10 Things I've Learned as a Professional Patient

I’ve decided to share some of the pearls of wisdom I’ve learned since becoming a full-time professional patient.

In the last 10 and a half months, excluding my hospital stay, I’ve been to 25 doctor’s appointments, tests or procedures, and 56 physical therapy visits. I’m pretty sure that qualifies me as somewhat of an expert on the subject.

10. Never go to the doctor without a list of questions or topics that need to be discussed. I walk into the doctor’s office and instantly forget everything. This is also the reason I take my husband because he remembers much more than I do. I have a condition that causes me to pass out on a somewhat regular basis. A few months ago I was preparing for a procedure and the nurse asked if I was a fall risk for any reason. “Nope,” I said. My husband just shook his head and looked at me and said, “Really? You don’t randomly pass out?” Oh, right. That again. I forgot.

9. Save a favorite book or magazine to look forward to while you’re waiting to be called back. Nothing annoys me more than saying I have to show up 15 minutes early because most people are 15 minutes late. Of course I show up on time (five to ten minutes early) and end up waiting 46 minutes before I get called back. It’s best to just sit and read your book or play a game on your phone and not let it get to you. Be prepared. Yes it’s unfair, but it’s necessary. A lot of people are flaky.

8. You are always allowed to get a second opinion.

7. Patience is key. I learned this by doing the exact opposite for two months. It did not expedite anything other than my frustration and rage. When they say they will call back that day, they probably won’t. Don’t put things off until the last minute. If you need something signed for work, be sure to drop it off to be reviewed and signed long before it is due.

6. You don’t have to do what the doctor says. If you have fully researched something and don’t want to take a medication or do a test or procedure, you don’t have to. You have that right as a patient.

5. Doctors don’t like to hear “I read online…” I’ve learned to skip that part all together and just ask my specific questions without justifying where I heard it or read it.

4. If your primary doctor is a giant “poophead” (heavily edited), change your primary doctor! Shop around. I know it’s a huge hassle, but it’s worth it in the end.

3. Learn to love hoop-jumping. It’s the name of the game. You have to play along. If they won’t give you the anti-nausea meds without being seen, by all means ‘prove your vomit’ and go throw up in their office (I mean be seen).

2. You really do have to advocate for yourself in a polite manner. You have to make lists and follow through. Keep calling and keep asking. Your health is ultimately your responsibility. You might have to call to ask for your test results. My neurologist referred me to another doctor for additional testing. When I didn’t hear back about when the appointment was after a week, I called again to double check. The nurse said, “Oh yes, I completely forgot to send that referral. I’ll send it today.” Keep with it!

1. In the same way you can’t say “bomb” on an airplane, you can’t say (insert insult here) on the phone with a doctor’s office and not get hung up on. No further explanation needed.

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