Navigating changes to my care team with help from ‘Grey’s Anatomy’

The series offers perspective as I say goodbye to a beloved provider

Mike Naple avatar

by Mike Naple |

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Former “Grey’s Anatomy” star Katherine Heigl cracked a joke at the Emmy Awards ceremony that I can’t get out of my head, and not because it was particularly funny.

Commenting on the show’s legacy during a reunion bit with former and current cast members, Heigl said, “Yes, there have been changes over the years.” It was comical reference to her character, Izzie Stevens, leaving the show in 2010, and the subsequent character departures and arrivals the televised medical drama — and its audience — has endured throughout 19 seasons.

While I have watched, repeatedly, more than my fair share of “Grey’s” episodes, Heigl’s bit resonated more because I am welcoming a new nurse coordinator to my pulmonary hypertension (PH) care team, and that’s made me reflect on how the makeup of my team has evolved over the years.

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The management of pulmonary hypertension is a long road

Pulmonary hypertension affects the heart and lungs. Elevated arterial pressures in the lungs can force the right side of the heart to work hard to pump blood, leading to an enlarged heart and heart failure, which can be fatal. While there’s no cure, there are medications and therapies that can improve one’s quality of life. Treating a complex disease like PH also means seeing multiple doctors, nurses, and specialists with various expertises who all contribute to your overall disease management and health.

I’ve seen pulmonologists, cardiologists, sleep doctors, nurse coordinators, pharmacists, therapists, phlebotomists, respiratory nurses, ER staff, and the like. If my care team were the cast of a prime-time medical drama like “Grey’s,” some of them would be considered lead and supporting series regulars, recurring characters, guest stars, or extras. Others would be characters of the week, contained to one episode, while some might be written out after five episodes.

Saying goodbye while trying to accept change

During my last quarterly appointment in 2023, I had to say goodbye to my PH nurse coordinator, a series regular on my team. The news took me by surprise, and in some ways, I’m still processing it. She has been a cornerstone of my care team for about five years and helped me navigate the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was friendly and a good listener, and I always looked forward to our conversations. She also was very communicative and responsive, which made me less stressed and anxious during symptom flare-ups or episodes that required medical attention. I will miss her terribly, but I’m excited for her next chapter.

This isn’t the first time somebody has left my care team, and it certainly won’t be the last. That doesn’t make the adjustment any easier or more desirable — especially if you’re like me and struggle with change. The new normal of life with PH came at me fast. In the face of this unfamiliar, life-altering disease, I looked for ways to maintain some consistency, and I wanted that to include my care team.

It’s a privilege for me to receive the majority of my PH-related care at the same hospital where I was diagnosed, and to still see the doctor I met in the intensive care unit during that first season of my journey. It’s a stability and constant I craved in those early years of finding my way through new prescriptions, oxygen equipment, and symptoms like shortness of breath and fatigue — and it’s something I hold tightly to now.

PH can be an unpredictable monster, and so I want to build strong relationships and durable lines of two-way communication with my medical team — even when that means forging connections with new people.

Another way to look at changes over the years

Life with PH offers me no shortage of reminders that I should learn to anticipate change rather than fight or fear it. Change doesn’t always happen to us; sometimes we initiate it proactively. I could choose to relocate to another city or state, which would require a reboot of my entire PH care team. Imagine that.

The flip side to surviving the deluge of change over the years is longevity. I’m in the second half of the eighth season of my post-diagnosis life. I want to be a long-term survivor whose show gets renewed for many seasons to come, so I should only hope to meet many more doctors and nurses who will contribute to my PH care down the road.

As they say on “Grey’s,” “the carousel never stops turning.”

How do you manage the introduction of new folks on your care team? Do you watch “Grey’s Anatomy” and have a favorite episode? Let’s chat in the comments.

Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.


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