Let me begin by making it clear that I have a deep respect for medical doctors, not only for their dedication to saving lives, but for their commitment, tenacity, hard work, and mental brain power. I’m fortunate to live in the United States, a country that has one of the highest regarded, most technologically advanced medical systems in the world, and I’m proud to call several good friends doctors. If my child’s or my own life were in danger, there’s no one I would trust our care more to than them. And while Western medicine has its own stigmas and often times gets a bad rap, if I had a terminal illness like cancer, I’m not sure I’d have the courage to take the leap of faith and rely solely on Eastern medicine.
But for all of our advances in medical care and surgery over the years, it seems that our doctors have become very excellent at treating acute, not chronic problems, as recently pointed out in an Atlantic article:
“For every instance of expert treatment, skilled surgery, or innovative problem-solving, there are countless cases of substandard care, overlooked diagnoses, bureaucratic bungling, and even outright antagonism between doctor and patient. For a system that invokes ‘patient-centered care’ as a mantra, modern medicine is startlingly inattentive — at times actively indifferent — to patients’ needs.”
Let me back up at this point and admit that my doctors, in comparison to other’s cases, did a relatively good job diagnosing my autoimmune disease in a matter of months. But where I have recently become discouraged is in their resignation to abide by the “wait and see” approach and offer no real answers or suggestions as to how I can manage my illness or lessen the symptoms in the mean time. For all intents and purposes, my complaints and symptoms are minor in comparison to others, something I fully grasp. But when your quality of life seems to be very slowly dissolving away, it’s hard to sit around and just suck it up because there’s larger fish to fry. During my most recent visit, I was encouraged that because I take good care of myself with diet and exercise and am still relatively young, “I’ll be fine.” In so many words, it seemed as if she was implying my exhaustive state was simply the average person’s status quo.
Meanwhile, within hours of sharing my Hashimoto’s diagnosis with my readers online, I was offered mounds of advice, most of it extremely useful and helpful. One of the most positive interactions, in fact, gave me some compelling evidence as to why my doctor may want to change my course of treatment from wait and see to a more head-on, preventative approach. It turns out there may be something to be said about hitting up “Dr. Google” and doing a little research of our own, as it could produce studies and advancements that our overworked doctors may have missed.
Doctors today are more miserable and overworked than ever before, with nine in 10 reporting they would discourage others from joining the profession, and the profession sporting the second highest suicide rate in the country. While complaints from patients is nothing new, more recently we are hearing that doctors complain about their patients, feeling in part like they’ve declared war on them. But from a patient’s perspective, it’s hard not to feel discouraged when we spend upwards of 30 minutes on average to be seen, only for an average of 15 minutes time with our doctors. Nowadays with the ever-changing medical landscape filled with malpractice concerns and insurance bureaucracy, doctors are forced to sacrifice time with patients in order to even remain profitable, lest we forget that they are in business to not just help people but to make a living as well. In the off-chance you come across a great doctor and have a similar experience as I did with my ENT, that hour she spends in the exam room with you undoubtedly leads to longer wait times and shorter visits with other patients. Last month, after my doctor took an inordinate amount of time with me during my visit, I heard her apologetically slink into the next exam room, and my routine procedure I had originally come in for had to be rescheduled for another day because our visit simply set her schedule too far off course.
The Internet is both wonderful and horrendous at the same time, especially when trying to manage chronic illness. Jumping to conclusions, self-diagnosing, and rushing into alternative treatments are something we should obviously avoid. But weeding out the bizarre, ridiculous, and extreme is a small part of the process that allows us to get to the good stuff, much like waiting in doctors’ offices are a part of the process of finding a good doctor. Talking to others in similar situations and with comparable cases, swapping stories, and offering doctor feedback is what motivates us to push and prod our doctors with confidence and knowledge for more answers. It gives us the courage and discipline to continue asking the ever crucial question of “Why?” In a system which sometimes seems hellbent on treating the symptom rather than the root cause of the symptom, asking “Why?” is often just what a good doctor needs to slow down and do their job with the understanding and compassion they may have lost along the way.
I’m not giving up on my doctors, not by a long shot. But in the meantime, I don’t plan on staying offline while I wait and see. From getting referrals for integrative doctors who can recommend a nutrition plan to getting suggestions for books I should read so I can better understand this disease, the online community is doing a damn good job of filling in the gaps left by my doctor. After all, when you receive a diagnosis over the phone and you hear a flurry of busy activity in the background, your shock and fear sort of give way to dumbfounded silence. I didn’t have time or even a correct thought process to ask all the questions I wish I would have asked. So for now, in between our next visit, I’m arming myself with information so the next time, I can better talk to my doctor and ask the right questions, hopefully leading to a more fruitful and productive visit. After all, I think we both deserve that.
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