only my nursing staff and I know the combination to my safe. With my narcotics, I also keep a running count of any drugs I take or get from the pharmacy, so that I can always go count my meds in the event that I thought some were missing.

Scott Drotar Medicine Cabinet
Properly storing your medications is the first step to being a responsible pharmaceutical consumer.

In addition to selecting the best location for housing your medications, experience has taught me a couple of other best practices for storing your meds. One is to always, and I mean always, store your drugs in the container they come in. Whether they are over the counter or prescription, all medicine should be stored in the labeled container you got it in. I know it may be convenient to put a bunch of different meds you commonly take in an unmarked bottle (Altoids tin, old contacts case, empty lip balm container,…) and throw it in your purse or backpack, but it can also be quite dangerous. What if you mix up the diphenhydramine and the ibuprofen, take a couple of sleeping pills instead of some painkillers, and get behind the wheel of your car? At best it is dangerous and a potential DUI, and at worst it is a potentially fatal mistake. Additionally, carrying certain prescription drugs, like narcotics and other drugs used recreationally, in any container other than the bottle you got from the pharmacy is illegal in most states. By simply keeping your drugs in the correct, labeled bottle, you can eliminate issues like this from ever happening.

Another important aspect of proper medication storage that can eliminate life-threatening errors, involves not the drugs themselves, but the paperwork that comes with them. Every time you get a prescription, you get the medication your doctor ordered and a small amount of paperwork. These pamphlets that most people quickly discard without even a glance, can contain vital information for the proper handling of the medication. Information like what foods limit the drug’s effectiveness and what other medications can have dangerous interactions with it, may be fresh in your mind today, but three months from now it will not be. Without the accompanying paperwork, you will have no way of knowing all of this important information, which could result in dire consequences. For this reason, it is always a good idea to keep the paperwork that comes with your medications in the same place as the drugs themselves, or at the very least in a single, well-designated place, so that you will always have easy access to it when necessary.

Taking Your Medications

Having access to the documentation that comes with every medicine you pick up is a critical part of safely and effectively taking your meds, which is the second important aspect of being a responsible pharmaceutical consumer. Due to the powerful effects that medications can have on your body, it is vital that you are taking your drugs as they were designed. Even everyday substances, like Ibuprofen and acetaminophen, can do major physical harm if taken incorrectly, which is why properly taking your drugs is so critical. While safe drug use may start with your prescribing physician and the pharmacist, they are just the first line of defense. The person most responsible for ensuring that you take your medicines correctly is you. Since it is your life and well-being that is on the line, it is up to you to be a smart consumer when it comes to your medications. I go through a three step process to educate myself and make certain that I am taking my drugs in the right way, and if you follow this method you will know that you are safely taking your medications. First, have your doctors explain the drugs they prescribe to you and how you should take them. Do not be afraid to ask questions either, because that is the reason they are there. Next, ask your pharmacist about any pertinent information or dangers associated with your medications. Last, read the literature that comes with any new drugs you begin taking. If you do all three of these steps, and they all give you the same information, you will know you are doing things correctly. More importantly, if they do not agree, you will know that something is off, and you will be able to take action to avoid any possible problems.

Scott Drotar Medication Labels
Taking the time to read medication labels and the paperwork that comes with your drugs is the best way to become knowledgeable about your medications.

While I now know to double and triple check the information on my prescriptions before taking them, I did not come by this knowledge by chance. I had to experience the negative, and potentially life-threatening, effects of improperly taking your medications before obtaining this insight. My first experience with improper drug use occurred when I was in graduate school. I had just been prescribed a very potent painkiller by my doctor, and this drug was taken by placing an adhesive patch on your skin (like a nicotine patch). Both my doctor and pharmacist said to simply place a patch on my abdomen, make sure it was securely adhered to my skin, and replace it every two days, and I followed these instructions to the letter. I knew it would take a while for this drug to build up in my system, but with how strong this medication was, I should have felt at least some relief from my chronic pain within a day or two. Even after a week of using it however, I was still in just as much discomfort as I was without the patch. My physician upped my dosage, but still, I felt no relief. As I was tired of being in constant agony from feeling no effect from this potent drug, I decided to do some research on this medication. After doing some Google searches and reading about this drug and how it works, I was able to figure out why this medicine was having no impact on my pain. This particular patch gets into your bloodstream by being absorbed by fats under your skin. I only weigh 60 pounds, and pretty much all of that weight is organs, bones, and skin. Since I did not have enough fat, I could not absorb the drug, and that is why it was so ineffective in controlling my pain. As soon as I talked to my doctor and switched to an oral version of this medication, I finally got the relief I was hoping for from the beginning. It turns out, that if I had just opened up the literature that came with every box of patches and read it, I would have known this information from the start and avoided weeks of suffering.

