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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Make tenacity your partner.

My friend Jennie (pseudonym) went to her general practitioner (G.P.) complaining of cough, fever, and generally feeling bad. Chest x rays showed a spot that was pneumonia.

After 6 weeks of medication and rest the doctor ordered more films. The spot was still there. Dr. Jones (pseudonym) thought it was an area of infection or just a remnant of the pneumonia. He told her "I'm sure it is not cancer. Nothing to worry about."

Jennie was not satisfied. She insisted on additional tests. She was right to do so: it turned out the spot was cancer.

Jennie returned to her G.P. a few weeks after her successful cancer surgery. Her doctor was apologetic. "I do not see patients the same way anymore. I was so sure you did not have cancer. I will be paying much more attention from now on."

I think too many chronic pain patients have had similar experiences.

A doctor decides we are making too much of our pain: it is not as bad as we say. Pain is completely subjective, its symptoms mostly invisible. The ones he can see may not have diagnostic meaning when looked at individually. The time is not spent or available to consider the problem, and patient, as a whole, so he does not take the time to put them all together in a way that might lead to a diagnosis or treatment.

Our complaints may not be an indication of a killer lurking, like Jennie's was, but chronic pain can be a murderer all on its own, either just the pain itself, killing spirit and life day by day, or a more insidious executioner that can be held at bay, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and others that, the earlier they are caught, the better the treatments and treatment outcomes.

Jennie's tenacity helped to heal her. She refused to be placated by her doctor's reassurances. She insisted on further tests and follow up. That may have well saved her life.

We need to be Jennies. We need to speak up: loud and strong, fighting if necessary, to be heard and to get what we need from our doctors. And if they refuse to hear us or belittle us, or treat us like children, we need to have the courage of our convictions and find a doc who will listen, and act as healer.


  1. Jackie says:

    This was a terrific post.

    It can be so hard to stand up to a doctor but when faced with a serious situation that we feel needs further testing (like Jennie was) we have to do it!

    What's a moment or two of awkwardness standing up to your doctor, compared to peace of mind (if it turns out to be nothing) or your life (if it is something)?

    And when it comes to standing up to doctors, you're our role model!

  2. Jackie, Thanks.
    The relationship can be so unequal, out of fear or intimidation, for instance, that it takes a lot of courage (and sometimes chutzpah) but you're completely right. At the end of the day we are left with our decision or indecision, adding even more stress to an already stressful situation, or the knowledge that we spoke up for ourselves and did what we knew needed to be done to get what we knew we needed to have. (Think that makes sense, a little convoluted I'm afraid.)
    I wish I was the role model. As I have gotten older I have been more able to stand my ground.
    ((*_*)) Thanks.