Elizabeth Coolidge-Stolz, MD, is the blogger for HealingWoman:
After I earned my MD degree, I trained in internal medicine in a Boston, Massachusetts (USA) hospital with the goal of specializing in oncology, cancer care. A car accident with head injury several months into my internship ended that clinical career.
When I had healed enough to work again, my husband and I thought about what had originally drawn me to academic medicine—the urge to make a difference, the ability to explain concepts clearly to colleagues and to people with no medical background— and I found my way into medical publishing and patient education.
At the same time, I became involved with patient-led organizations such as the Epilepsy Foundation and began to talk and write about patient advocacy. My mistakes as a patient, being passive and afraid to ask for a second opinion for fear of offending my first doctor, taught me that medical knowledge does not make a smart patient, someone who can identify the care they need and then work effectively and positively to get it.
It was a privilege to be the leadoff speaker for the opening plenary session of the 1997 Epilepsy Foundation of America annual meeting, which was dedicated that year to women’s issues.
After that meeting, I started speaking to various groups of people with chronic illness or who were parents of children with medical challenges, using my story and my mistakes as an introduction to the concepts of patient advocacy: A philosophy and skillset that allows people to get needed health care from a variety of providers in a way that turns physicians and other professionals into teammates.
Over the years, I have spoken to groups ranging from a handful of people to several hundred, as well as worked with individuals. In turn, the willingness of people to share their stories with me have continued to help me grow and refine what I can offer people as help to become effective representatives for themselves or their loved ones.
There is much in life that cannot be cured, clocks that cannot be turned back, but that does not mean we cannot heal from within, finding the place spiritually that allows us to make the best decisions possible for mental and physical health…finding the balance that allows the best quality of life for as long as possible.
Wellness is not good health. It is the balance of body, mind, and spirit that enable us to feel whole. The life after my accident, not before it, has helped me learn how to really make a difference by helping individuals, families, and groups to find their own balance.
Neither the website nor blog is devoted only to women, however. It wasn’t being a doctor that saved me after my head injury: It was the love. Love is healing, whether given or received. Learning that you can contribute even while needing intense help, pulls you out of your problems and makes you more helpful to yourself as well as others.
This blog was reorganized in 2017 to reflect writing about our bodies and physical health (including brain-related conditions that affect one or more mental functions), the minds that allow us to understand what is happening in our bodies and make informed decisions, and the spirits that remind us we are more that cells and energy, we are amazing small worlds, each of us within ourself, and grounded in a universe we may never understand with our limited minds, but in which we can learn to live at peace within ourselves and with one another.
If I might be able to help you, write me. I am moving more actively into the world of disability advocacy this year with MIDDAS, a project for Mindful Inclusion of Disability and Diversity Across Society.
Join us, here on the blog, on the website (version 2.0 is coming in 2017, too), and as an interactive community on Facebook.