This story illustrates the importance of being well-informed about your medications. While doctors and pharmacists are extremely knowledgeable and helpful in giving you information about your drugs, they are human, and they do make mistakes. Even though my story may have had a happy ending, this med error could have just as easily done major, and possibly life-threatening, harm to my body. This life and death nature of using medications properly is something that I have experienced first hand. I will share this story with you, and hopefully show you how critical correctly taking your medications can be, in the second part of this article.

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Di$abl€d (Part 2): Private Insurance

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Before I get into the meat of today’s post, I want to say that I am a proud American, and I feel extremely fortunate that I live in the United States. I am thankful that I was born in a country where my physical limitations do not automatically make me an outcast of society. I am also grateful that our government has implemented programs, such as Medicaid, Social Security and Disability, and Vocational Rehabilitation Services, to help individuals with disabilities overcome the obstacles they face. That being said, this does not mean that I necessarily agree with the way these programs have been implemented or managed, and it definitely does not mean that I agree with how the American government has treated the disabled community in general. Despite the fact that I may disagree with some of the decisions that have been made by the government in regards to disability rights and such, I still greatly appreciate everything that federal assistance programs have done for me. I know that without the assistance of these programs I would have never been able to achieve everything that I have or live the happy, successful life that I do. So if I come across as angry or overly harsh throughout this series, it is not that I am unappreciative or un-American, I am merely exercising my right to free speech/press and trying to create positive change for the disabled community.

All of the numbers and information I will be presenting in this series are based upon my own life and research. Private insurance and Medicaid benefits can vary greatly from plan to plan and state to state, respectively. While my experience may not be universal, it will still give you a good general idea of how these programs work in the real world.

Scott Drotar Private Insurance
Private health insurance is the best type of medical coverage in most situations, and it can greatly improve the lives of disabled individuals.

In the first entry in this series, you learned what an enormous obstacle the medical expenses that arise from being disabled can be. The large costs of many medical necessities, like wheelchair accessible transportation, attendant care, and prescription medications, put a large financial burden on disabled individuals, as well as their families. The extra costs that the disabled community endures due to their physical limitations are frequently more than they can reasonably afford, and this often leads to individuals receiving substandard care and having a lower quality of life. Fortunately, there are both private sector and federal assistance programs, such as private insurance and Medicaid, that are designed to help alleviate some of this financial stress. While these organizations do not completely eliminate the strain of these expenses, and there are often still large out of pocket costs even with the assistance of these groups, they do give many disabled individuals the opportunity to live fulfilling lives and become functioning members of society. In the next few posts in the “Di$abl€d” series, we will be discussing the pros and cons of some of these assistance programs. This begins with today’s article about private insurance programs.

Both of my parents being public school teachers, which made them state employees, meant two things for my family financially. The first was that they would be grossly underpaid, as all educators are, and the second was that they would have great benefits. One of these benefits was access to high quality health insurance coverage at minimal cost. For as long as my folks have been employees of the John Glenn School Corporation, my entire family has had great insurance. After we paid the monthly premium and my yearly deductible, 80% of all of my medical expenses are covered by my private insurance. While not all of my medical needs were always approved and 20% is still a sizeable amount of out of pocket expense sometimes (like after 15 days in the ICU), having private health insurance of this caliber gave my family enough financial relief to get me all of the medical care I needed, while also allowing us to maintain a middle-class lifestyle. To give you an idea as to the enormous amount of money my private insurance has paid for my medical needs, only taking into account my home nursing care and pain medication, every month they pay over $25,000. That means, just for those two things, that since I have moved to Kansas they have shelled out over $1,500,000. This is an enormous amount of money that my family could never have afforded on our own, and I am extremely grateful that I have access to such quality medical coverage, as it is definitely not the norm. In fact, of all of the other physically disabled people I have met over the years, I have never ran across someone with private insurance as good as mine. Thanks to my excellent health care coverage, I have been able to see the best specialists, have my own wheelchair accessible vehicle, and purchase multiple power wheelchairs, none of which would have been possible for my family financially without the assistance of our insurance plan. There is little doubt that the great health insurance I have had over the years has contributed greatly to the independent, successful life I have created for myself, and without this assistance the lives of my entire family would have been much more difficult.

While I have been extremely fortunate that I have had quality private insurance since I was about 5 years old, I do not want to give the impression that my experience with private health insurance companies has been nothing but rainbows and butterflies. Although having private insurance has greatly improved the quality of life for both me and my family, as well as having played a large part in giving me the opportunity to achieve my goals, it has not always been easy. Anyone who has ever had private health insurance knows about the irritating clerical errors that lead to problems with your coverage. Those occasions when something is denied for payment purely because it was entered incorrectly into their system, and you have to spend hours bouncing around their automated phone system getting things corrected. While I did have to deal with these frustrating moments, at least they could be corrected in an afternoon. In addition to these irksome moments, for people with physical disabilities there are a couple much larger issues that can occur, and they both can have the disastrous outcome of you losing your coverage. These two hurdles are the problems of preexisting conditions and lifetime maximums.

