Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Listen Up, Doc! - Tip #4


Another tip to make your visit to the doctor worthwhile, taken from my book, Despite Lupus: How to Live Well with a Chronic Illness, due out this spring.

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Tip #4 - Be Honest and Specific.

Because Lupus is not a disease that is easily treated, your doctor needs all the help he can get in order to make an accurate diagnosis. Your visits to the doctor may include a good deal of trial and error as it is, and you don’t want to complicate the matter by being vague or deceitful about the symptoms you experience. An honest and upfront approach is the only way your doctor can obtain the information he needs to make a diagnosis of your unpredictable, evasive disease. He has no choice but to analyze only those symptoms he detects at the time of your appointment or those of which you inform him. If you fail to mention the hip pain you had yesterday, the swelling in your fingers over the weekend, or the hair loss you’ve noticed in the shower, he’s not going to have a complete picture of how the disease is currently manifesting itself. No matter how embarrassed or inhibited you may feel, it’s imperative that you put those emotions aside. You need to equip your doctor with the facts in order to get results.

I remember a specific example when I had an ill placed, embarrassing rash on, you guessed it, my backside. I was reluctant to tell my doctor about it because I was self-conscious about showing him where it was and what it looked like. I was also a little afraid of hearing why it was there in the first place. I finally mustered up the courage to mention it to him, and upon seeing it, he concluded that it might be attributed to an infection in my bloodstream. I was put on both an oral and topical medication to eradicate the rash, and I quickly learned that, in the future, I might have to put pride aside in order to enable my doctor to do his job effectively.

Maybe you’re self-conscious about the fact that you’ve been self-medicating or straying from doctors orders, neither of which are productive practices. They become even more damaging, however, when you deny that you’re doing them. How is your doctor going to accurately gauge your progress (or regression) from one appointment to another if he’s under the illusion that you’re taking medication or abstaining from activities that you’re really not? It’s paramount that you be honest and upfront, not only with your doctor, but with yourself as well.

I shared a hospital room with a woman who, for three days, lied to her doctors about the fact that she was smoking. She announced to me at least twice a day that she was leaving the room to go have a cigarette and, everyday, I would overhear the convincing claims she fed her doctor, confirming that, no, she hadn’t had a cigarette since the day she was admitted. She was working against the very people who were working so hard to help her. While I don’t condone her actions, I know how easy it is to convince yourself that you’re in compliance with doctor’s orders, even when you’re not. For months, I would adamantly profess to Dr. R that I was doing everything I could to get better – following his instructions, taking my medication, staying out of the sun. What I didn’t mention were the 50 hour work weeks I was putting in, my reluctance to slow down when I felt feverish, and the vacations I continued to take even though I felt weak and sickly. He never asked those questions directly, so I never told him. Ambiguity had morphed into what is more aptly called dishonesty. It was hurting everyone involved. Allow yourself to capitalize on the expertise of your doctor by offering up all of the information you can.
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If you're just tuning in now, check out the original Listen Up, Doc! post, as well as Tips #1, #2, and #3. Enjoy!

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