To My Doctor Who Always Said I Was in Charge — Until Today


Dear Doctor,

I smiled and thanked you as I left your room this afternoon. I fought back the stinging in my eyes as I settled my account with your receptionist. I frowned as I walked outside. I sighed as I sat in the car, and as I turned the key in the ignition, tears started flowing down my cheeks.

Ten minutes later I parked in my garage, turned off the car and broke down. My body slumped involuntarily, and I sobbed out loud.

You are a good doctor. I know this. I know this not least of all because the first time I saw you, I walked into your office, sat down and instead of words, tears and agony cried out of my body. You were kind and patient. You told me it was OK. You told me there was no hurry to talk — you would wait. You listened to my story. You didn’t interrupt. You let me get out what it was I so desperately needed to say. And when I was done, you spoke to me calmly. You told me I was in charge, and together we came up with a plan. A plan to help me move forward. I have trusted you ever since.

You are a good doctor. I know this not least of all because of my experience with bad doctors. So many doctors who do not know how to talk to patients. So many doctors who do not know how to treat patients. You are nothing like the numerous doctors who studied my large pupils intently before eventually shrugging their shoulders, writing the prescription I asked for and hurrying me out the door.

You are nothing like the doctor who stared at me condescendingly while advising that a pain clinic wasn’t for someone like me because I was still managing to leave the house. “A pain clinic is for people whose lives are actually affected by their pain.”

You are nothing like the physiotherapist who told me that my legs “look like sh*t, no really, sh*t” before responding to my question with, “You’re not very attractive, so you must be smart. Figure it out for yourself.”

You are a good doctor. I know this not least of all because of my experience with so many doctors who do not know about patient treatment. Doctors are taught to treat patients. Treat the symptoms presented in patients. But are they taught patient treatment? Are they taught that the patient comes first, and the treatment comes second? Are they taught that it is the patient who is in charge of the treatment?

I think that is why I cried today, and why I broke down after seeing you. When it comes to my chronic life, I spent so many years feeling out of control. Like I had no say over how my body behaved and certainly no say over how medical professionals treated me. Ever since that first day when I walked into your office in absolute crisis, you have always reminded me that I am in charge.

“Yes,” you would say, “there are some things you cannot control. Like the weather. But you decide if you get out of bed and go for a walk in the morning, your legs do not. You decide how many hours you work, your employer does not.”

Ever since that first day, when it comes to my chronic life, you have reminded me that I am in charge of my body. Yes, you had made suggestions and strong recommendations, but in the end, the decision making has always been in my hands. Until today. Today, I walked into your office with a regular medical issue — something not related to my chronic life. Today you treated me as a regular person with a regular person medical issue, and I lost that control.

Maybe it was me. It’s possible I was already feeling emotional before I walked into your office. Nothing you said was incorrect. Nothing you said was unreasonable. Nothing that you did was unprofessional. Nothing about your advice was inappropriate. But nothing about your advice was something I could choose to follow.

Maybe it was you. I lost control of my treatment. I lost control of my body. I left your office in tears. I went home feeling lost. I went home questioning my own emotions. I went home feeling like my tears were unjustified.

You are a good doctor. When it comes to my chronic life, I could not ask for a better doctor. You are understanding, kind, caring, a great listener and a sounding board. When it comes to my chronic life, you are a partner. Someone who works with me. You don’t dictate, you make recommendations. You don’t dictate you hear my decision-making and you work with me. When it comes to my chronic life, you are in the passenger seat. I am the driver.

When it comes to my chronic life, you are exactly what a patient wants and needs. Today, however, you switched seats. Without discussion and without asking permission, you immediately sat in the driver’s seat and relegated me to the back. I wasn’t the passenger reading the map. I was an uninformed child being driven around by the wise parent.

This is not patient treatment. This isn’t what patients want or need from their doctor. Please do not forget that this body is mine. Do not forget that this body is under my control. I come to you for advice. I come to you because you have specialist’s knowledge that I do not. But don’t forget I have a specialist’s knowledge, too. I have intimate knowledge about something that only I can ever know: my body. 

It’s my body, and I am in charge. Please do not forget this.

Kind regards,

Elizabeth

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