Scott Drotar Preexisting Condition
When my parents first started working at John Glenn School Corporation, they had to wait 18 months to see if their insurance provider would cover me despite my preexisting condition.

Thanks to President Obama, we have all heard of the problems that having a preexisting condition can cause when you are trying to get health insurance. Basically, private insurance companies say that they will not pay for anything related to health problems you had before you purchased their insurance plan (a preexisting condition). For someone like me, who has been afflicted by a genetic disability since birth, this would essentially mean that I could never get health insurance. Fortunately for me though, there are provisions and regulations that are designed to help with this major hurdle for the disabled community. In my case for example, when my parents first started working at John Glenn when I was 5 years old, even though they had a family plan for private health insurance, I was not covered. Before the insurance provider would pick me up and cover expenses related to my disability, I had to go 18 consecutive months without being admitted to the hospital. If I did not make it the full 18 months, the clock would start from zero again whenever I got discharged. Obviously, this was a very tense period for my family.

Thankfully, I was able to make it the full year and a half on my first try, but it was still definitely a very stressful and trying time. Not only was there the mental stress of seeing whether I would stay healthy long enough to gain coverage on our family plan, but there was also a large financial strain during this period. Since a stay in the hospital costs thousands of dollars, and with my health being so fragile and unpredictable, we had to purchase COBRA insurance during this period in case I would get sick. The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) requires employers to provide access to health insurance coverage for a period of time after employees switch jobs or are laid off. This sounds great in theory (and it has its uses), but since employers do not have to subsidize the insurance premiums under COBRA, the insurance is very expensive. This meant that on top of paying the premium for our family insurance coverage, we also had to pay the much larger monthly premium for my COBRA insurance each month. While everything worked out for us in the long run, this was a significant hurdle that could have had a huge impact on my life. Hopefully, with the progress that has been made in regards to preexisting conditions through “Obamacare,” this enormous obstacle will not be an issue for the next generation of disabled individuals.

The second major issue with private insurance coverage for people with physical disabilities is the problem of lifetime insurance maximums. Whenever anyone signs the contract for their private health insurance, somewhere in the fine print there is a section that says how much the insurance company is willing to pay over the entire life of the plan (lifetime maximum). These maximums vary greatly from plan to plan and between providers, but usually the lifetime maximum is around $2,000,000. For healthy, able-bodied people, this number is not important because you will never need more coverage than that. For individuals with severe, physical disabilities though, this number can be reached fairly quickly, and even within just a few years in some cases. Going back to the $1,500,000 that my insurance company has spent just in the last five years on my home nursing care and pain medications, you can easily see how quickly this maximum can be reached. When you take into account hospital stays, medical equipment, and all of the other medical expenses disabled people have, it is obvious that this is a huge problem. Even if disabled individuals are fortunate enough to have private health insurance to begin with, due to lifetime maximums they would run out of coverage long before they no longer need it.

Once again, there are some regulations in place to try to help the disabled community overcome this financial burden created by their physical limitations. Luckily, there are laws that state in certain situations that if a disabled person cannot get health insurance as good as the coverage they have through their parent’s plan, then they cannot be denied coverage due to age or lifetime maximums. In my case, this basically means that unless I can find another insurance carrier that will ignore my preexisting conditions and give me the same level of service I have now (fat chance), that my parent’s insurance company cannot deny me coverage. This is why I am still on my family’s insurance even though I am over 24 years old (the normal age cutoff for dependents on health insurance) and have reached my lifetime maximum several times over. Again though, this is not the norm, and very few disabled people have access to insurance coverage as good as mine. I have met numerous individuals who hit their lifetime maximum and were forced to drastically change their lives due to losing coverage. This is a major problem facing the disabled community, and it is definitely something that needs to be addressed in the near future so disabled people can live without fear of running out of coverage.

Scott Drotar Obamacare
Obamacare is trying to remove some of the obstacles preventing the disabled community from obtaining private health insurance.

Private health insurance is by far the best insurance option as far as what and how much of your medical expenses are covered. In cases like mine for example, my insurance company has spent millions of dollars over my 28 years, and this has allowed me to lead a happy, fulfilling, and independent life. Due to obstacles like preexisting conditions and lifetime maximums however, this type of coverage is not a long-term option for a lot of disabled people. While I have discussed a couple of the major hurdles for the disabled community in receiving private insurance, I have only begun to address all of the problems with private health insurance that face these individuals. I hope that my words have made an impression on you though, and that you have a better understanding of how difficult it is for disabled people to get and keep private health insurance, only exacerbating the financial burden their disability causes. In an effort to alleviate this strain on disabled people who cannot find private insurance or who reach their lifetime maximum, the government has created several federal programs to assist with medical expenses for the disabled. One of the most well known of these federal assistance programs, Medicaid, is the topic of the next post in this series.

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Setting Boundaries

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Scott Drotar Purple People-Eater
I am a huge “people-pleaser,” not to be confused with a “flying purple people-eater.”

