Episode 168

How Documenting Your Health History is Critical To Your Family’s Well-being

November 7, 2023
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Anne McAwley-LeDuc understands the importance of having complete and accurate health histories. In fact, her career as a registered nurse and nurse practitioner inspired her to write The Personal Health Organizer.

During this episode, Anne and I discuss why documenting our health history is important—no matter our age. Especially when it comes to allergies and medication. 

Learn more about Anne’s work here.



Dorothy: Anne McAwley LeDuc understands the importance of having complete and accurate health histories. In fact, her career as a registered nurse and nurse practitioner inspired her to write The Personal Health Organizer. During this episode, Anna and I discuss why documenting your health history is important, no matter what our age, especially when it comes to allergies and medication.

Learn more about Ann’s work at personal-health-organizer.com.

Let’s talk about your breast. A different kind of podcast presented to you by The Rose, the Breast Center of Excellence, and a Texas treasure. You’re going to hear frank discussions about tough topics, and you’re going to learn why knowing about your breast could save your life. Join us as we hear another story and we answer those tough questions that you may have.[00:01:00]

Reading the Personal Health Organizer really opened my eyes to some of the things I don’t know as I was going through the pages. So tell us the major pitfalls in health care that most people don’t even think about.

Anne: I think you need a two part system. That’s… That’s how I advocate for people. And one is a personal health organizer where you write your information that’s for a lifetime.

The major things that you really need to remember and pass on for your family and the, uh, for the doctor or nurse practitioner or PA that’s important. In our everyday visits to the doctor, I suggest a little notebook where you put your date, your blood pressure, your weight, and write out ahead of time all your questions, because you’ll get in there and you won’t remember them.[00:02:00]

And then you write down the answers in the office. Just take the time and write, and if you’re, they’re going too fast, say, hang on, let me just write this down real quick, because you’ll get home and you won’t remember.

Dorothy: As I was going through the organizer, I thought, well, why are some of these things so important?

Why is surgery that I had back in 1979 important?

Anne: They are always asking you that. They’re always asking the dates. Dates are nice, but they’re not as important as knowing what you’ve had. Because if somebody’s having surgery on you, they want to know if you’ve had your gallbladder out. If they’re in there for your appendix.

You know, you’re, it’s just a better, um, medical system. And you never know what happens in your life. So it is just keep your records, keep them thoroughly and check with the office. When you go to make sure all the diagnoses are the same. I checked my husband’s recently and Oh, they left off some of those important diagnoses.

We’re human. People make mistakes. They don’t always maybe get the records from everybody, you assume they do, but they don’t, you [00:03:00] can’t assume. We keep our own records, and we have it available to question, and that’s okay to question. It’s not what you question, it’s how you question. And there isn’t a provider out there that wouldn’t want you to say, Hey, what about this?

I have a question about this. Did you know I was on three of these medications? rather than make a mistake.

Dorothy: For Anne, the importance of knowing one’s health history hit close to home, which is why writing this book for her was so personal.

Anne: Well, briefly, my husband in Hurricane Irene fell down the basement stairs, smacked the concrete wall and had a spinal cord injury and had no nose left. It was just all opened up.

It was a terrible thing. He ended up at the trauma, uh, hospital. There was no powers. So they didn’t have the computers. Available and he wasn’t in their computer because he had never been there. So the doctors were asking me for his medical history. Now, I was a [00:04:00] basket case and they assumed I’d know his wife and the nurse practitioner.

I couldn’t remember. And I stood there thinking, oh, gosh, if only I had a cheat sheet. So I wrote the book for us. For me and for him. And then I was encouraged to put it out there for people. And I’ve been spreading that message ever since.

Dorothy: You bring up an important point. I know exactly where I keep my birth certificate, but does my husband?

Probably not. It just opened up a whole line of thinking for me. It reminded me of another experience you write about in the book. Talk to us about the one time you had to prove you had immunizations when you were a child.

Anne: Well, I’m a little older, you know, so, um, we didn’t have the records. And when I went to college, I had to get blood drawn to see if I still had the effect of the immunizations.

I shouldn’t have had to. I already had the immunizations, but I couldn’t prove it. So for nowadays, I say to people, write it in your book and get a copy. Get a copy at the time [00:05:00] and just keep it in your book. Just keep it there. Will you ever need it? Who knows? It’s always good to have. I give these as baby shower gifts.

Because children, when they get to be adults, they don’t have a clue what happened during their childhood if something came up. And it would be written in your book.

