Quick announcement: For the Spring Semester, starting in December, due to authors traveling abroad (to Italy, South Africa, France, and more!), Unleashed is being published once a month. This semester, we will include guest articles written by people of interest: musicians, wise parents and more surprises to come!
You may walk the walk, but can you talk the talk...
with your doctor?
Although most physicians are uniformed by a white coat, they are all very different in their approach to medicine, bedside manner, and social skills. As a patient, your access to care as well as your physician’s ability to help you are intrinsically linked to the relationship that you develop and maintain with your doctor. This may seem self-evident, and by no means am I saying that you need to become best friends with your doc (though some people are), but don't underestimate the benefit of having a meaningful and comfortable conversation each time you visit your doctor.
As much as North Americans and Europeans tend to view western medicine as the ultimate authority for addressing health concerns, the fact remains that a physician is limited by the information he or she might get from patients. There is only so much a blood test, x-ray, or throat swab can tell a doctor. At the end of the day, it is often up to you to provide certain key details necessary for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment!
Here are five key points to keep in mind every time you go to the doctor (they are not listed here in any particular order of importance, so let's not be lazy; read on through-- it will help you in the long run!):
There are many aspects of your life that affect your health, but many of us don’t always think to discuss them with our doctor. Start by discussing what it is to be you: where do you work? go to school? both? what do you do in your spare time? significant other? How much do you sleep? How often do you eat and how much? what is going on in your life that’s got you excited? --anxious? --happy? --afraid?
It is important to discuss theses features of your life as they currently exist, but almost more important is how they have changed. For example, you used to go to school, but now you are part-time at school and part-time working, which may seem manageable on paper, but the reality could be that half of your shifts are night shifts, so you are a "normal" person Sunday through Wednesday, and then you don’t see the sunlight from Wednesday until Sunday... Be intimate about how these changes have affected your life, and do not hesitate to complain! There are no judgements coming from your doctor. All your doctor cares about is your health.
Though you may not be the type to overshare, and you assume your doctor doesn’t want to hear your wailing, let the physician sort through what is significant and what is not; you provide the raw material (your life story), and they (if they are a good doctor) will provide the refined product (your treatment).
Building off of the last point, don’t forget to go right into the nitty gritty details of your condition. No one knows what its like to live in your body like you do. You are the expert on how you feel, what you’ve been through, and what you are hoping to get out of your visit to your doctor. So take advantage of that and dive into the specifics of what it is you are going through. When you talk about pain, describe what it feels like-- is it off and on? --constant? --subtle but unforgettable? --what does it feel like? --where does it feel like the pain is coming from? This last one can be tough sometimes. Though a scrape or cut will have fairly obvious localized pain, internal afflictions such as gall stones may not trigger pain in your gall bladder itself, but rather manifest itself as crippling pains spread across your back, upper abdomen or even shoulders. Be explicit and give as many details as your mind can muster in the moment!
This one is particularly important if you are seeing a new doctor. They will ask you about your own personal medical history as well as your family medical history, but make sure you touch on other details of your life such as where you’ve lived, what you’ve done for work, and events in your life that have and may continue to affect your own physical and psychological health.
Don’t forget to talk about vaccinations you may have had, serious illnesses you’ve been through, injuries, surgeries (minor or major), any times you’ve been in the hospital, and especially what you are afraid may have stuck with you over the years (this could be a disease, a chronic pain, a susceptibility to a certain condition like strep throat or even insomnia).
Your doctor may enquire about your appetite, and ask you if you are eating more or less these days, but they may not go into what you are eating... What are your favorite foods? What do you eat the most of? What do you hate eating? Are you taking any nutritional supplements? These are all important elements of your lifestyle that should not be ignored! Again, it is better to say too much and let the doctor decide what is relevant.
You may notice random cravings for specific foods or food groups that seem to come and go in weekly phases. Some people liken these cravings to your body’s recognition of a certain nutrient that your body needs or wants more of. Randomly craving dairy products like yogurt, cheese, or milk, for instance, if you have a low-dairy diet... You may also crave fruit, particularly citrus fruits if your body is looking for vitamin C!
Talk about these things with your doctor. Some physicians will know more than others about nutritional science and food health, but many afflictions can be helped, if not cured, by simply changing your diet!
5. Be Open!
There is no such thing as TMI once you enter your doctor’s office. Treat your conversation with your doctor as a release: a safe place where you can divulge the most intimate details of your existence at no extra cost, just go for it! Some doctors may go out of their way to encourage an honest and open relationship by divulging their own embarrassing or personal secrets to you as a way of sharing the experience, but do not expect this with all docs...
There is nothing awkward about your body that is worth keeping secret at the sake of your health. Some things about your body may seem so strange and embarrassing to you that you don’t even feel comfortable saying the words that describe what you are going through, so practice by just saying the words of your condition. By yourself in total privacy. Just say to yourself, out loud, what’s going on. This may make it easier to get the words out when you see your doctor, or at least help you begin to think about how you are going to explain your condition.
On a closing note, remember that your doctor’s office is not a salon that you visit in order to sit there passively while someone else works on you; it is a place where you and your doctor are both at work, together, to help you, and to continue to improve the condition of your health.
Help them help you, and try to have fun while you’re at it! White coats or no, each doctor has a fascinating story. Tell them yours for the benefit of your health, maybe you'll even get one in return.
Feel free to contact columnists at Unleashed
Medical Section Columnist, Kurtis Morrish:
My name is Kurtis Morrish. I graduated from Cal last year as an Integrative Biology major. I am now in the process of applying to medical school in the hopes of one day serving people as a family doctor. By no means do I write to you as an M.D., but I have extensive experience doing all kinds of scientific research; boiling-down long, dry, mumbo-jumbo-dense medical journals into a reduction that is a little sweeter, useful, and hopefully informative for you. I hope to learn as much from my writing as you do, so please hit me up with further questions, concerns, or comments!