From pain, a gift to others
Tory Zellick’s new book, The Medical Day Planner, was born out of her experience as primary caretaker of her terminally ill mother
Beautiful things often come out of tragedy. Tory Zellick’s new book, The Medical Day Planner: The Guide to Help Navigate the Medical Maze, is such a thing. Born out of her long-term involvement as primary caretaker to her terminally ill mother, Zellick’s book offers a beacon in the storm that is so often experienced by those caring for loved ones in their last days.
Anyone who has functioned as primary caretaker knows how overwhelming it can be to attend to the many and increasing needs of a dying person, while trying to cope with one’s own exhaustion and grief over the impending loss. Add to that the unfamiliarity of much of the territory involved—numerous trips to numerous doctors, an often bewildering array of medications, dealing with legal issues such as obtaining power-of-attorney and the writing of a will, to name only a few—and it is easy to see why a book that demystifies the caretaker experience and offers everything a person needs to know to function effectively would be more than welcome.
“According to the AARP, there are 66 million informal caregivers in the United States,” offered Zellick in a recent interview. “There are 66 million people who have been told at some point in their lives that someone they love has an ailment, disease or disorder that requires care. So in that moment, those 66 million people are probably overwhelmed, concerned and unsure of what’s important to track during the care process.”
The Medical Day Planner is poised to be exactly what the doctor ordered when it comes to help for the caregiver.
Formatted similarly to a sturdy address book or journal, with a convenient ring binding and colored tabs delineating the various sections, the teal-blue book includes such crucial information as how to find a suitable attorney to help make sure that the affairs of the dying loved one are in order, what an advanced health-care directive is, the difference between a will and a trust, and the importance of knowing whether a loved one wants to be buried or cremated and which facilities perform such duties.
The planner also contains a phone-book section in which to write down names and contact information for physicians, other providers and medical facilities; a medication section in which to track meds and vitamins; an appointments section; a section listing details about hospitalizations; and more.
Flipping open the book to the section in which to list medications, Zellick pointed to a box that reads “D/C.”
“That means ‘discontinue date,'” she said—the date when a patient is supposed to stop taking that particular drug. As Zellick points out in The Medical Day Planner, “[s]ome medications cannot be taken within a certain length of time after another.” Zellick said that she never knew to keep track of discontinue dates at first during the 3 1⁄2 years she took care of her mother before she passed away in January 2009 at the age of 50.
“If Dr. A prescribes a medication, if you go to Dr. B … he asks you what the discontinue date is of that medication. He doesn’t have that information because he didn’t prescribe it,” Zellick explained. “If you have that information at your fingertips, you can proceed with the conversation with Dr. B so you don’t have to call Dr. A.” Granted, this situation is changing with the advent of electronic health records, but not every physician and provider has gone high-tech with patient records.
Zellick’s book is sprinkled throughout with “Helpful Tips.” For example,"Helpful Tip 12,” in the Appointments section, reads: “If possible, bring more than one person to any given appointment. Every person hears something different when discussing information with physicians or medical providers. … Having extra ears will increase your chances of getting the most knowledge out of any given appointment.
The pretty, poised Zellick—a 28-year-old Chico-based pain-management massage therapist who keeps a regular blog on caretaker issues at allthingscaregiver.com—has spent the last four-plus weeks on a media tour promoting her book. Zellick has appeared on such high-profile television shows as the NBC morning talk show, Today in LA, and ABC’s Sacramento-based show Sac & Co. She’s been on Southern California radio shows, and locally has appeared on Nancy’s Bookshelf on KCHO 91.7 FM and at a packed book-signing at Lyon Books.
“It’s been a wild ride,” she said of her whirlwind publicity tour. At first, she said, she was nervous about appearing on television, but once she discovered that her Today in LA interviewer had been a caregiver to a parent for five years, Zellick relaxed. With a number of interviews now under her belt, she says she is comfortable with the interview process, having discovered that “everyone [that she has come into contact with in the course of publicizing her book] has either ‘been there’ [as a caregiver] or has known someone who has been terminally ill.”
Zellick is particularly keen to get the word out “to inform medical staff that a product like this now exists so that they are able to recommend it at diagnosis.”
Zellick’s voice grows quieter when she talks of her mother’s last day of life. “She was in her bed. The only people present were my dad, my brother, and my mom’s sister—and her dog. Which was just the way she wanted it.
“After the longest night in history…she threw up blood that looked like dried coffee grounds and she lay back with a smile on her face and took her final breath. …
“I asked my dad, ‘What now?’ My dad replied, ‘She’s gone.’ But that wasn’t the question I was asking. I was asking, ‘Who do we call? Do I call the coroner? Do I call hospice? Do I call the Neptune Society? What next?’
“I wish that on the day of [my mother’s] diagnosis someone would have handed me something like this—my life would have been easier,” said Zellick of her book. “This allows you to track everything. It takes the guesswork out of it—if you’re diligent enough to write it down.”