Dorothy: Here, Anne breaks down the different sections of the Personal Health Organizer.

Anne: The book starts with the birth information. And it’s good to write down the little tips that the doctor won’t care about, but the family might. It’s not a, uh, a novel you’re writing very perfectly. The English doesn’t have to be perfect.

The writing doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s, it’s a tool. Just write it. Just get it in there. Write in pencil if you need to erase, but if not, just cross it off. Who cares? It’s your record of your medical history. There’s allergies that are very important, and the reaction to allergies, most important these days, and, uh, the immunizations, and then it goes through [00:06:00] all the, uh, medical, your diagnoses.

And I, in my book, I have them all separated so that if you have a heart problem, it’s under heart, if you have a kidney problem, it’s under kidneys, and that’s to, um, put the little details that you need. I also have a quick reference list, so you just list out all your diagnoses as you get them, so you don’t forget, and your surgeries and, and other procedures and hospitalizations, and it’s just quick, just list what happened.

The dates and then the details would go under your body system. Like say you had heart surgery that would go under heart, but the fact that you had the surgery on June 10th, 2010 could go on the quick reference list and then diagnostics and we have women’s health, men’s health, pregnancy, dental, family history, final wishes.

I have a directory because sometimes you forget the pharmacies you’ve dealt with in the past or doctor’s office [00:07:00] addresses that you may need old records from and you forget, you forget the doctors you’ve seen. And then templates to copy for additional pages just to clip in.

Dorothy: And tell us why allergies, knowing about allergic reactions are so important.

Anne: Allergic reactions are definitely important, but sometimes people put down an allergy and it really isn’t a true allergy. For instance, if you’re treated with an antibiotic and you get a real bad belly ache, people will say, oh, I’m allergic to this. No, no, you’re not. That’s just a condition that can come and we can treat that.

A real allergy would be if you had a rash or anaphylactic shock or something like that. Sometimes patients don’t know. So put it down and put your symptoms and then we, we can say, Oh, no, that’s not an allergy. I can fix this or yes, this is an allergy, but it’s not so bad. So that if we run out of any antibiotic to use on you, we’ll try this.

We won’t try this [00:08:00] one because that’s a major no, no, because of you had a anaphylactic shock or hives or something, but this one, we’re not sure we could try it because there’s nothing left. And that’s a problem, drug resistance. Is, is a major problem now and there, I heard a documentary where they want the drug companies to come up with more antibiotics because they haven’t for years.

So it’s time for more. But until we get there, we sometimes have to try something that, um, we didn’t have to in the past because of the drug resistance and people need to stop using antibiotics. If you go in for a virus. Don’t say I insist on any antibiotic.

Dorothy: Something you said really fascinated me. I was thinking about my own son, who was 6 pounds and 19 ounces at birth.

But he came 6 weeks early. Nobody would ever know that. In fact, I’m probably the only one in the world that even knows it now. And would it be important? I don’t know. But of course, all of us that are older may not have [00:09:00] information like that. And I think that’s why it’s doubly important for us to have something to give our children.

Grandchildren, whomever, so that they at least know.

Anne: Yeah, yeah, and with medical history for the family, family history, we didn’t used to think much of it. And now, it dictates a lot of the tests you’ll have and when you’ll have them. So that has become very important. where it used to think, Oh, no big deal.

Dorothy: We see that so much in the breast cancer field. There was a time when you talked about having a chest problem, or it was a female problem, but you never said what it really was. And then of course, the death certificate on our grandmothers and our mothers even said they died of a heart attack or pneumonia, but it was really due to that breast cancer.

I think another section that was very interesting in your book. was writing down your personal death wishes and give us some examples of that.

Anne: Well, I had patients, I did a lot of hospice [00:10:00] type of work when I was a nurse practitioner working in the nursing homes. And a lot of times there was a discrepancy between what the patient wanted and the family wanted and they didn’t have anything written.

So I say, write it down while you’re thinking about it and write down where your will is. I had a friend who… She passed and it took the family a long time to find the whale. There was one, but they didn’t know where it was. It was in a bank in another, a vault in another town. And, um, and she also wanted to be buried in a certain dress and, and nobody knew until it was a casual conversation.

And they were able to throw the dress in the coffin, but she wasn’t wearing it. So those types of things you don’t really think about. Except, who knows? So you write it down and you share it with your family and it’s written down.

Dorothy: As a nurse practitioner, I know this was so important to you. What was the first thing [00:11:00] you would look at if someone brought you that cheat sheet?

