Profile by Tricia Bevan
Volunteers in Medicine Berkshires patient Jennifer Miele recently reflected on her first visit to VIM: “These days it’s nice to sit in the waiting room and see someone coming in looking worried like I was that first time and know that VIM will take care of this new patient’s concerns. Not only that – they will probably ask the patient: What else can we do for you? ”
Several months ago, Jennifer was trying to get to the bottom of chronic illness and pain that interfered with her ability to work. She thought perhaps she had Lyme Disease, but the antibiotics that had been prescribed were extremely expensive and didn’t seem to be making her better. She was in a lot of pain. She felt she was at the end of her rope – she even talked about being “possibly ready to jump off a cliff.”
Work is important to Jennifer – she has many responsibilities, including running a small farm for rescue animals, taking care of her disabled mother and caring for several properties for people in her area. She was feeling so poorly that she thought perhaps she would be unable to work for the rest of the year. She began worrying about the mortgage and her other financial responsibilities. Her stress levels made her pain even worse.
A neighbor and one of her employers suggested that she come to VIM for help. After a medical exam and blood work was completed, “the doctors found an infection which I didn’t know I had and they gave me medication for that. They found my thyroid levels were off the chart. They also told me about a certain pharmacy program that could help lower the cost of antibiotics – that was really great.”
Jennifer saw a dentist for the first time in over twenty years, she had her first mammogram and her first pap smear. She decided to join VIM’s three month pilot program with Berkshire Health Systems for non-opioid pain management and had great results. She saw a nutritionist about her diet, she took a group therapeutic exercise class, attended body-mind group meetings and was seen by the acupuncturist for some nerve damage. Jennifer had been feeling badly about asking others for help lifting grain bags at the farm where she works, but says the acupuncture coupled with the exercise classes have helped her back on her feet, so she is back at work helping with the animals.
With advice from the nutritionist she has lost 11 pounds by making simple changes to her diet and by walking more often. She learned how sugar affects her body: “I cut out sodas, I eat more whole grains, and walking has actually made my feet feel better.” She remembers how nervous she was at her first visit to the nutritionist and the calming advice she received: “ First of all you must learn to breathe”. This was an eye-opener for her.
“At the time I thought…what? But now I get it. Before it actually hurt to breathe, but slowly I did a little deep breathing and when I got involved in the other programs, I could really make use of the breathing. Now I know if I just take a big breath and wait five minutes things will probably get better.” The deep breathing techniques have been useful to her through many tense and stressful situations.
One of the most helpful aspects of Jennifer’s care at VIM was attending group meetings. She is almost medicine-free these days – there was emphasis on learning how to self-treat – “they gave us lots of good tools (ideas) to take home with us”. She learned a lot about herself, she learned that others had similar hardships to cope with, and this encouraged her to continue her own regimen.
“ The people at VIM step in and really advocate for you in so many different ways,“ she said. VIM helped Jennifer request an energy audit – something she didn’t realize she was entitled to; VIM helped her get assistance to lower her heating costs, and, most importantly, she is now enrolled in a health insurance plan. Completing paperwork for these kinds of programs felt like a major hurdle to Jennifer, something she may never have accomplished without help. Now that she has insurance she says “I’m a bit sad, because I’m no longer able to use VIM’s services, and I’ll miss everyone and the amazing care. ”
“Best of all”, she says, the VIM experience gave her hope.
“The program taught me: ‘You can do it!’”