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Group at Geezer Forum receives advice, pep talk from retired doctor

Retired physician Jim Arthurs talks about how doctors think and the best ways to communicate with them at the the monthly Geezer Forum in Sandpoint on Tuesday. (Kathy Plonka)
Retired physician Jim Arthurs talks about how doctors think and the best ways to communicate with them at the the monthly Geezer Forum in Sandpoint on Tuesday. (Kathy Plonka)

When it comes to physicians, patients have to remember one thing: Doctors are human, too.

That was the advice from retired physician Jim Arthurs during a gathering of the popular Geezer Forum on Tuesday in Sandpoint. Nearly 60 people, mostly in the 60-plus crowd, attended Arthurs’ talk on “How Doctors Think.”

Like all people, physicians have biases and will decide whether they like your personality in about 18 seconds – just like you judge them. They get distracted. They are sometimes burned out and stressed. And America’s health care system often puts them in the position where Arthurs said they book patients in 15-minute intervals and rarely have time to really listen or think comprehensively about their diagnosis or advice.

So what does this mean for the patient?

“If I have one message I want to share, it’s that we all are responsible for our own health,” Arthurs, 73, told the group. “Our doctor or doctors are just professional advisers.”

So besides taking charge of your own health by being assertive, asking lots of questions and perhaps requesting longer appointments if you want to talk with your physician more thoroughly, Arthurs offered one more nugget of health: walk.

“The very best thing anyone can do for their health and longevity is to walk for at least 30 or 40 minutes per day,” he said. “Just walking around the block is better than sitting in the house all day.”

Arthurs, a Sandpoint native, attracted one of the largest crowds to the bi-monthly discussion session for seniors and anyone else interested in aging. Doctors, lawyers and financial planners are always popular guests at the Geezer Forum, perhaps because they give free professional advice, suggested one participant.

The Geezer Forum celebrates its third birthday this month – with a gathering Dec. 23 that includes cake and live music by The Bill Reid Trio. The forum was birthed from organizer Paul Graves’ loneliness.

Graves, a retired United Methodist pastor and former Sandpoint mayor, has written a column for The Spokesman-Review for years. He decided several years ago that he wanted more personal contact and conversation about “geezer” issues, so he set up the first forum in January 2012 figuring the idea would last a few months.

“We’ve had a wide variety of folks and some attend on a very regular basis,” Graves said. “Others from the community come according to the topic.”

The talks attract people of all ages, not just geezers.

So what is a geezer? To Graves, “geezer” is a way to highlight the misconceptions we all have about aging and how we shouldn’t let ourselves “creep into decrepit perceptions.”

“We can live differently when we change our thinking,” he said.

Graves carefully defines each stage of geezerhood: People in their 50s are geezers in waiting while those in their 60s and 70s are geezers in training.

“I don’t care what age a person starts referring to themselves as a geezer,” Graves, 72, said with a laugh. “It’s up to you. But once I turn 80, I may just silently extend the training period up another decade.”

The Geezer Forum is sponsored by Graves’ consulting ministry called Elder Advocates, which he started after he retired from the ministry and working at Life Care Center of Sandpoint doing social service work. He missed contact with residents and their families.

“I offer whatever insight I might have and try to help them understand going through the maze of elder care doesn’t have to be as scary as we make it,” he said. “Usually the scariest is when we are unprepared. I’m helping people prepare at whatever stage (of aging) they are, including the dying.”

Arthurs started attending the Geezer Forum in August when he retired and moved home to Sandpoint with his wife. A pharmacist before he decided to attend medical school, Arthurs began as a family physician in Sandpoint in 1969 then became an emergency room doctor, working for Kootenai Medical Center for 20 years and Bonner General Hospital for eight years.

Then at age 55 he went back to school for a master’s degree in medical management and worked in Portland, Deer Park and finally Ontario where he worked as a public health officer in the northwestern region of the province.

Arthurs believes much improvement is needed in the medical system and how doctors see patients, especially as baby boomers age and there are more elderly than ever before in the world. Yet how to make those changes is very complex and burdened by the influence of big pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies and other business interests.

In addition, it’s difficult to define or measure quality medical care because that is a very individual and personal experience, he said. One of Arthurs’ favorite examples is of a clinic in Minneapolis that measures successful outcomes for patients with breast cancer by trying to decrease the number of sleepless nights a patient experiences from discovery of a lump to comprehensive diagnosis through to treatment plan. The clinic tries to see the patient and get them a diagnosis and plan within 24 hours, he said.

Arthurs believes this is successful because people fear the unknown more than anything and feel more confident when they know what’s wrong and have a treatment plan.

One man in the audience wanted to know how to ask a doctor questions and even request a second opinion without “ticking off” the physician.

“It’s like a blind date,” the man said, causing the audience to laugh and many people to nod in agreement.

Arthurs said “breaking the spell” to feel comfortable with a doctor, especially to ask them for alternative opinions, is difficult. He reiterated that people have to take command of their own health and be assertive.

“You have the right to say ‘Hold on. I have a few more questions before you leave,’ ” he said. If a doctor declines to hear you out, perhaps you need a different physician, Arthur said.

Besides being assertive, Arthurs said it’s important for patients to know their own information such as height, weight, fasting blood sugar, resting blood pressure and heart rates and prescription drugs doses and potential side effects. He said that will go a long way when communicating with a doctor.

“We’re just going to have to get a lot better,” Arthurs said about U.S.’s medical system.

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