Anne: I always would compare their cheat sheet to the chart and see if the medical chart that comes with them or whatever and see if there’s any… Discrepancies and I would look at both the chart medical chart that comes and listen to what if the patient’s able to give their history or the family of what they have to say.

Because they know more, they know a lot different factors than just the medical chart says. One of the most important things is what we talked about is the reaction to allergies. I can’t stress that enough that it does matter nowadays. And, uh, if you have that written, that would be good. There’s so many medications now with different categories and You kind of need to know what you’re on and the dose and frequency, but also what hasn’t worked for you, because if you go to a different doctor, and again, I use my husband, he went on a consult [00:12:00] and they were going to order something and I had to say, no, no, we tried that already and it didn’t work.

So I have a section in the book for medications that didn’t work. It’s not what you think about, you know, people don’t think about that. And the more information you give, the better.

Dorothy: Now, you’ve already told us how you do this, how you make this a gift at a baby shower, and how you get the documenting done early.

But what about somebody my age, who’s a little bit older?

Anne: You start today. And, because it can be very overwhelming. And you say, oh my gosh, I can’t fill this out. No, no you can’t, and it won’t take a day. It may take a pot of coffee or two, but, you know, you’ll get there. But just start today. And with your, and fill in like your allergies, your medical diagnoses that you know, the things you really know, not the past, but the things you really are dealing with now, your family history that you know, your list of medical diagnoses and surgeries that you know, and your [00:13:00] immunizations.

And then go forward. So the next doctor’s appointment, you’re going to come home and immediately and I say immediately because you’ll progress and like the rest of us and it won’t get done and then you’ll forget. But just write down. Oh, new diagnosis of asthma. Put it on your diagnosis list. Put it in your under respiratory.

Started inhaler, whatever you need to put in there. And then you have it, and then you backfill as you can. Some, some of it you won’t have, you won’t get at your age. But you fill, you do the best you can. But don’t be overwhelmed. Don’t say, oh, I just can’t do this and throw up your hands. No, no, start now.

Dorothy: Tell us what else in this book we really need to pay attention to.

Anne: Uh, family history. Get it while your family is alive. Having lost my family. I haven’t a clue on many things. I lost them young, and I don’t know. So, encourage your family to talk about these things, and say, hey, you know what, we’re all in the same boat, we all need to know [00:14:00] everybody’s medical things so we can all get the right treatment, and early diagnosis is better outcomes, and talk about it, and write it down.

There are private things, but if it’s done in a Uh, like a loving way where we’re sharing to help each other, that may help. And then some people may not want to. That’s fine. You can only do what you can do.

Dorothy: What’s another example of someone who did not know their history or did not know what was going on with them besides her husband?

Anne: Most people have an idea of their diagnoses. They may not know how to explain it simply. A lot of people. don’t really know the details of their medications. I can tell you a girl that she was on three major blood thinners. And I tell this story all the time. Three. And these were not little ones, these were major.

So if she had fallen, she’d be dead because she would have had a major bleed, a major head bleed if she hit her head. And it was six months before a consultant said, Oh my [00:15:00] goodness, you’re on three of these. So, he took it, took her off, but if she had said, oh, I’m on one, and now the second one’s added, doctor, do you really want me on two, he’d say, yes, they act differently.

This one’s a major one. This one’s not as bad. You’re going to be on it for this long. Doctor, do you want me on three? It’s a, you’re on two already. Things don’t always get to the charts. It just happens, so you have to know your meds. You have to look and say, wait a minute, I’m on three blood pressure medications.

Does he want me on that? Maybe, because we, they’re different categories, but you have to ask, and it’s okay to ask. I give everybody permission, please raise your hand and say, what about this? It’s, it’s, you have to advocate for yourself and your family, and there’s no provider that will mind that.

Dorothy: I think that’s probably the most important thing we could tell our listeners.

Ask and don’t be afraid of it. But if you have a provider who is hesitant, then you probably need another [00:16:00] provider.

Anne: Yep. And you can’t just rely on them knowing the chart that’s in front of them, or all the things that have, should have gotten to the chart lately. We have to write it down for ourselves. We wouldn’t allow the bank to handle all our finances without looking at that statement.

Well, we can’t allow for our health, our best commodity. To be in the hands of someone else without us overlooking it.

Dorothy: Learn more about Ann’s book at the personal health organizer at personal health organizer. com. And thank you so much for being with us.

Anne: Thank you for having me, Dorothy.

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