Dear Medical Professional,
When you treat me— or any other patient— you are entering into a health partnership with a human being and not a set of symptoms. Your ability to recognize and value this partnership will make the difference between providing real health care and just going through a checklist at best, or possibly causing more pain, distress, and ill health at worst.
I am very glad that you went to medical school. Your medical training gives you an expertise that I appreciate to keep me well, especially when I am sick. You are an expert on human illness and this is why I turn to you for help. But you are not an expert on me or my body. I am an expert on me. And you need our partnership to help you to provide quality health care to me.
We have to work together if I am to get and stay well. I welcome you as my health care partner and wish/hope that you reciprocate. Sadly, this partnership has not always been recognized when I have needed your colleagues. Please do not be offended when I tell you that your medical expertise is only as good as your ability to acknowledge our partnership in my health care. Unfortunately I have encountered medical professionals who have bullied me with their (mis)understanding of how far their medical expertise extends into the healing process.
Luckily, I have worked with plenty of great doctors. The quality of my life has been vastly improved because of their ability to work with me to overcome cancer and other scary diseases and injuries. Unfortunately I have also had a few who arrogantly treated me as a checklist of symptoms and not a person. They did not welcome my questions or my specific expertise on me. In other words, they did not recognize our partnership. This is not health care. This is the opposite of health and care.
Here are two recent examples:
During a routine colonoscopy, the doctor bruised me internally and then insisted it was impossible for me to be in pain from it. But the pain was so overwhelming that I ended up in the ER the next day. He refused to acknowledge that my pain was from his work, even though he had explained to me that he had been unable to finish the procedure after trying to for an extended period of time—think of being repeatedly poked inside your colon. Thank goodness this was my second colonoscopy, so I knew that his inability to complete the procedure and the resultant pain were not normal.
The second example came from in the ER, where I was rushed to after going to urgent care due the pain from the colonoscopy. After determining that I was not bleeding internally (yay!) the doctor prescribed the pain killer Vicodin. When I told her that I get nauseous from Vicodin, she insisted on prescribing it to me anyway. How does it help my pain to make me nauseous? Who treats a partner like this?
Both of these doctors insisted that their perspective was more beneficial to my health, even though this was obviously not the case. It is not routine to end up in the ER doubled over in pain after a colonoscopy. It is not routine to prescribe a medication that will make someone ill. Why did these two doctors maintain that their expertise on “human illness” was more valid than my ability to know myself?
So Medical Professional, if you want to provide both health and care to people, please, please, please listen to them. Welcome the health partnership that you are in with your patients. Do not insist that your medical training and knowledge is more valuable than what they are telling you about their own body. You are an expert in the general human population, but each of your patients has a vast array of experiences that will help you heal them. Ignoring their/our information will cause harm and ill-health—the opposite of why I assume you chose the medical profession.
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