I have something I have to tell all of you, but it is not going to be easy. I have not addressed it explicitly thus far in my Roll Models articles or talks, but I have decided that I need to be open with you. If I am going to share my world with you, then I need to share the good, as well as the bad, in order to give you an accurate depiction of my life. I hope this will not change your opinion of me, but I will totally understand if you see me differently after this post. I better just do it before I lose my nerve, so here it goes. My name is Scott, and I am a “people-pleaser.” That is right. I, Scott Drotar, your wise, witty, wheelchair-using wordsmith, is a “people-pleaser.” Not only that, but I am probably one of the worst “people-pleasers” in the world. I have a compulsive desire to please others and make people happy. I have a problem saying “no,” volunteer for things even when I have a full schedule, and often burn the candle at both ends. I fear missing a deadline and “dropping the ball” on a project more than death. My drive to help others live better lives even caused me to create (at least partially) my own speaking program and website to motivate and inspire as many individuals as possible, and if that does not scream, “people-pleaser,” I don’t know what does. However, I know that admitting I have a problem is the first step to coping with my issues, so I am here telling you today that I am a “people-pleaser.”

Ok. I know that this is a bit over-dramatic, and I do not mean to make fun of addiction issues or recovery groups, but I am a bona fide “people-pleaser.” When I get the sense that someone is not happy with something I have done, I get this physically ill and uncomfortable feeling throughout my body. I do not know why I get such a strong physiological response, but when I say “no” to someone, do not meet someone’s expectations, or otherwise let someone down, I get these horrible, sick feelings. I get this nauseated feeling in the pit of my stomach, my breathing gets shallower, and my body gets

Scott Drotar Setting Boundaries
Growing up, my siblings and I were always being told to think of others before ourselves.

flushed and sweats like a sinner’s on judgment day. While I do not know why it happens, I do have a good idea of how it started. Growing up, one of the things that my parents were constantly preaching to my siblings and I was the importance of thinking beyond ourselves. They were always telling us to put the needs of others before our own and to focus first on the happiness of the people around us. These altruistic ideals are something we all need to learn, and they have been quite valuable throughout my life, but it is important to remember to keep things in perspective. Just like everything else in life, you need to find the right balance. If you are only ever worrying about the well-being and happiness of others and completely ignoring your own needs, you will end up being just as bad off as people who only think of themselves. Sure, people may like you a lot more than these greedy, self-serving individuals, but you will not be any better off since you are not addressing your own needs. By constantly giving to others all the time, you will end up burnt out and miserable from ignoring your own wants and desires. This is not only bad because you deserve to be happy, but also since in giving too much of yourself and burning out in the short-term, you will no longer have the drive to help improve the lives of others over the long-term. In order to help others as much as possible, maintain your own happiness, and avoid fizzling out and imploding on yourself like a dieing star, you have to learn to set boundaries.

When I was in my first semester of graduate school, since I was new to the quantitative psychology program, had almost no knowledge of theoretical psychology, and had a much different background than my colleagues, I felt like I had something to prove. I felt like I needed to show everyone that I belonged and could be an asset to the department. In an effort to prove my worth, I would volunteer and sign up for anything that I was even remotely qualified to do. When my boss would start looking for people to handle certain jobs at our weekly staff meetings or email the entire department looking for someone to take on a new client, I would be the first to speak up or hit reply. As you can imagine, after a couple months of signing up for anything and everything I could, my plate was very full. It got to the point by mid-semester where I had zero free time or personal life, and if I was not in one of my own classes, I was working on something for a client. I was well on my way to burning out, and if I had continued much longer this way I am certain I would have (probably ending my academic career), but thanks to some wisdom from a professor, I was able to avoid this unpleasant fate and learn an important life lesson.

I was sitting in a lecture hall the week before Fall Break waiting on one of my classes to start, and as I was quietly sipping my Starbucks latte, the professor walked over and asked how my first semester of graduate school was going. I told him that I was enjoying myself and thought I was doing well in my courses, but I was still struggling with finding enough time to complete all of the projects I was working on. He smiled and said that time management was a big part of grad school, and then asked me what projects I was currently helping with. I started going through my mile-long list of current projects, and after about the sixth one, my professor stopped me. He said that I had more projects going than he did even as a tenured professor, and that I was definitely doing way too much for a first year graduate student. He then went on to ask me who had assigned me to all of this work. I shook my head quickly and told him that no one had assigned these projects to me, but that I had volunteered. I added that I thought as the new person in the department and being “low man on the totem pole,” that I was supposed to volunteer a lot and show people what I could do. At this point, a gentle smirk came across my professor’s lips as he said that I had things “completely back-asswards.” He then gave me two great pieces of advice. The first was that the people that mattered already knew what I could do, or I would not be there in the first place (a universal idea that we all forget occasionally). The second, and more valuable, nugget of wisdom was the importance of setting boundaries.

