2015-02-09 Posted By Lia
As a basically healthy and strong person, I’ve had it made for eighteen years - and that’s not just compared to my sister, Jenna, who’s had to deal with Spina Bifida for twenty-four years. When you look at the history of my health, regardless of the yardstick you’re using, I’ve had it made
Sure, like everybody, I’ve had the occasional cold, but the biggest health problem I’ve ever had to deal with was getting my tonsils and adenoids removed at the age of sixteen. And though the surgery’s main purpose was to finally rid me of throat infections, it actually had a much more symbolic meaning to it – it was a right of passage. For in my family, if you haven’t had some kind of surgery, you’re not really part of the family at all (just kidding.…kinda). And considering the fact that the only doctor I’ve ever really had to see is my GP, who happens to be the most brilliant and compassionate man who ever lived, I really haven’t have anything to complain about. So, as you can see, I’ve had it made.
Doctors are Perfect – Right? I Want to be One
When I was four years old, I bit the foolish doctor who tried to give me a Booster shot. But once I learned that there is actually a purpose to shots, I begrudgingly realized that biting is NOT okay. The experience brought me to my high school science classes with an open mind and, combined with a passion for solving problems, out came the powerful conviction that medicine was the career for me.
Now, I won’t lie – some of the reasons medicine has become my chosen profession don’t exactly stand on moral high ground. After all, given that I watched the TV show House M.D. for most of my childhood, one can see why I came to revere those who wore crisp, white lab coats and always seemed to have the answer to every impossible medical question under the Sun. But when you’ve grown up with a sibling who has had to go through the medical system so many times, and has the bumps and bruises to prove it, being the white-coat-white-knight problem solver can’t be the only reason you choose to go into medicine. Although it’s cliché, and you’re probably rolling your eyes as you’re reading this, I’ve learned the personal way that you really do have to want to help people to be a doctor because patients are so at your mercy emotionally and psychologically as well as physically! (And though Dr. House, as the quintessential misery-causer, is a wonderful example that effectively undercuts my argument, we must remember that, though I wish it weren’t true, he is a fictional character. Moreover, no one really likes him anyway.)
Wait! Medical Problems - Me??!
Now, it is no doubt true that most doctors had this “helping mankind” motivation to carry them through medical school and should therefore be kind and compassionate doctors who truly want to help improve your quality of life. Unfortunately, it is also true that when I went off to university with the incredibly naïve idea that all doctors are perfect, regardless of what I’d heard from my sister and mother, I was in for a rude awakening.
Enter my first medical difficulty: panic attacks. Given the famously difficult transitions new university students go through – especially those who’ve come from sheltered girls’ schools, and especially those in desperate need of the highest marks to get into med school - it really shouldn’t have been a surprise to me that I experienced my first panic attack within the first four weeks of university. How bad was the panic attack, you may ask? Imagine being in your Calculus class (which happened to be one of your favourite classes), putting your hand up to answer a question, and suddenly being unable to talk, then breathe, and before you know it, getting rushed to the ER in an ambulance. Of course, the fact that I had no family in the city of my chosen university made me all the more nervous navigating the rest of the day, so I was really looking for some reassurance from whichever doctor the hospital assigned me. Unfortunately, just like doctors aren’t perfect, neither is the healthcare system. After waiting in the Emergency department for five hours, a doctor took me into a conference room – there were no exam rooms available, you see – touched my chest with his stethoscope exactly two times, and told me that I had had a panic attack, would be fine, and should go home. Reassurance not attained
My medical difficulties did not end there. In addition to developing a debilitating case of insomnia, mostly due to the crippling fear of my Chemistry final (and being somewhat stressed that if I wasn’t careful, I’d pass out again…), I ended up with what can be seen as more of an annoyance than anything to write home about - a bladder infection. At the command of my sister, whose history with bladder infections is, let’s say, not pretty, I went to my school’s Health Centre right away to see a doctor. Here comes the interesting, and somewhat hypocritical, part of the blog. Although I strongly believe that doctors should always do their best to be understanding, approachable, and cooperative, this is not always the case – after all, nobody’s perfect. So, considering the high expectations I have for doctors, and the fact that I normally have no problem being assertive (like Jenna, I also have a black belt in karate – it’s a family thing), when I was faced with a doctor who didn’t exactly live up to these standards, you’d think I would have stuck up for myself as the patient. But, to my horror, when I was sitting in that sterile examination room, I did the opposite: I ended up cowering in the corner under the great and powerful influence of the All-Knowing and Incredibly Intimidating MD. Me! Cowering!
Of course, this turned out to be to my own detriment. Although the doctor did prescribe me an antibiotic, the name sounded familiar… and not in a good way. I finally figured out why the siren was blaring in my brain: I distinctly remembered my sister saying to every doctor that had ever treated her that she is allergic to Sulfa. Now guess which drug the doctor prescribed me? Although I kept on insisting that both my sister and mother had allergies to Sulfa, the doctor insisted right back that I should take it anyway and that the prescription would be changed if I had a reaction. And because I was too intimidated to retaliate (not to mention, physically, emotionally and mentally spent and just wanting to get my finals over with and get home), my tail dropped between my legs and I folded. Altogether, I was probably at my most vulnerable, and in real need to feel safe and cared for. Thanks, Doc! Anyway, when I called my sister and found out that my mother, in particular, wasn’t just allergic to Sulfa, but has a life-threatening allergy, I shot three feet up in the air. So, because I hadn’t stuck to my guns and stuck up for myself as the patient, I had to go see another doctor and get another prescription – one that wouldn’t cause my throat to close.
Thankfully, there is an upside to the story. (Now, this may sound like a shameless plug, but, trust me, Jenna would have to offer some bigtime, lifelong favours to lure me into saying something I didn’t fully believe – and there’s little chance of her putting herself that much in my debt!) Though I had gone through hell to figure this out, I actually did see the usefulness of Phoenix Attitude’s tools. To tell you the truth, I initially never really saw myself as someone who would need Phoenix Attitude; I thought it was for people with chronic conditions. But everyone has the occasional health issue and who couldn’t benefit from some extra help? At least for me, after being bombarded with all these new health issues, I liked keeping organized with the medication and doctor info forms and approached the questions in the appointment form with newfound appreciation of their importance. Now I know that going forward, if I am ever put on a med for the second time, I’ll be able to look back and see how the medicine made me feel. And I’m even more in the space to ensure I don’t leave a doctor’s office having caved to a solution that doesn’t work for me.
So what’s the moral of this long story? At the end of the day, when you walk out of a doctor’s office, you’re the one who has to deal with the consequences. If you didn’t bring up an issue because you were embarrassed or felt like the doctor didn’t have time to hear it or simply didn’t care about it, you’re the one who’s going to have to keep experiencing the symptoms. And although doctors may have gone to medical school for four years to learn everything they possibly could about the human body, not one second of that time was spent learning about your body, with its quirks and family history, in particular. So, long story short (although it’s a bit late for that now), the next time I go into a doctor’s office, I’ll make sure to keep saying one thing to myself: Although you are the “expert” on the human body, I am the expert on me.