Why Having a Relationship With Your Doctor Is Good for Your Health


Dear chronic illness newbie,

First, let me say that I know you are probably scared and confused. You are also likely relived to know that you aren’t making your symptoms up and something really is wrong. But, you are also trying to figure out if what you heard is right, “There is no cure, only management of this disease.” You are about to go through the stages of grief, and you may choose to keep your new journey private or you may start searching for others who belong to your new chronic illness family. Just so you know, there is a ton of stuff written about all the above, but I am about to give you the most useful piece of information.

Chronic illness newbie, you are about to build a relationship with your chronic illness physician or physicians that you have never experienced before. Your world has brought you to a point where you no longer go to a doctor with a cough and leave with an antibiotic. You are about to build a long-term relationship with a physician, and humanizing your experience while you are in those appointments will benefit your total care. You will see many specialists on your journey but your primary chronic illness physician is the quarterback of your team. Your relationship with your internist, rheumatologist, gastroenterologist or dermatologist is one that grows beyond, “I have a cough,” and, “Here is an antibiotic.” No one really has told you that yet and you are still processing your journey.

I use emojis when I email my physician, which includes sad faces and happy faces. I know, that sounds very unprofessional. And I also tell my physician he is a rockstar. Why? This is because over the years my relationship with my chronic illness physician and his staff has grown, and they’ve gotten to know me – the real me. He knows my family because my husband and my mom take turns attending appointments with me. He knows Las Vegas is one of my favorite weekend getaway spots. He knows my personality – I’m loud, I talk a lot and I use humor as a defense mechanism.

Why is this so important? Because making myself human in my appointments makes me more than a patient number or diagnosis.

By humanizing myself and making myself vulnerable, I have built a relationship that helps my overall care. When I am quiet, my physician knows I am hurting. When I get frustrated and hit the wall of my medical journey and say “I’m fine” when he asks how I am feeling, he knows I am lying and knows to ask my family for the real response. He knows they will divulge the truth. When I say I need a patch for the month because I have a trip planned, he asks, “Vegas?” This relationship is beneficial.

I am a person who has difficulty allowing people in on my journey. I am guarded as to what I share. But I have discovered that I have to break down these walls during my appointments in order to bring my physician into my chronic illness world. He can see my outside shell, but as we know our illness can sometimes be invisible. If I do not open up and tell him what is going on inside my physical shell, he will not know how to treat my symptoms.

For example, for a couple of months my inflammation levels had been good but I really did not feel well. I hurt like my disease was still active. When my doctor asked how I felt in my appointment, I replied “fine” because I knew my blood said I should feel fine. My next appointment came and I finally opened up and replied, “I feel sick, like the medicine isn’t even working, even though I know my blood says it is.” Well, come to find out that phrase is what he needed to hear from me. He explained that the medication I was taking could yield normal blood results when the disease was still active. It was the validation I needed at that moment and had I not opened up sooner he would have not been able to intervene.

Now, I also need to tell you that this relationship will not happen overnight and may take years to build. But, you will begin to view your chronic illness physician as more than a doctor who sits there in front of you, with a white coat on and credentials that most of us do not possess. When you begin to build this relationship, you will begin to feel that this physician is family. They become a grandparent, parent or sibling figure and you will begin seeking advice beyond your medical illness. It takes you to a point of asking about your career path or vacation plans… and it isn’t done in an odd way because those things will affect your overall care.

I also need to warn you that you may not feel this connection at first. If you don’t begin to feel it within a year and you feel that your overall care is being affected, you may need to find another quarterback. I was not blessed with this relationship at the beginning of my journey and actually had no idea a relationship with my doctor was supposed to develop like this. It wasn’t until I “broke up” with my first chronic illness physician that I discovered this. And now that my world is filled with chronic illness warriors, I see that this relationship is not uncommon in the chronic illness world and is what a healthy patient/doctor relationship looks like.

So, this is what I can provide to your new diagnosis: I know everything is confusing right now but try to start on that relationship. Talk about your pets, your kids, and your work. Explain what your health means to your life, what you are missing out on, and why you are fighting to feel better.

I wish you health and knowledge on your new journey; you are strong and you’ve got this!

With love,
A girl with rheumatoid arthritis who has been at this a while.

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