My professor explained to me that in academia, one of your most valuable commodities is your time. There is only so much time in the day, and you will always end up having more work to do than time allows. Unless you can learn to set some boundaries, you will end up going crazy as you painstakingly try to do everything for everyone. If you do not protect your time today by learning to say “no,” you will not have the drive or mental faculties to say “yes” later on when you do have time. It is all a matter of having the ability to help as many people as possible in the long run. It is much better, both for you and others, to help on a few less projects every year, but be around for four years, than to help on every project this year, but burn out and leave after this Spring semester. Having it explained to me this way, as a cost and benefit type problem, really put everything in perspective for me. I realized that you have to balance your “yes’s and no’s” by setting boundaries, in order to get the best result and participate on the most projects.

Scott Drotar Totem Pole
As the “low man on the totem pole” in my first semester of graduate school, I rarely said “no” to a project.

As important as my professor’s sage-like advice was for surviving my grad school career, it was only after I thought about his words for a few days that I realized their real value. It turns out that this same concept about protecting your time and setting boundaries is applicable to nearly every part of life. Just like I needed to say “no” to some projects early on in my grad school career in order to maintain my sanity, graduate, and achieve my long-term goals, you also need to create and sustain limits in all of the other areas of your life if you want to be happy and successful. By developing boundaries you will be able to better prioritize your life and maintain a healthy balance even when you are being pulled in a thousand different directions. Whether it is turning down a “happy hour” invitation from a colleague to have family dinner, or saying “no” to your boss’s request that you stay late to watch your child’s dance recital, your boundaries will ensure that you do not get beaten down by life or lose sight of what is most important to you. Developing these limits, learning to say “no,” and remembering that long-term success is most important, will make you feel much happier and fulfilled with your life, and since you will be better equipped to help others in the long run, it will improve the lives of others as well.

I am a “people-pleaser,” and that will never change. The feelings I have to make everyone around me happy and not disappoint others will never completely go away. Like any other compulsion or addiction though, you can learn to manage these feelings and live a happy, successful life. Developing good boundaries, and sticking to them, will go a long way towards controlling your “people-pleaser” urges. If you too suffer from this horrible affliction, take the time to really think about the wisdom my professor shared with me. What areas of your life are making you feel burned out? What parts of your life are you ignoring because of other obligations? Make a list of what aspects of your life are the most important to you, and then create boundaries that ensure you devote your time to the right things. If you develop good boundaries, and stick to them even when it is hard, you will no longer be a slave to your urges as a “people-pleaser.” You will enjoy a long, happy life with your loved ones, and better yet, in the long run you will be able to give more of yourself to others.

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Risk And Reward

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You have read in earlier posts about how complicated the nurse and client relationship can be in home care. I even have an entire Roll Models talk about these complex connections, and the key to understanding them to build strong relationships in the home care setting. Even though I have had nurses with me nearly non-stop for over a decade, and speak as an expert on these relationships, that does not mean that I have everything figured out or do not struggle at times with managing my relationships with my caregivers though. One of the most difficult parts of maintaining these bonds is being able to tell where the professional relationship ends and the personal relationship begins with each nurse. Due to the fact that my nurses are paid to care for me and be a part of my life, it is never easy to gauge how much of the relationship is professional and how much is personal, especially since it is different with each and every caregiver. The idea that plagues me to this day is determining whether my nurses would still want to maintain our friendship, even if they were no longer my nurse. Whenever I get close to one of my nurses I always wonder about this idea, and it is usually only when our professional relationship ends, and it is too late to do anything to protect myself emotionally, that I get an answer. The other day however, due to a rather random set of circumstances, I was able to get the answer to this question with one of my current caregivers. Getting this information while our relationship is still strong and healthy not only gave me a reassuring and comforting feeling, but it also gave me some powerful insights into the nature of relationships in general.

Scott Drotar Risk And Reward
My relationships with my nurses are very complex due to being a combination of our working and personal connections.

One night last week, there was a bad snow and ice storm that tore through our area beginning around sundown and continued until the wee hours of the next morning. The nurse who was with me that evening was one of my most veteran caregivers, and he and I had gotten pretty close in our more than two years of working together. He had worked a double that day with me (a 16 hour shift), and he was supposed to leave at midnight to make his usual 45 minute drive home, right in the middle of this winter storm. Not only that, but he was also scheduled to return at 8:00am the following day to work another 12 hours with me, which meant making another treacherous drive in the dark on icy roads. At around 10:00pm, we were jokingly discussing how he would not be able to make it in to work the following morning due to the weather and how he would love getting to sleep in, when his wife sent him a text about how bad the roads were getting. After texting back and forth with her for a few minutes, he looked at me and asked if he could stay in my second bedroom on my air mattress, so that he would not have to drive home just to turn around and drive right back a few hours later. Of course I said yes, as I tell all of my nurses every Winter that they are always welcome to crash at my place anytime the weather is nasty, but typically I have to talk them into not risking their lives on the roads. This was the first time that I had had one of my nurses actually ask to take advantage of my offer, and it had a surprisingly large effect on me emotionally. The true value of these feelings however, were the insights they brought with them that gave me a much better understanding of the nature of all close relationships.

