Why I'm So Thankful for Doctors Who Don't Let Me Settle for Feeling 'OK'
For 13 years I have been under the care of a psychiatrist, and more recently, a cardiologist. I’ve been going to the same dentist’s office for even longer. So it is safe to say that when I find someone I like, I’m loyal for life. They are all some of the best in the business, and I’m extremely grateful for that. My health is complex and requires constant changes and adjustments to medication to keep me going. My doctors are very smart and wise beyond their many years of practice. But it isn’t the great medical care they provide that has been the true gift they have given me, it is the way they see me – as a person, not a condition – that has truly changed my life.
Psychiatry was always something I thought was for other people. I didn’t think I needed it, or deserved it. It seemed like mental health was for other people. But I was 17 years old when I finally had to admit my depression and anxiety were destroying my life, and I finally sought medical help. What happened was both expected and surprising – he put me on medication. That might be expected to most, but I didn’t realize my condition warranted medication, so it was a surprise to me. I thought I was OK. And as far as I knew, that was more than acceptable.
After months of trial and error, I began to see a light I hadn’t been able to see for a very long time. My psychiatrist was always a phone call away, and he always greeted me with genuine interest in how I was doing – in life, in general. He never asked if I was OK, because OK was not good enough for him. I was a human being and, in his eyes, I deserved more than just living a life of acceptably surviving. That wasn’t good enough for him. And when he finally left his practice after 10 years with me, I was heartbroken thinking I was losing the only good doctor in existence. So he referred me to someone who found it equally unacceptable that I might be just OK. My current psychiatrist believes I deserve to feel the best I possibly can, and he doesn’t give up when times get tough – which they most certainly have over the last few years. He has never given up on me, even when I gave up on myself. For that, I am eternally grateful.
When I unexpectedly collapsed at work, the reality that I had a heart problem added a new layer to my already skeptical view of medicine. I thought I had the only good doctors on the planet. But there was one left, hiding out in the cardiology wing of the local hospital. Instead of dismissing my racing heart as “anxiety,” he asked questions about it. Soon he realized I had made a lot of changes to my life to accommodate this all-in-my-head racing heart of mine, and he started running tests. He didn’t accept the easy answer. He didn’t blame my mental health and leave it at that. He saw someone whose life was being affected by something, and he made it his mission to get to the bottom of it.
More medication trial and error meant he was getting emails from me (or panicked phone calls on occasion) about whether or not to increase the dosage, and about side effects, and anything else that came into my brain. But he was unbothered. He viewed it as part of making me well, and giving me my life back. He called to check on me after starting me on new medication. It was a phone call I wasn’t expecting, but he wanted to see how I was doing. For 20 minutes he listened, he asked questions, he cared. He doesn’t assume I’m being dramatic, or needy. He assumes if there is a problem, I am there for him to fix it. He treats me like a sister, with care and concern and a healthy dose of sarcastic wit. He never views me through the lens of being “mentally ill,” and it has meant more than he knows.
Doctors don’t just treat “patients.” We are people. Real people, with real problems, who need real solutions. But above all, we are human. We have insecurities, we get tired, we lose hope. Illness brings with it fear – but not just fears about one’s health. It brings with it fears about the doctors we are putting our lives in front of and asking for help. It’s not easy, for the patient or the doctor. But more medical professionals would do well to follow the example of the few who still view their patients as people – looking for help, for answers, but most of all, for care. Genuine care, beyond the medical textbooks and pharmaceutical samples. Care as a person, not just a name and a condition.
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Thinkstock photo via Ocskaymark.