Sound advice for people with chronic illnesses 

Richard Cheu calls his book "Living Well with Chronic Illness: A Practical and Spiritual Guide" a "tool kit."

In an age when doctors in training spend only eight minutes face to face with patients, his book is a unique, valuable step-by-step guide for people with chronic conditions who, in essence, are ignored by the medical industry, which is primarily focused on treating acute illnesses.

"Taking personal responsibility is not an option; it's mandatory in today's health care system," says the affable Cheu, a chaplain and counselor at Bellevue Hospital in New York who also has worked as a neurophysiologist and emergency medical technician.

"There are two tracks in health care: one is medical, one is spiritual; it's up to the patient to take care of that spiritual track, the one that keeps the train moving," adds Cheu, who grew up in San Francisco's Chinatown and attended Stanford University.

Cheu's experience with chronically ill people is more than professional. He is a caregiver for his wife, who has been living with a progressive neurological disease for nearly a decade, requiring 24-hour-per-day nursing. He works the midnight to 8 a.m. shift every day.

Cheu says he wrote his book, which took three years, in an attempt to reach out to "millions" of people he cannot meet with one on one, who won't benefit from him actively taking a personal interest in hearing their stories, thoughts and emotions.

Admittedly, some patients facing terminal diagnoses are helped immediately, and others who resist seem as though they would rather die than get better.

But, Cheu says, "People don't realize there's a way out. There are techniques that work."

Detailed in the book, they include calming down, managing stress, facing change, finding spirituality, and overcoming loneliness and social isolation, a key factor in living healthfully.

"If you start by saying, 'I want to be better,' people will pop up," says Cheu, adding that disabled people doing volunteer work represents just one example of the ways in which patients with chronic conditions can improve their general health and well-being.

Before he finished his book, Cheu hadn't entertained the notion that his practical strategies for healthy living might be applicable beyond his target audience.

He laughs, "The head of psychiatry at Bellevue told me, 'These are for everybody, Richard.'"

Living Well with Chronic Illness: A Practical and Spiritual Guide

By Richard Cheu

Published by Dog Ear Publishing

Price: $16.95

Pages: 217

About The Author

Leslie Katz

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