I had known for a long time how I felt about my relationship with this nurse, but once you have gotten your feelings hurt a few times by nurses ceasing all contact with you when they are no longer your caregiver, you learn not to assume too much. I knew that just because I saw our connection as more of a personal friendship than a professional, nursing relationship, that did not necessarily mean that he felt the same way. Through his request to sleep in my spare room, which is something only a close friend would do, he showed me how he saw our bond. I now knew that I was not merely Mr. Drotar, his home care patient through CareStaf, but something much more. I was Scott, his friend. This information made me feel so good, as it reassured and validated the nature of our relationship, while also strengthening our connection. Additionally, having this knowledge made me feel secure enough in our friendship that I now have the courage to strengthen our bond and grow even closer. It was as I was thinking about this idea and how we will now be able to improve our bond, that I had a sudden stroke of insight into the nature of friendships.

Scott Drotar Icy Roads
Who would have thought that some icy roads would teach me such an important lesson about relationships?

After a couple days had passed, and all of these comforting notions and warm feelings had been given plenty of time to bounce around my brain, I had a slightly unsettling thought. I realized that even though I now had a solid idea as to how he viewed our relationship, I had no way of knowing if he wanted to develop our friendship further. Just because I wanted to strengthen the bond between us, that did not mean he wanted to as well. Maybe he was happy with our friendship and did not want to improve our connection further. As these somewhat troubling ideas raced through my mind, I realized that I was in the same situation as I had been before all of this happened. Sure he and I were closer than before, and I had a better understanding of how he saw our relationship, but I was still in a situation where I did not know whether I should put more time and energy into our friendship or not. It was at this point that I realized something about relationships. I learned that you will never really know how the other person feels in an objective sense, the way you know that grass is green, and you are not supposed to. You just “know” down in your gut how they feel about you, and you have to trust that you are right. Even though it is this level of trust and faith in the other person that makes relationships so difficult at times, it is also what makes them so exciting and rewarding. Sure, by putting so much of yourself into a relationship you run the risk of getting hurt emotionally, but having the strength and courage to throw yourself into the unknown is the only way to get all of the rewards that come from strong, healthy relationships. In order to get the incredible benefits and gifts that only a close friendship can bring, you have to be brave enough to open up to being hurt. No risk, no reward.

I never would have thought that a Winter storm and a worried wife would have given me such an incredible insight into one of my close friendships. I certainly would never have expected to learn such an important lesson about the nature of relationships in general, but wisdom comes in many forms and often when you least expect it. I am obviously thankful that I now feel closer to my nurse, and I am even more grateful that I now have a better understanding of all of my friendships. It is important to remember that you are not supposed to definitively know how the other person feels before investing in a relationship, as it is this unknown component of these connections with others that makes them so great. Whether it is your bond with your spouse, your child, or even a friend, you have to be willing to put yourself out there and risk getting hurt, if you want to enjoy all of the amazing and wonderful gifts that close relationships offer. The next time you find yourself being too timid or scared to take the next step in strengthening your relationship with someone, remember that without risk, there can be no reward. Take a chance and step into the unknown, and you will be amazed at how often your fears were unfounded. Not only that, but you will also be amazed at how much happier your life has become.

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Just Listen

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Here in the Kansas City area, we have had one of the strangest Winters that I have ever experienced. About every four or five days for the last couple months, the temperature has shifted by at least 30 °F. It will go from being barely 20 °F with blustering winds and snow, to 65 °F and sunny, back to 10 °F with sleet and ice, all in a single week. Even for a born and raised Midwestern boy like myself, who is used to the frequent meteorological fluctuations of the “plains states,” this has been a little tough to handle. When you never know what the weather will be even 48 hours from now, it can be a little hard to plan various activities and such. As inconvenient as this has been for everyone in the area though, for those of us with certain types of chronic pain and disabilities it has been much more difficult to deal with. This increased hardship is a result of the fact that every one of these large shifts in temperature comes with an equally large change in the barometric pressure, which can cause increased discomfort in some types of pain (anyone with severe arthritis knows what I am talking about). In trying to cope with my elevated pain every few days, I have been reminded of how quickly my body can go from completely healthy and fine all the way to agonizing pain and illness, as well as how you can easily avoid this potentially life threatening problem.

Scott Drotar Changing Weather
The frequently changing weather in the Kansas City area lately has made my chronic pain much worse.

