I had a young girl, age 13, in as a patient last week. I couldn’t believe how much she reminded me of myself at that age. Her symptoms and problems were not nearly severe or life threatening, but none the less, here was a beautiful girl, just on the edge of coming into her own, her whole life in front of her, endless possibilities and she was in debilitating pain. Just not fair.
As I was working with her, I started to have some flashbacks as to what I had experienced in my life. I could vividly see the doctors I visited, the pale yellow paint on the hospital walls with horrible putrid green curtains that separated the beds, the amazingly kind nurses, the people who I would still like to go back in time and slap for being so cruel to a child, the smells of operating rooms and antiseptic. The fear of rejection I felt going into see another doctor, to tell them my health story and to hope that maybe this time they will believe and help me.
Anyone suffering with a chronic health problem knows exactly what I am saying. There is this absolute fear of seeing a new doctor, yet also a glimmer of hope. Maybe this person has studied the right things, maybe they have interpreted the book knowledge correctly, maybe this doctor remembers something they learned in continuing education that may help me, maybe this doctor has seen someone else with my problem, maybe this doctor can cure me. All these hopes resting on someone’s ability to figure out why you are in so much pain and to do the right thing to free you from the pains shackles.
I have experienced many different types of doctors:
The “I can diagnose you in 30 seconds” doctor:
Ever have this happen? You sit down in the chair across from the doctor’s desk and the doc asks why you have come to see them? You take a deep breathe, think here goes nothing, and start to answer, “Well Doctor, I have come to see you today because I have (insert symptom – ie) pain in my legs, foot pain, headaches, fatigue). The pain is sha…..” and that’s when you get cut off. The doctor immediately interrupts you, finishes your sentences or tells you “I know what your problem is, here take this pill, potion or lotion and come back to see me in 10 days.” You try and explain that you have already tried 15 types of medication, been through every exam, had every test, but they have already made their mind up and need to move onto the next patient because they have a quota of time to spend with you and your 4-7 minutes are up.
The “I don’t believe you” Doctor:
I once had this experience. I was eleven years old and had to use my crutches to hobble into the exam room where I waited with anticipation sitting on the hard metal examination table for the doctor to come into the room. I was wearing shorts so the doctor could examine my knees and feet without causing him a problem and so I didn’t have to wear that gross paper gown. My mother was so supportive and encouraging to me. She also believed that I was the patient and I should talk to the doctor myself and explain my problems. SO there I was as an eleven year old, telling this doctor that at times my feet would turn BRIGHT red. Like fire engine paint red and that they hurt, all the time. He just looked at my knees and said “Your knee muscles are weak, put some coins in a sock and do leg lifts.” And then, he just looked at my feet, not even the soles but just glanced down at my feet dangling there and says “you’re lying about your feet, they can’t turn bright red, that is impossible.” My answer was “ummm but doctor, they really do turn red, hot to the touch and so painful I can barely stand on them.” I looked at my Mom for support, and she was nodding and backing up my story with “yes, I myself have never seen anything like it, but they really do turn red and hot.” He just looked at me and said my problem was that my thighs were too fat and I didn’t have enough muscle mass. At this point, I gathered my crutches up, hopped down from the bench, looked at my mom and said “well we are obviously not going to get any help here….let’s go Mom.” Good thing she raised me to be independent!
Still to this day, in all my years of practice, I have never looked at a patient and said, “you’re lying.” What an absolute breach of trust and confidence. Pain is a subjective complaint, what may barely bother one person, could put another person in absolute tears and agony. The function of the doctor is to offer hope, not to call you a liar. Just because the doctor never has seen anything like it and didn’t understand what could possibly be the cause, was no reason for him to belittle me and make me feel small and stupid. It should be an empowering experience when you seek help. If they don’t know the answer, they should seek to find out or refer you to someone else. Sometimes, I also think that there are no “answers”, just trial and error. But never, never, ever should a doctor not even examine you and just assume that you are making things up.
The “Supportive, Caring” Doctor:
When you find one of these doctors, hold on to them and spread the word. It is very refreshing to find a doctor who you can communicate with, understands your situation and who will listen. They understand your strengths and weaknesses, know when to push you towards such things as diet changes, weight loss or different treatments but also know when to just mention things and let things settle. I am not saying they need to be your best friend, but they should be a source of information and guidance. They want to work with you and steer you on the right course to health. After all, “doctor” really means teacher. They will refer you to other healthcare professionals if they don’t know the answer, they will work with alternate treatments, they believe in the innate healing power of the body and they believe in you.
Today I am in private practice seeing many people who are frustrated and fed up with the first two types of sick care givers. I am here to let you know that there really are doctors out there who care for you and what you are going through. We want to do more for our patients and strive to be a source of support and health information. We all got into our profession because we want to help people. Sometimes we selected our profession, other times our profession selected us, but our main goal is the same. A happy and healthy community full of vibrant people. Just remember that you are a health care consumer and if your doctor is selling something you don’t need, whether it is a negative attitude or unwanted stress. Go shopping and find yourself a new doctor!