We (Sorta) Control Our Own Happy Endings

. . .

Patient: Doctor, after my hand operation, will I be able to play the piano?
Doctor: Of course you will! Your hand will be as good as new.
Patient: That’s great! Because I’ve never been able to play the piano before!

. . .

One person I hear from regularly is Tom, who has been struggling for months to get his health insurance company to cover a specific heart surgery he needs. Each time he gets beyond one hurdle, they throw another one in his face. He has fought them valiantly – and he has almost won.

Today he sent me an update, and at the end he stated, “After all this I hope there is a happy ending!”

Isn’t that how we all feel? Isn’t that what we all want?

Would you believe that in some ways, whether or not you have a happy ending may be under your own control?

A bit of a disclaimer here: What I’m about to suggest to you does not take into account problems or errors caused by something outside your control. In Tom’s case, I’m not talking about his experience in the hospital or with his healthcare insurer. I’m talking about Tom’s own influence over his recovery and how HE handles it.

What I AM talking about here is attitude and expectations. Patients with the best attitudes and accurate expectations can expect better outcomes, at least for the part of their healing that is under their control.

For example: Tom will undergo his surgery which will help to repair the mechanics of his heart function. He has a positive attitude about it, probably a bit of trepidation, and he hopes to come out healed on the other end, and healthier than when he started.

He can try to control his own happy ending by managing his own expectations. If he expects that when he wakes up from the anesthesia he will hop off the bed, fly to France and win the Tour de France, he will be disappointed. He will think he has failed. He will wonder why he ever bothered because he didn’t get the outcome he expected.

However — if he manages his expectations better, not only will he feel as if he has had a happy ending, he’ll be elated if he exceeds it. So — for example — if Tom expects his recovery will be slower, that he will have to take it easy and not drive for several weeks, that it will be a few months before he can ride his bike again, that his goal is not to run out of breath when he exerts himself, and that his job will be to begin walking, just short stints and slowly at first, and later, longer distances and a quicker pace… and that eventually he’ll gain his stamina back but it could take a year — THEN — he will have his happy ending. Further — if somehow the timeframe is shorter — six months instead of a year — he’ll be elated!

Granted, there are many aspects of our health that can go awry — and this type of expectation management won’t always work. But it’s a great start.

How can you figure out what those realistic expectations can be? Ask your healthcare provider. You might even be able to negotiate them somewhat. Your doctor might tell you that if you can wait a little longer for surgery, your recovery will be shorter. Or if you can stay off your foot while an infection heals, it will heal quicker… and the two of you can arrive at what the right expectations should be.

Next time you need to be treated for whatever ails you, consider what you expect the outcomes to be. Sharp patients know that setting a realistic goal will make them feel good when it’s met and even better if it’s exceeded.

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1 thought on “We (Sorta) Control Our Own Happy Endings”

  1. While I certainly can’t disagree with what you are suggesting, I don’t think this would work for everyone. I’ve always looked at where I want to be and then “sat my bar.” I don’t base it on ability or probability, but simply what I want as the end result. Look at Christopher Reeve… he vowed he would walk again when others told him that wasn’t a realistic expectation. While he never fully realized that goal, each step closer to it was enough reward to sustain him. We should never look at it as “not being able to reach our goal” because as long as we are still breathing, we can keep trying to achieve it. So I say “set the bar high” and find your reward in moving toward it at a steady clip, just don’t put apply time parameters!

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Trisha Torrey
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