As the weather has been fluctuating so often recently, I have gotten many opportunities lately to examine the sensations that my body goes through as the shifting barometric pressure amplifies my chronic pain. You would think that this would be a gradual process, and as the new weather front moves in my discomfort would slowly grow in magnitude, but this is not the case. There is nothing gradual about it. Instead, it is like a switch gets flipped in my body once the atmospheric pressure changes a certain amount, and this switch instantly causes my pain to increase substantially. I will be sitting, writing on my tablet or even just lying back in my wheelchair watching television, and in the blink of an eye I will go from feeling my normal level of aches and pangs, to being in agony in all of my joints. My hips feel like they are filled with sandpaper that grinds on my bones with every movement, and my shoulder feels like it is covered in broken glass that cuts into my flesh with every breath. I will get this instantaneous increase in my pain, and I will look at my nurse and say, “The front has moved in hasn’t it?” They will go outside or get online to check, and without fail, every time the new weather front will have just passed over us. As excruciating and difficult as this is to deal with and as much as I would love to be rid of my internal, weather forecasting system, it has had the one bright spot of reminding me of the important life lesson of how critical it is to listen to your body.

As I touched on in a different way in the latest post in my Roll Models series, “A Recipe For Success,” it is extremely important to be aware of what your body is trying to tell you. Your body has evolved to be able to monitor and communicate to you what it is feeling and what it needs in order to stay in a healthy, working condition. We so often turn to the internet, books, and doctors to make decisions about what to eat, how to exercise, and how to determine our health, and while I am all for being well educated and learning as much as possible before making a decision, more often than not we can make a good, well informed decision simply by taking the time to pay attention to what our bodies are telling us. Are you tired all the time? This is your body’s way of telling you to get more rest. Gaining weight? Your body is telling you that you are getting more than enough energy from your diet, and you could eat less. Shoulder hurting? Maybe you should take it easy on the racquet ball court for a couple weeks. Your body will tell you pretty much everything you need to know about your health, if you are just willing to listen. Even though the examples above may seem a bit mundane and not all that critical to your overall health and well-being, there are also times when your body tries to prevent you from serious harm, and you can avoid a lot of pain and suffering by merely being aware of these signals. There are even situations where your very life could be in jeopardy if you do not pay attention to your body, which is something I know all too well.

As I wrote about in my most viewed article and most popular Roll Models talk, “I Can’t!” when I was 15 years old I nearly lost my life. I had three different types of pneumonia at once, both of my lungs collapsed in the span of a few hours, and there was a period of time when it was not clear whether or not my body would be able to fight off the infection and recover. Thankfully, not only did I pull through this near death experience, but I also

Scott Drotar Just Listen
If I had listened to my body and skipped the marching band competition, I could have avoided a lot of pain and suffering.

learned many important life lessons through this process. One of these critical pearls of wisdom was how vital it is to listen to your own body. Two days before I went to the emergency room and ended up being diagnosed with pneumonia and such, I woke up not feeling well. Even though I did not feel good at all having chills, body aches, and a ton of chest congestion, the regional marching band competition that I had spent weeks preparing for was that afternoon, and I did not want to miss it. So I did what any teenager who thinks they are invincible would do, completely ignored what my body was telling me and went to the all day band competition. I spent the afternoon sweating in the hot sun in my black, polyester band uniform, and then spent the evening freezing in a cold drizzle after the sun went down. When I woke up the next morning, surprise, surprise, I felt like death. I could barely breathe, ached all over, had a fever over 103 °F (my father actually thought the thermometer was broken because my fever was so high), and within 12 hours would be fighting for my life. All of this suffering and hardship could have been avoided too, if I had simply been willing to listen to my body.

While I hope that you will never be put in a situation where listening to your body is a matter of life and death, I do hope that you will think about my story and keep it with you as a reminder to pay attention to your body’s signals. Just like I could have avoided nearly dieing and everything that my family and I had to suffer through as a result, you can save yourself a lot of effort and discomfort by simply taking the time to listen to your own body. If you really give this a try, you will quickly see that your body is truly an amazing machine and will tell you everything you need to know to maintain your health and well-being. After a week or two of focusing on how you are feeling and what your body is communicating to you, this process will become second nature, and you will find that without even thinking about it that you will be more aware of your well-being and in tune with your body. Just take a few moments throughout your day, shut up, and listen to what your body is saying, because no one knows what you need better than you. Not only will you avoid nearly killing yourself by attending a marching band competition, but you will also feel healthier. This newfound improvement in your well-being will allow you to put more of yourself into your life and relationships, which will bring more happiness and success to your life.

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A Recipe For Success: Trust Your Tastebuds

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As a result of my spinal muscular atrophy and the damage it has done to my body, I have to be very careful when I am eating to avoid choking. With my disability weakening the muscles used in swallowing, along with all of the scar tissue from my trache surgeries taking up extra room in my neck, there is not a lot of room for food to go down my esophagus. One of the ways that I have adapted my diet to overcome this obstacle is by keeping my food as soft and moist as possible. I accomplish this by putting sauces, dips, and other condiments on pretty much everything I eat. These sauces help moisten my food, while also acting as a sort of lubricant to help things slide on down to my belly. Since I put some sort of condiment on nearly every bite I take, it makes sense that as I have gotten into cooking I have started experimenting with making my own sauces and dips. I have developed, and I would nearly say perfected, my own delicious recipes for various condiments ranging from a tangy honey mustard to an Asian sweet and sour sauce to, most recently, my own blazing buffalo sauce (which is available on my Pinterest Cooking Board). The last few weeks, as I was working on my buffalo sauce recipe and going through the process of gradually modifying it until it was just right, I realized something. I realized, as I was tinkering with my concoction one little bit at a time, that the process for modifying and developing your own sauce recipe is extremely similar to the way you should go about monitoring and adjusting your body’s health, mood, and overall well-being. Furthermore, by learning this process in the kitchen, you will then be able to apply it to your life in general, which will help you be both healthier and happier (plus you will have some kick ass sauces).

