Making Choices for the Holidays

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from all of us at the Thoracic Outlet Syndrome Society. During this holiday season, TOS, RSI, Chronic Pain patients must make choices. For all of us, the holidays are stressful, because we have so many obligations, decorate your home, purchase gifts, wrap, prepare meals, travel and attend family gatherings . All of these activities create choices for the TOS patient living with pain.
When living with chronic pain, everyday life activities are difficult, but when adding the holiday activities they become even more so. Add to the stress the difficult economic times, and the choices become what to do and what not to do at all.
For example, Cyndy and I decided not to put up our traditional large Christmas tree. We put up two small artificial trees with built in lights (no stringing needed) and very few decorations. We have decided to only get gifts for the grand children. (Less shopping). The tradition in our home was to have Christmas eve and a gift exchange for the whole family. No longer at our home, we will go to our youngest daughter’s for Christmas eve and to our oldest son’s for Christmas day celebration. My wife Cyndy enlists me to wrap, to be her assistant chef to cut, lift and “gofer” what she needs so that she can still feel she is creating and contributing.
She commented yesterday that Christmas is so “boring” this year. Cyndy , “the entertainer” must do more watching than her traditional “doing and creating’ that used to make the holidays fun for her. Choices are difficult at times. She may choose to attempt something that in the past has always been easy and fun, but as she gets into it she realizes that it is more difficult now and her pain flairs and she knows that it was a bad choice for her. But once started, she will tough it out and finish, because that is her nature. So then another task becomes more difficult or she simply must stop doing anything and frets about what is not getting done. The result is pain and stress, pain for Cyndy and stress for both of us, patient and caregiver.
The important theme here is to make better choices. List the things that you need to get done and figure out what you can do and what you need help with and who do you have who will help. In making choices, figure the easiest way to get something done.
Do the easiest items first. When you get the easiest items done first, this gives you a sense of accomplishment right away. This works for the caregiver as well as the patient.
For example, if you make a list of five items to get done, estimate the amount of time and effort that each will take and do them in the order of the shortest to the longest. If items 1, 2, 3 take 10 minutes or less and item 4 takes 30 minutes and item 5 takes and hour and 30 minutes, you will have 3 out of 5 items done in the first ½ hour. If you start with item 5 you will work for an hour an still have nothing completed. By doing the shortest first in an hour you will have 4 items crossed off your list. This will give you a good feeling. You then can choose the best way to finish the last item and know if you still have the energy to take item 5 on.
I use this technique all the time on the “Honey do lists” that Cyndy gives me to help her get done what she feels is important around the house.
Understand this important fact about a woman who is the patient, she has a tradition of “nesting.” Her home being clean and neat is where she releases her stress. That is why working women will work all day on the job and then come home and work around their home continuously. They are working to release the stress of the day.

On the other hand, we males are problem solvers. Give us a problem and let us solve it. That is what makes males feel good. Males release stress by zoning out watching sports, the Lakers, the Chargers, the Kings or the Ducks, etc.
The female cannot understand why we want to sit around and watch TV when there is so many things to be done around the house. She will invariably ask that question when the sport the male is watching is at its critical moment. “Two minutes left in the game and Manning is driving his team down for the winning score to save an undefeated season,” and she will say, “Isn’t there something better you can do than watch TV all night?”
Ask the question differently girls, as Cyndy does, ”When there is a break in the game would you fold the wash and take out the trash.?” It is very hard to refuse this request. . .
By understanding the dynamic between male and female, patient and caregiver, making good choices and working together, you will have a much happier Holliday Season!

Phil La Puma Director, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome Society

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