More MS news articles for June 2002

Columnist Brings Patient's Perspective
Facing Her Own Illness Changes Physician's Focus

June 14, 2002
Carla K. Johnson Staff writer
The Spokesman Review

Dr. Stacie Bering's midlife crisis stalked her gradually before slamming shut a door in her life. She could feel it catching up to her for more than a decade.

Like foreshadowing in a movie scene, a terrible vertigo hit her 16 years ago in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

"Things were spinning around me. I couldn't walk and look at the pictures at the same time," Bering recalls.

The diagnosis was multiple sclerosis, a disease in which the body's immune system attacks the myelin sheath of the central nervous system, interfering with the nerve impulses and causing a confounding array of symptoms.

Bering, a Spokane obstetrician-gynecologist, begins writing a column for The Spokesman-Review's new IN Life Health section today. The column will appear every other week on page D3.

She will draw from experiences as both doctor and health-care consumer. About being a patient, she says, "Boy, it's humbling. Every doctor ought to do it."

To Bering, "there's nothing more fun in medicine than delivering babies." MS forced her to give up that fun.

The decisive moment came one Saturday in December 1998 when she was the doctor on call. A half-dozen women went into labor.

While examining one patient, Bering realized with dismay she could no longer rely on fingertip sensation for information she needed about the woman's labor.

That night, she told her husband, Jeffry Finer, and, the next morning, her medical partner, Dr. Pam Silverstein. She considered her partnership with Silverstein "my other marriage."

Bering first thought she could stay on at their office, WomanHealth, and help Silverstein through the holidays. By Monday, she had changed her mind.

"I couldn't continue to practice as an impaired practitioner," she says. "It wasn't right."

Leaving the work was traumatic. One door had closed, and she was unsure which new doors would open to her now. Her two children kept her sane.

"God bless teenagers," she says with irony. "It's really all about them."

In the following months, Bering toyed with writing a book, getting a master's degree in public health, undertaking a psychiatry or radiology residency and entering law school.

Those doors she's left closed for now.

Instead, she began coordinating the obstetrics rotation for medical residents at Deaconess Medical Center. She offered menopause consulting services. She took a part-time post as medical director at Planned Parenthood of the Inland Northwest. She got training from Hospice of Spokane.

At age 53, she found a passion in end-of-life issues, in studying the new research and approaches to a patient's transition from treatment to comfort care before death. She is working with other doctors on a speculative plan to offer counseling, pain management and other "palliative care" to people with life-threatening illnesses. She is participating in a Harvard Medical School intensive course on the topic.

Bering's MS affects her balance and coordination. She replaced her bicycle with a recumbent tricycle and her rapid surgeon's stride with a deliberate stroll.

Her daughter sometimes helps her put on earrings. Her family moved into a one-level rancher to cut down on stair climbing, "and I don't really like ranch-style homes," she says, conveying amazement about where she is today.

"It's a chronic illness that you learn to live with. And it's hard."

She gained new appreciation for a holistic approach to illness and health at a five-day program for people with MS and their spouses at the Heuga Center in Vail, Colo.

What she's learned about midlife crises could fill a book. She sums it up this way:

"You don't have to have answers right away, but you do need support along the way."
©Copyright 2002, The Spokesman-Review