Hello and Happy New Year, crazy chronic friends! It’s been awhile- mostly because I didn’t take my own advice and slow down during the holidays. Fortunately, the weeks following Christmas are filled with football bowl games (basically a brilliant husband baby-sitter), so I’m free to nap to my heart’s content while Joe binge watches football. I’m pretty sure it makes the most sense to do a post about my New Year’s resolutions today, but to be quite honest, I’m way too tired to resolve to do much of anything. Maybe I’ll have mid-January resolutions? So, instead, I thought we would talk about why we chronic illness patients are pretty much every doctor’s nightmare.
Let’s start this by saying, I’m not doctor bashing. I have had the pleasure of meeting wonderful doctors. I realize that I am the consumer, and doctors are offering a service. If they are a poor fit for me, I look elsewhere. Yes, there are some “jerk doctors”. There are also “jerk teachers,” “jerk accountants,” and even “unemployed jerks.” It has nothing to do with the career. Having said that, here are my five reasons why doctors would prefer a patient with a festering blister than a chronic illness patient.
1. We don’t “get better.”
Most of you, like me, have bad days and better days. However, you never wake up and think, “Wow! I seem to have healed from my chronic illness.” Obviously, it wouldn’t be a chronic illness if that happened. For doctors, that has to be frustrating. No matter how hard they try, until science/research has a breakthrough, we’re going to be ill. I’m assuming most people that become doctors want to help others feel better, so it has to be a bit disheartening if your patient just doesn’t “get better.”
2. Our symptoms are confusing and are rarely “textbook.”
The other day I felt really rough. For a brief moment I considered calling my doctor, and then I realized how bizarre my ailments sounded. “Hi. It’s Tiffany. My neck hurts. I have a low grade fever. There’s a rash on my foot. My muscles are twitching, and my throat feels like I gargled thumb tacks. Any idea what is wrong with me?” Most doctors would probably suggest a straight jacket before a possible treatment to that strange variety of problems. Because most chronic illnesses are systemic in nature, a flare up can include a plethora of seemingly unrelated symptoms. At this point, I’m getting better at just leaving my doctor alone and riding out the insanity, but it’s not always been like this. In the years of illness before I was diagnosed, I didn’t know when to be alarmed (so I was pretty much always alarmed). If I had gone to my doctor with that set of symptoms, I’m pretty sure there is nothing in all his medical books to explain them.
3. We aren’t always compliant.
Some of you read that sentence and thought, “Why wouldn’t you comply with your doctor’s orders? Don’t you want to feel better?” Yes, of course I do. However, if I had every test my doctors suggested, I would spend all my time (and money) at the hospital. I’m also fairly confident that I would have been exposed to so much radiation that I would glow in the dark. I trust my doctors. I wouldn’t continue to see them if I didn’t. However, I am in charge of my treatment. I discuss with my doctor whether or not the test, treatment, etc is necessary at this point, how likely it is to help my condition, and whether there is any harm in waiting a few months to reevaluate. My doctor understands why I do this (I think). Unlike patients with an acute illness, I can expect my illness to hang around.
4. We are know-it-alls.
It’s okay to admit it. When an illness monopolizes as much of your life as ours does, you’re going to learn as much about it as you can. It’s easy for us to get frustrated when a medical professional acts totally clueless. My doctor told me that he realizes I know more about my conditions than he does. I, however, realize that he has infinitely more knowledge of how the human body works than I have. Together we make a good team. I’m fairly confident I would be a more likeable patient if I were more “normal” and came with less opinions.
5. We are SO over doctors.
I remember when I was teaching there were some students that were just tired of school. No matter how hard I tried to make learning fun, they were unimpressed. Basically, I am that way as a patient. I have wonderful doctors, but I HATE going to see them. (Maybe if we could just meet for coffee I would like them better? I’m sure they’re all lovely people.) I am tired of doctors offices. I am tired of explaining my symptoms. I am tired of having blood drawn. I’m really tired of paying co-pays. It’s also possible that I’m a little whiny. . . . What kind of doctor would want to see a patient like that?
My purpose here is not to make you feel guilty for having a chronic illness. It’s not your fault that you have to deal with this. My purpose is, however, to explain why doctors seem clueless to us sometimes. They’re frustrated. Not as frustrated as we are, I’m sure. But I’m sure they would trade us for a “festering blister patient” if they could.
Happy New Year! Peace, love, and health.