The first step in developing your own sauce recipe is to find an existing recipe to use as a starting point. You can get this jumping off point through the recommendation of a friend, out of a cookbook, or by finding a well reviewed recipe online. All that matters is that you think the recipe will at least be similar to what you want your final product to be. After selecting your starter recipe, you should make the sauce exactly as the recipe describes without any alterations. Once it is done, taste the sauce several times to really get a good idea as to its flavor profile, and then put it in the refrigerator overnight and give it another taste the next day. This is important because many sauces change quite a bit after being allowed to settle for a few hours. Now that you have a working knowledge of what this recipe tastes like, as well as what needs to be improved upon, it is time to really start cooking. With my buffalo sauce, I knew that my starter recipe needed more heat (surprise, surprise), and it needed to lose the harsh, vinegar-like aftertaste that lingered after each

Scott Drotar Cayenne Pepper
I knew that adding more cayenne pepper would increase the heat of my sauce, but a little spice can go a long way, so I needed to go slowly.

bite and made the flavor seem very acidic. It is always important in altering a recipe to tackle one thing at a time, and since I knew that adding more heat was as easy as adding more cayenne pepper spice than the starter recipe recommended, I did that first. I added a pinch more cayenne pepper, then gave it a taste, added a pinch more, gave it a taste, and just continued this process until it was as spicy as I thought it should be. Next I needed to find a way to get rid of the overpowering, vinegar aftertaste. Thanks to my knowledge of kitchen chemistry and flavor profiles, I knew that milk products often work well to tone down overly acidic and spicy flavors, so I decided to substitute some of the vegetable oil in the starter recipe with butter. This would maintain the high fat content that the oil provided, while also inserting some dairy to diminish the acidic flavor ruining my sauce. Once again I worked up slowly by adding a teaspoon of butter, giving it a taste, add another teaspoon, give it a taste, and so on. Eventually (two tablespoons of butter later), I found the right mix of vegetable oil and butter, and my sauce was finished. It was a great consistency, had just the right amount of heat, and had a good flavor that left you wanting more. In other words, it was the perfect buffalo sauce.

Scott Drotar Buffalo Sauce
I knew that substituting some butter for some of the vegetable oil would improve my buffalo sauce, but I needed to trust my tastebuds to know how much.

If you look back at this process for modifying and developing the perfect sauce, you will notice that I probably tasted the sauce, in various different forms, at least 30 times. I let my tongue and tastebuds be my guide as I moved closer and closer to my perfect, final product. I did not jump to Google, some other recipe, or another person to try to find a way to improve my sauce. I just let my body guide me. It was recognizing this that caused me to realize that this “taste test process” is very similar to the way that I keep my body in proper balance throughout my day. In order to make sure that I am in good shape physically and my mind is well centered emotionally, I am constantly checking in with my body to see how I am feeling. I listen to what my body and brain are telling me and adjust my actions accordingly. When I feel like my lungs need a break or my hips hurt a lot, I do not go to the internet or look in a book to find a way to fix things. I just trust what my body is telling me and follow my instincts. Just like following the guide of your tastebuds is a gradual process, I take what my body tells me and make small, minor adjustments until my body says that is just right. By trusting my body and following this same method that produces a perfect sauce with my overall well-being, I am able to maintain the best possible balance within my body throughout the day and get the most out of each and every day that I can.

Developing the perfect sauce recipe is not an easy task and can be quite time consuming, but if you trust your tastebuds you will eventually end up with a delicious product to enjoy. Likewise, keeping your body and mind in the proper balance during your day is not easy either, but if you listen to what your body is telling you and go with your gut, you will end up in a place where you are both healthy and happy. This may be a lengthy process on both counts, and you may have to endure tasting a lot of bad sauces and withstand some discomfort along the way, but this method will get you to the best possible outcome both in the kitchen and in your life. Remember that you are an expert on your body, and even if you do not realize it consciously, your body knows what it needs, so trust it. Just like you would not let someone else tell you what your favorite flavor is (you would trust your tastebuds), do not rely on someone else to tell you what is best for your well-being and happiness. By applying this gradual process, you will end up well fed with a great taste in your mouth ready for the next bite, as you sit back and smile, healthy and happy, wanting more out of life.

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